One of my absolute favorite rhythm or music games of all time was on a handheld platform. Elite Beat Agents on the Nintendo DS had great music, great tap and gesture controls for keeping rhythm, and was absolutely fantastic for a quick pick up and play session while I was out and about. Now, I traded in my DS Lite to get my PS Vita, so Elite Beat Agents is out of my grasp for the moment. Does Michael Jackson: The Experience HD do a good job of mixing Michael’s hits with a tap and gesture based rhythm mechanic to replace one of the best handheld rhythm games ever made?
Michael Jackson: The Experience HD brings a very strong tap and gesture rhythm mechanic to the Vita. In the easier levels, your taps and gestures don’t always seem to match the dance that Michael is performing, but that’s similar to how playing Rock Band on easier levels isn’t really a fair representation of playing every note on the guitar. As difficulty increases, the taps and gestures increase in frequency and pattern complexity. When you hit certain points in songs, a Freestyle mode unlocks, allowing you to get creative and apply taps, spins, and gestures to Michael and rack up a pretty sweet bonus. As you would expect in most rhythm games, scoring is based on the quality of your successful taps and gestures, while strings of successes build up a combo meter for added bonus points.
Each of the fifteen offered songs contain five challenges. Each challenge unlocks bonus content (outfits, gloves, etc.) that have the potential to affect how you play the game. When you throw in the three difficulty levels, you get a lot of potential replay value out of the game. Practicing on an easier level to improve your performance on a harder level while working towards challenges on the side can really extend the life of the game. As with Lumines Electronic Symphony, Michael Jackson: The Experience HD provides players with a system for tracking progress and for rewarding play time. The XP system in Michael Jackson: The Experience HD feeds a meter that increases after each song, with bonus unlocks at certain levels. All of this provides potential replay value…until you get tired of playing the exact same fifteen songs over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
Multiplayer is included, after a fashion. Battle mode allows you to go into a Michael Jackson dance off with one opponent. Each player can equip any glove or outfit they’ve unlocked up to that point, thereby activating any bonuses those outfits or gloves bring with them. The player in the lead takes the place of Michael, while the player lagging behind will perform as a backup dancer. The winner adds the earned score to their rank total, and the loser gets to walk away with nothing more than the improved muscle memory of having played one of the songs again. And by walk away, I mean walk away, because the multiplayer included with Michael Jackson: The Experience HD is ad hoc only. No online dance battles for you, so I hope you have friends who are fans of handheld gaming and Michael Jackson.
Visually, Michael Jackson: The Experience HD is sharp during gameplay. Dancing animations are very smooth and the taps and gestures are separated by clearly defined shapes and vibrant color differences. Each song has visual sequences that either directly recreate famous clips from the track’s music video or heavily reference them. By default, Michael is appropriately suited up for each performance, with his leather biker getup for Bad, his white suit for Smooth Criminal, his famous red jacket for Thriller, and more. Michael Jackson fans will definitely appreciate the accuracy of the recreation both visually and aurally. The tracks all sound fantastic.
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At $39.99, which is what seems to be the standard price for most full priced Vita games, Michael Jackson: The Experience HD is lacking content. With nearly 40 songs across all of the platforms that versions of this game have made appearances on, it doesn’t make sense that the Vita is only given 15, especially given that the PSP version had 17 of those songs and the console versions had 30. It seems very likely that DLC will be made available for expanding the title’s library of songs on the Vita, but when you’ve paid $39.99 as the entry fee for a small selection with potential for DLC, that DLC had better be comparatively cheap to offset the initial investment. I’m talking $0.99 or $1.99 max, since each song purchase is going to increase the overall price of the title and I don’t much fancy paying upwards of $60 or $70 for this game after including DLC to bring the tracklist to what it should have been out of the box.
Ranting aside, if you’re a major Michael Jackson fan, you’ll really enjoy putting Michael through the paces in some of his biggest hits (and some of his other, less well known tunes). The touch mechanics used for inputting dance magic are solid, and increase in speed and complexity as you move the difficulty higher. There are tons of unlockables to earn, and challenges to complete, which provide great potential for long term replayability, if you don’t get bored of playing the same fifteen songs over and over and over and over and…yeah, I already used this bit, sue me. Is it worth $39.99? As fun as it is, and as well done as it is, there just doesn’t seem to be enough content to justify full asking price on a Vita game unless you’re a megafan. $29.99? Much more reasonable. $19.99? A bargain to pick up in a heartbeat. At the very least, the game provides you with a fun and quick pick-up title, while truly dedicated fans will be able to get quite a lot of time and enjoyment out of it.
|Solid touch and rhythm mechanics|
Great visual and aural representation of MJ songs
Freestyle mode lets you get creative
Lots of unlockable content
|Fifteen songs only|
A bit pricey
Ad hoc multiplayer only