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Michael Jackson: The Experience HD Review

Let’s start by setting aside the notion that I’m reviewing a Michael Jackson game. We’ll gloss over the discussion about exploiting a dead celebrity or the any allegations of misconduct that may make the game’s title character seem inappropriate. Let’s pretend I’m just a guy that picked up a Vita and wants to play a rhythm game that isn’t Lumines. So am I happy in this theoretical scenario? Well, it’s complicated, but I’m more happy than you’d think.

Michael Jackson: The Experience HD is essentially a port of the iPad game of the same name. Players can choose from a play-list of 15  Michael Jackson chart-toppers to jam out to, each with 3 difficulty settings. Unlike the original iPad version, there are no in-app purchases, so all content is either available from the get-go, or can be unlocked by playing through the stages and levelling up. The frustrating part is that everything, other than the stages themselves, is an unlockable. Outfits? Unlockable. Normal difficulty? Unlockable. The ability to score “Perfect” on a dance move?! The end result is that you’ll spend the first hour or so unlocking the basic tools that make the game feel complete.

The game looks decent. The art-style won’t win any awards, but it certainly isn’t offensive to look at. The executive decision was obviously made to use the Thriller era Michael as the game’s avatar, and I can agree that it was a good choice over HIStory era emaciated Michael. Each stage recreates settings from Jackson’s iconic music videos, and aside from a few outliers like Thriller, they do a pretty good job of capturing the tone of each piece (although the toddler rap scene in Black or White is one of the most embarrassing moments for both music and video games). The music is also mixed fairly well, although some tracks do sound a bit hollow – Thriller sticks out in my mind again – which is a shame given the crystal clear audio that the Vita provides.

If you strip away all of the Michael Jacksonism from the title and take a hard look at the basic gameplay, what you are left with is a surprisingly compelling and challenging rhythm game. Michael dances in the center of the screen, and gesture prompts create a circular HUD around him. Rather than tapping or pulling a specific area or button like Elite Beat Agents, players can make the gestures at any point on the screen, regardless of where the prompts originate. Each gesture corresponds to a dance move, but users only take direct control of Michael during specific points in each song. During these “freestyle” moments, you have the opportunity to bust out signature moves from memory in order to earn bonus points and unlock stage-specific special effects. The rest of the time is spent following along with the canned animation. The plus side is that the dance always looks smooth unless you are freestyling, but it also means that there is very little feedback as to how well you are doing. There is also no failure, so there is very little incentive to shape up once you’ve dropped a few steps.

The game is a far cry from perfect, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. The gesture choreography is a lot of fun, and can be very challenging. It could have used a better tutorial, and really needs a better method of feedback, but I found myself replaying stages over and over again to clear challenges and unlock special gloves and statues, which isn’t something I normally do – especially for what should be, by all accounts, licensed shovelware. As a consumer activist, it’s my duty to let people know that this game is flawed, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun playing a rhythm game. I hope that we’ll see this choreography system used again in a less-Jackson-centric release in the future. Until then, I’ll just say that if you like MJ, and aren’t already worn out by the other 8 versions of The Experience, this one might be worth a second look.

About Sean Kirkland

A Tulane-educated Master of Architecture and Monster Hunter apologist, Sean "SeanNOLA" Kirkland might have relocated to trendy Angeleno suburbs, but his heart remains entrenched in the Crescent City.


  1. Funny read NOLA,

    “You are not alone” in thinking this is all slightly creepy.

  2. I heard something about them taking the zombies out of Thriller. Is that true? It wouldn’t be the same.

    BTW- Moonwalker sounds better than this.

    • Zombies? Where the hell is Bubbles the Chimp?

    • Actually, it’s the exact opposite. Thriller is just Michael Jackson hanging out in a graveyard with a bunch of Romero-style zombies. They aren’t as “ghoulish” or cartoony as the ones in the video. Also, MJ doesn’t turn into a Zombie in this one(for obvious reasons).

  3. Nice to see the review put up in Black and White. Sure the game goes against Human Nature but I Can’t Help It.

  4. Ahh, Elite Beat Agents. I warmly Remember the Time I spend with it.

  5. So DEagle reviews Lumines white you get Michael Jackson: The Experience? What a dick!

  6. I think it would have been real easy to make a lot of snarky jokes and give this a low score (and probably barely play it). So I think it was cool that you took a slightly more mature approach.

    • That was the original plan, but I ended up having a lot of fun with it, so I had to turn on my critical eye. But seriously, click that toddler rap link. It’s cringingy hilarious.

      • That’s cool that you had fun with it, but don’t you think the $40 price is a little high for this? I’m thinking $30 tops.

        • It is a little much. The mom&pop shop by my house had already marked it down to $20 on launch day, but I understand that’s pretty atypical.

          • Yeah, $20 is a very reasonable price for this. I mean, it doesn’t have 1/10th of the content that Rayman Origins does. I’ve been plugging away at the console version of that for two months now.

      • Wow, that is bad. Its like the creepy danging baby animated .gif only 3x as bad.

  7. I have ZERO interest in this game. Ever since it was first announced it looked really weak.

    • Cabbage Patch Wino

      Comments like that aren’t going to HEAL THE WORLD.



        • Yeah, it’s Blue!

          Where have you been? Whens that next retro article coming?!?

          • I’ve been lurking, but just haven’t had much to say. :S

            As for the next retro column, I’m hoping to have it close to, if not entirely finished by the end of the weekend. It should be up sometime next week. 🙂

            The next column is going to be on Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer for the Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast and PC, BTW. 😀

          • Don’t be such a lurker Blue, you got fans you know!

            Some people live for WWE games.

          • I have fans? *GIF of a Happy Sailor Moon with sparkly eyes goes here* 😀

            You should be happy with whatever idea I end up doing for the week of Wrestlemania 28. ^_^

          • You and Deagle are doing Cena and Rock cosplay?!?

            Just guessin.

  8. I love each and every one of these puns, and I love each and every one of you that makes one.

  9. Don’t worry, NOLA, I’ll be working NIGHTS and DAY to make that I DON’T STOP UNTIL YOU GET ENOUGH. I CAN’T HELP IT- IT’S THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL, you know- when you’re living OFF THE WALL.

    Maybe one day, you’ll LEAVE ME ALONE, But I’ll always REMEMBER THE TIME. Just remember, that WHATEVER HAPPENS, you ROCK MY WORLD, leave me SPEECHLESS and give me BUTTERFLIES, you HEARTBREAKER.

    • Please seek help, now! 😉

      Man, this was one of the funniest comments sections I have seen it a while.

  10. I heard cats like to play MJ:TE HD…

  11. OMG, so many MJ jokes here, it’s not even funny.