PS Vita Review – Michael Jackson: The Experience HD

With a sound at my window, came a game from Severino. Came with a short note, “Please review this? I’ve got a full boat.” So you ask me “Is it OK? Is it OK? Is it OK, this game?” And I’ll say “I guess it’s OK. Kinda OK. Kinda OK, this game.”

Indeed, Michael Jackson: The Experience HD is okay, and can even be downright great during your first few days of play sessions. Its addictive game style is a noticeable departure from console versions with the same title; whereas those used motion controllers (Wiimote, PlayStation Move) or full body detection with a camera (Kinect), the PS Vita’s iteration is played by properly timing one’s swipes, swirls, and taps on the touch screen. As a rhythm game exclusively using a touch screen, the build is solid and fun. Being able to play it to Michael Jackson’s legendary music adds greatly to The Experience.

Beyond its touch-only nature, there’s more making the Vita’s Experience different than others. With the console versions, half the fun of the game was getting a big group of friends together and looking stupid in unison as everyone made attempts at recreating The King of Pop’s most famous dance moves. It was easy to pick up and play, welcoming because of its track list, and great for a laugh. That, however, is not duplicated on PSV. MJE was a party game before, but it should be noted that on the Vita, it is definitely not. Perhaps this is fine for people who already own one version and want another, but those looking to pick this up as their one and only copy of MJE should know that multiplayer is severely hampered, and watching another player do his/her thing is problematic for more reasons than one.

Vita’s ad-hoc mode can be used for dance battles, which set a maximum of two players against each other, Vitas on their laps, ready to trace the proper arrows and time their taps more correctly than the opponent. Unlike console counterparts, this of course requires two Vitas and two copies of the game. Getting three friends together and having everyone at the party attempt the Smooth Criminal lean ain’t gonna happen on Vita, because there will only be two of you competing, and only if both of you have purchased a Vita, memory card, and this game.

Additionally, this game requiring near-constant use of the touch screen as it does, it can be especially odd for one player to try and watch another play the game. With a TV screen, anyone in the room could either be an interested spectator or just throw an occasional glance at the screen. But on Medium and Expert difficulty modes, the game is virtually unplayable without setting the Vita down on your lap, table, or sofa, meaning anyone watching will have to get up close and personal. Even when they do, their eyes will be seeing as much of your gangly fingers as they will the virtual Michael. On Medium difficulty and naturally more so on Expert, the game often requires both hands to be swiping and/or tapping several locations at once. Skilled players will likely adopt a four-fingered approach for maximum efficiency. Unless someone has some gloves of invisibility, any spectators will find their vision somewhat impaired by the constant movements of the player’s hands. It’s still exciting and fun for the person playing the game, but the group enjoyment found in other versions of MJE is not found here.

Something else not here is about half the songs players might have been expecting. While its playlist does have a couple of inclusions that the PS3, Wii, and 360 can’t claim, it’s also hit by — struck by — some exclusions. In an off-the-wall turn of events, the Vita’s 15 songs out of the box can’t stack up against the 29-song list of the PS3 version and is even outdone by the PSP’s 17-song lineup. Yeah, this has less total songs than the PSP version. That’s bad. Really bad. If some free DLC doesn’t flesh this thing out like a speed demon, there’ll be some blood on the dance floor. It’s been said that some songs can be exported from the PS3 version, though again, that requires one to spend a bunch more money on another version of the game. The way this makes me feel is cheated.

Michael Jackson: The Experience HD looks good. No computer rendering can be as amazing as the real-life King himself, but the dance animations in The Experience HD are good emulations of Jackson’s signature moves and routines. Jackson will travel to the sets of his most famous videos and don his one-of-a-kind outfits, more of which can be unlocked through skillful play. After each dance, players are given a grade and a deserved amount of points, which make the game slightly more addictive. Leveling Michael up, along with achieving other milestones, can unlock the higher difficulty modes as well as alternate gloves and other features. Players can also unlock videos of the game’s various dance routines, then watch them at will in the “On-Demand Performance” section.

Being a different game than the console versions, however, doesn’t inherently make MJE:HD a bad game at all. The differences are important to note and describe, but the game does what video games are supposed to do in providing fun. Opening it up, seeing the playlist of 15 great songs and then watching digital Jackson put on a show while you time your swipes and taps can make for an enjoyable play experience, to be sure.

Your mileage with Michael Jackson: The Experience HD will vary depending upon what you’re expecting and what you’re looking for. Those wanting a group experience on par with the console versions of the same game might be disappointed in its less-accessible multiplayer and being limited to two people, in addition to the logistical problems presented by the touch screen-based play style. On the other hand, Jackson fans who don’t mind the experience now becoming mostly single-player and involving no dancing on their part will find a fun, entertaining rhythm game.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ It’s a thriller.

– Billie Jean: not my lover.

+/- Who’s bad?

6 out of 10