Review by FFandMMfan
"The King is Dead."
Michael Jackson. The King of Pop. A legend among pop artists. We may have lost him, but his legend will forever live on in his music. He may have done some questionable things in his life, but it cannot be denied that the title "King of Pop" was definitely deserved.
Naturally, after a celebrity dies, the various media industries tend to memorialize them in some form of media, mostly to make a quick buck off of the public's mourning of a loved star. Among the many things that were created to cash-in on Michael Jackson's death is a video game, one made for just about every current generation console - Michael Jackson: The Experience. The game differs slightly depending on which system you play it on, but in this review I'll be covering the DS version of the game.
Not only does the DS version of MJtE cash-in on Michael Jackson's death, but it also attempts to cash-in on another popular thing - namely the Elite Beat Agents/Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan series of DS Rhythm games. In fact, you could call it an almost straight-up copy of the EBA/Ouendan series. So of course, if you copy a great game, the resulting game will be great as well, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case with MJtE, and shows that this was indeed nothing more than a cash-in.
MJtE attempts to copy the Elite Beat Agents/Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan gameplay formula, and for the most part, it plays virtually identical to them. If you've played EBA/Ouendan, feel free to skip the rest of the following paragraph, as I'll just be explaining the general gameplay mechanics to those who have not played EBA/Ouendan. If you've never played EBA/Ouendan, read on.
The basis of the gameplay comes in the form of three types of notes that must be played in time with the music. Numbered Beat or Slider markers will appear on the screen in the order that you must touch them, with a ring shrinking down around them to signal the proper time to hit the notes. In the case of Beat markers, if you touch them at the proper time, you clear the note, otherwise it counts as a miss. Sliders are long bars, and once you hit the initial point in time with the music/ring, you must trace the stylus along the bar in time with the music until you reach the end of the bar, clearing the note, though sometimes there will be an arrow at the end of a slider, requiring you to trace back the way you came. Spinners are the last kind of note, and when they appear, you merely have to spin the stylus in a circular motion as fast as you can to rack up bonus points before time runs out.
If you've played EBA/Ouendan, all of the above gameplay mechanics should be familiar to you. However, newly introduced mechanics include a mock-Star Power ala the Guitar Hero or Rock Band series, where you can build up a meter by completing strings of specially marked notes and when it's filled, activate a massive point gain boost for a few seconds. You also gain points during the "break" sections, called Show Time in this game, based on how high your life meter is.
However, despite the gameplay mechanics being nearly identical to another fantastic game, MJtE suffers from a rather large problem that completely cripples the game. The beatmaps suck.
There are 3 things that make a rhythm game. The music, the gameplay engine and the beatmaps. Obviously, this game has the first two down, but it completely fails in the beatmaps department. For those that aren't aware, the beatmap is the series of notes that you have to hit, it's what ties the gameplay engine and the music together, and if the beatmaps are poorly made, then the entire game falls apart.
It's not just that the beatmaps are incredibly easy, even on hard mode (which they are), but they barely follow the music at all. In most songs, you won't find yourself tapping to Michael's singing, or to a primary instrument, but rather the clapping in the background of the song, or to the heaviest drum beat that will repeat every few seconds. It's as if you're looking at a piece of sheet music and the note appears at the beginning of the line, or once at the beginning and once at the middle, so instead of hitting notes to the primary elements of the song, you're just tapping to the general beat.
This doesn't usually happen throughout the entire song, but it will cover large parts of it. Only maybe 1/4 of the time will you find yourself actually playing to the primary elements of the song, and even then, it feels like the beatmaps aren't as difficult as they should be, as if they weren't completed, even on Hard mode.
But that's not the only major problem with the beatmaps. Show Time - the breaks in gameplay meant to give you time to rest are almost always placed at the worst possible places in the song. In the EBA/Ouendan series, the opening of the song, before the first verse generally shows you an intro clip, and you start playing with the beginning of the first verse, and it gives you a break at the bridge between the first verse and first chorus, continuing in that fashion for the remainder of the song, and giving you a closing scene as the song starts to wind down. In MJtE, you start playing almost immediately after the song begins, even if it has a long instrumental intro, and will oftentimes cause the break to come in during the first verse, and this will continue for the remainder of the song, causing breaks to come in in the middle of verses, choruses and thus, oftentimes making you play during the bridges that have very little gameplay potential. There are also a few songs where you'll find yourself getting a break right near the end of the song, and coming back to hit 3 or 4 notes before it ends, during the point where the song is winding down and becoming quieter. The break placement is a MAJOR problem with this game, and along with the generally poor beatmaps, turns this game into a sloppy mess of a rhythm game that fails to imitate something that it could potentially imitate very well.
It's Michael Jackson, what more needs to be said? There's only 12 songs, but they're all original recordings and they're all full versions, as opposed to the covered partial songs that tend to be in most rhythm games. If you're a fan of Michael Jackson's music (and who isn't?), you'll surely be pleased with the soundtrack. Well, except Thriller isn't in it...
But again, if the beatmaps can't tie the gameplay engine and music together, then the soundtrack itself is irrelevant.
Ultimately, this game fails as a rhythm game due to poor beatmaps and poor break times. Unless you really REALLY like Michael Jackson and really REALLY want to play a rhythm game with his songs, then I honestly can't recommend it. You're much better off playing Elite Beat Agents or the two Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan games, which MJtE tries to imitate, as they have infinitely better beatmaps (and are therefore infinitely more fun) and infinitely better presentation. If you've played the EBA/Ouendan games and are looking for a new DS rhythm game fix, there's plenty of other choices besides MJtE, including Jam With the Band, Rhythm Heaven, Utacchi!, and the 3 Taiko no Tatsujin games.
+ Great soundtrack. It is Michael Jackson after all. All of the songs are original recordings as well.
+ The gameplay engine is technically good, due to ripping off a good gameplay engine from another game.
+ Audio quality is very good.
+ Literally the funniest Anti-Piracy measure ever conceived - Vuvuzelas play over the music. (Note: I do not support piracy.)
- Terrible beatmaps that just plain aren't fun to play, even on Hard mode.
- Extremely easy, even on Hard mode.
- Show Time break sections placed at poor places in the songs.
- Only 12 songs.
- Ugly graphics, especially Michael's model (his dancing is however rather fluid).
- Doesn't have Thriller.
- Tries to cash-in on a celebrity's death.
Reviewer's Rating: 1.5 - Bad
Originally Posted: 12/09/10
Game Release: Michael Jackson: The Experience (US, 11/23/10)
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