I remember turning to Dale North at the time and saying "It would be cool if the DS version was like Elite Beat Agents." Minutes later, I was playing the DS version for myself, and low and behold, it played exactly like Elite Beat Agents. As a diehard Ouendan/Elite Beat fan, I was freaking the f*ck out.
Did Ubisoft pull it off? Hit the jump for the details.
Michael Jackson: The Experience (DS)
Release date: November 23, 2010
Michael Jackson: The Experience on the DS contains 12 songs: "Another Part of Me", "Billie Jean", "Heal the World," "Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough," "Black or White," "Wanna be Starting Something," "Street Walker" (what?), "Leave Me Alone," "Smooth Criminal," and "Beat It." The songs are unlocked in chunks of 1-4 at at a time. It's not a bad list, but the lack of "Man in the Mirror," any songs by the Jackson 5, Eddie Murphy duets, and "Thriller," are all noticeable bummers.
The real issue I have with the soundtrack isn't the songs themselves, but the lack of variety on the set list as a whole. Other than a few slower songs, all these tracks all more or less the same tempo, with similar arrangements. That made playing through the game the first time (which took me a little over an hour), a painless, but somewhat flat experience.
Yeah, that's how fast I beat this game on the hardest initial difficulty. Anyone who's played Ouendan or Elite Beat Agents knows how disappointing that was for me. For those that haven't played those two games, let me tell you about them, because like I previously mentioned, Michael Jackson plays exactly like them.
On the lower screen, you have to tap numbered buttons to the beat of the music. Occasionally, you have to drag the stylus across the screen as well, or draw circles really fast. Mess up too many times, and you have to start over. That's the Ouendan/Elite Beat Agents formula, and Michael Jackson copies it beat for beat.
Did that make sense? If not, check out the video below. It might help.
The game may be a straight-up clone, but it does add a few things to the Ouendan/Elite Beat formula. For one, each level has several moments where you are forced to stop playing and just watch big-headed, virtual Michael Jackson dance. It's creepy and awful. They didn't even bother to un-Vitiligo Michael for his older songs. You get alien-gray Michael from beginning to end.
There was little chance that I'd ever like Bratz-Michael Jackson anyway, but by focusing on the way he looked at the worst parts of his career, they totally lost me. I may not be into watching watching fake Michael kick it, but Ubisoft sure is. They even included a Jukebox mode that lets you watch Michael dance the whole time, with none of that pesky gameplay in the way. This mode provides you with a total of four dance moves to choose from.
This may be my least favorite mode in any game ever made.
The good news is, the other new element that Ubisoft added to the Ouendan/Elite Beat gameplay structure is actually pretty cool. If don't mess up for a while, you start to build up "star power," just like in the Guitar Hero series. Activate star power and you double your score multiplier until you miss a beat and/or your star meter runs out. It's far from original, but it does add a bit of increased excitement to a game that's in desperate need of some thrills.
Michael Jackson on the DS has taught me just how important up-tempo songs, fast-paced placement of buttons, and the use of eighth notes are to making the Ouendan/Elite Beat games so fun. Michael Jackson makes limited use of all these elements, and it really hurts the game. It's also way too forgiving. In Ouendan/Elite Beat, you're scored based on how close you are to being perfectly on time. In Michael Jackson, you can be way off, but as long as you're "close enough," you still get the same flat score per beat.
You can unlock hard difficulty after clearing the game once, and it's a lot more fun. For the most part, it felt about just a hair easier than Elite Beat Agents on medium difficulty. Still, even with the added challenge, the game still has its problems. For one, the difficulty curve is way off. One stage will be hard, and the next will be way too easy, almost as easy as the stages on medium. It may sound like a little thing, but anyone who knows the joy of gradually building your skills in an Ouendan/Elite Beat game can attest to how important the right difficulty curve can be.
We're almost done here, but before the final paragraph, I should tell you about the one other aspect to the game. Collection mode shows in-game recreations of real things that Michael Jackson owned. You get items by earning coins and crowns in tour mode. These items are usually bizarre, and are rarely well explained. For example, take the "Ghosts" statue. It's a weird Nosferatu-looking thing sticking its fingers in its mouth. What is it? Why did Michael Jackson own it? Was it in one of his videos or something? I have no idea, because the game doesn't tell you. I suppose I could look it up on the internet, but I think I prefer the comedy of staring at this thing with no way of understanding why it exists; that's how I feel about most of the decisions Michael Jackson made with his life.
As negative as this review may sound, I actually like Michael Jackson on the DS. It may be the worst of the Ouendan/Elite Beat games, but it's still an Ouendan/Elite Beat game, and as such, it has the potential to be a lot of fun. On the hardest difficulty level, I managed to really get into it ... about one-third of the time. Sadly, for the other two-thirds, I was going through the motions, feeling neither positively or negatively towards the game. Keep in mind though, that's coming for the perspective of a hardcore Ouendan/Elite Beat fan, and a casual (at best) Michael Jackson fan. Still, I can't imagine that there is that much here for Jackson devotees either. Other than a set of 12 fair-to-great songs, a largely inaccurate and unappealing-looking Michael Jackson avatar, and some laughably useless virtual collectibles, the Jackson fan-service here is kept to a minimum.
In the finally tally, the game gets a maybe-too-generous...
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