Michael Jackson is without a doubt one of the greatest performers of all time. Through the decades he’s released timeless songs everyone knows and moves everyone wishes they could replicate. With the release of the Kinect and success of Dance Central, who wouldn’t want a Michael Jackson dance game? The fun and execution of Dance Central fused with the legendary King of Pop’s moves seems like the perfect marriage, but unfortunately Ubisoft still has ways to go.
Don’t get me wrong, the core game they have here is definitely entertaining, but the fundamentals and execution leave much to be desired. After choosing a song, you’re treated to a nice intro reminiscent of the responding video. After the initial introduction, the player is shown onstage in a set based on the song chosen. Swarms of fans fill the venue in which you’re performing and help players feel more like a superstar as opposed to just another dancer in a club. Moves are depicted in little boxes that scroll upwards on the right side of the screen, but more often than not they don’t display the corresponding moves well enough. Thankfully, each of the background dancers does the routine themselves, so if you can’t tell what move comes next, do your best to mimic your dancers. Every so often there will be a set “hold” maneuver that, when executed, makes the King of Pop himself cover your player as if harnessing his essence yourself. The moves performed replicate Jackson’s iconic moves very well, and while not exactly the same, their efforts should be applauded nonetheless.
Upon dancing, however, it’s fairly obvious that the movement is not 1:1. While I didn’t immediately see it when I first played, stepping back and seeing others try showed minor lag from their movements to their onscreen counterparts. This complicates each move, causing more players to score “almost” instead of “good” or “perfect.” In turn, the lag hurts the overall score of the routine and makes it difficult to five-star many songs. The strange thing is that during loading screens, where you can freely move to make effects appear, the lag was negligable. While we eventually compensated, if a launch title like Dance Central can get it right, there’s no excuse for a game half a year later not to.
The game states that there are over 25 of the late great’s songs here, but sadly, you can’t dance to all of them. Most would argue that it’d be a waste attempting to dance to songs like “The Girl Is Mine” or “Earth Song,” but if the Wii version had choreography, then there’s no reason the Kinect version shouldn’t. Instead, we’re treated to full songs akin to karaoke that don’t seem to gauge pitch as much as volume of the singer. While disappointing, this is understandable since the game is meant to be a full on experience, instead of just dancing like many of us expected. There are a few “dance only” songs, but more often than not we’re given the choice of “performances” which blend singing and dancing. Instead of having players do both tasks simultaneously, each is done individually, and I feel it really takes the player out of the experience. Even on harder difficulties we’re forced to split time between dancing and singing, and while I understand it’d be hard to move and sing, Michael did it so why can’t we try?
The Kinect’s built-in mic is surprisingly responsive, and unfortunately Ubisoft didn’t use it to its potential. You can opt for a traditional microphone, but it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. As stated before, when singing, it feels like the game scores more on volume as opposed to pitch. Karaoke Revolution was able to implement a pitch system back in 2003 for the PS2, so there’s no excuse for developers to exclude it today. Visually, the singing segments are a mixed-bag, with most alternating different camera angles upon changing backgrounds. Occasionally a crown will appear over the player’s head, but this is more for high-score purposes than visual flair, and in general the effort seems lazily put together. The developers can be commended for some very nice features and an overall MJ feel with small touches like recreating the glowing footsteps in the “Billie Jean” video, but they dropped the ball with the singing portions.