For many people, Michael Jackson is the greatest pop star in history. With a career spanning more than 40 years, his songs, dances, and electric on-stage persona are the stuff of legend. While Michael Jackson: The Experience doesn't succeed in offering particularly deep gameplay, it manages to capture the magic that made Michael such a legend of the pop world, with great routines set to some of his biggest hits. Unpredictable motion controls, and the lack of both a career mode and any meaningful bonus content, detract from the experience. If you're a Michael Jackson fan and have a group of friends to play with, you'll have some fun dancing to his classic songs, but unpredictable motion controls will put a kink in your moonwalk
Michael Jackson: The Experience is extremely easy to pick up and play; up to four people can dance together, picking from of one of 26 of Jackson's hits. To play, you simply hold the Wii Remote in your right hand and replicate the actions of a virtual dancer onscreen. You're awarded points based on movements tracked by the Wii Remote, with each successful move being scored as bad, OK, good, or perfect. A score bar on the left of the screen fills up as you perform, hitting star markers along the way. Depending on how many stars you hit, you're awarded a star score at the end of each song, showing you how well you performed. Sadly, the game isn't great at recognizing your movements, and you often encounter moments of frustration as you wonder why you're not being scored correctly. However, this isn't too significant when you're performing because no matter how few points you get, it's impossible to fail out of a song.
This can be quite beneficial because the choreography is very difficult. Most routines are based on those in Michael's music videos, with a few original creations inspired by his dancing thrown in too. Signature moves, such as high kicks, toe stands, and moonwalks, all make an appearance and are extremely tricky to replicate if you're not blessed with Michael's skills. You do have the option of performing as one of the backing dancers, who have less-complicated moves, but this is only available on a limited number of tracks. Despite the difficulty, songs are a blast to perform, with the famous routines from "Thriller", "Beat It", and "Billie Jean" particular highlights. Playing with friends just adds to the fun because it's hilarious to watch them take part, and friends sitting it out can sing along with the lyrics displayed onscreen. Fans will be pleased to see most of his celebrated back catalogue in the game, including songs from his Motown days, such as "Rock With You" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough." From the '80s, "Bad" and "Smooth Criminal" are available, as well as more recent songs, such as "Ghost" and "Money."
All of the songs are accessible from the outset in Dance mode, where you can jump straight into a routine with friends or on your own. There's only one other mode to choose from called Dance School. It features a number of tutorial videos from dance instructors who run you through warm-ups, stretches, and moves from Michael's songs. Weirdly, you actually have to unlock these tutorial videos by earning a certain number of stars from the very songs that the tutorial teaches you about, making them rather pointless learning tools. Other than that, there's nothing else to do, which makes "The Experience" part of the title something of a misnomer. There are no music videos, no behind-the-scenes footage, no interviews, and no download store to acquire more tracks. The lack of these features makes you question why the game was given this moniker rather than being made part of the Just Dance family, particularly because the way it plays is so similar.
That similarity also extends to the visuals, which feature the same stylized video footage of dancers laid over 2D backgrounds. Their bright neon colors and white outlines make them easy to follow, and all dancers are dressed in outfits from Michael's career, which look great. While the backgrounds don't look quite as crisp, they capture the feel of the music video they're imitating, whether that be darkened backstreets in Beat It, graffiti-covered car parks in Bad, or the African outback in Black or White. The sparkly visual effects that are thrown into dances also look good, particularly when you gain a star and an explosion of glitter flows to Michael's famous gloved hand.
Since it lacks a career mode, sensible unlockables, or even any music videos, this isn't so much an "experience" as it's a simplistic dance offering. Nevertheless, despite the bare-bones package, there's lots of fun to be had performing the excellently choreographed dance routines, which perfectly capture the Michael Jackson vibe. Getting a group of friends to play with you makes the experience even better, particularly with large group routines such as in "Thriller." Most of Michael's biggest hits are included, and lapsed fans will get nostalgic seeing the classic moves and songs. While the motion controls aren't terribly accurate, they don't massively detract from the fun. Michael Jackson: The Experience isn't going to set the world of dancing games on fire, but if you're a fan of the king of pop, it's certainly worthwhile to don your white rhinestone glove for it.