Michael Jackson's signature dance moves are heading for current-generation consoles and handhelds in Michael Jackson the Experience, which puts you in Michael Jackson's shoes as you perform his greatest hits. The title is coming to the Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3, as well as the PSP and DS, and we got to check out the Wii and handheld versions in Tokyo. The man's personal life aside, he really was one of the most talented singers and dancers in history, which is why this dance title might have a leg up on the competition.
The main avatar in the game was nearly just a silhouette in previous builds of the game, but he is starting to look more and more like Michael, which they were showing for the first time. They used a dance expert who is highly-trained to mimic Michael's moves for the motion capture, and he was dressed to imitate some of Jackson's signature looks. You can see detail down to the different specific hairstyles, which is a nice touch and grounds the game in the world of Michael Jackson.
Ubisoft revealed Billie Jean and Black and White for the first time, using a skilled Japanese dancer complete with leather gloves and a fedora. "Smooth Criminal" and "Black and White" were both shown off on a Wii, which uses the Wii-mote to track your dance moves and rack up your score. You can perform either as Jackson or the backup dancers, which are slightly easier to perform than Jackson himself. So if you don't think your feet can keep up, go with a backgrounder. That feature won't be available in all of the songs, such as Billie Jean where he's dancing by himself, but for those songs where he appears with other dancers, it's a nice choice to have.
The Wii version supports multi dancers, although I'm not sure how they plan to drop in extra songs, if indeed that will be one of the features, although the setlist they've revealed so far is generous, and will probably include most of the dance numbers people know Jackson for. "Thriller" is in the game, and will probably be the most-performed song at parties, bar mitzvahs, and slumber parties. Which gives me hope that the song will live on in eternity. The Wii version as well as the PSP and DS editions will be released on November 23rd this year, but the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions have been pushed to early 2011.
Those versions will support singing, and will be much for 1:1 on the dance moves. In fact, the Kinect version uses the camera to actually place you inside the dance arenas, meaning you can see yourself on the Billie Jean stage, for instance. Not that I particularly want to see myself there, but it's a feature unique to the Kinect. Since it's a full performance game for PS3 and Xbox, some songs lend themselves more to those platforms vs. the Wii which is a dance-only game. So the song lineups may change between the two. We haven't seen either of those versions in action yet, and I'm eager to see how they handle the tracking and dancing in the game. With the Move, it will automatically feel like you have a microphone in your hand, while you'll have to add a microphone to your wishlist on the Xbox.
Ubisoft did have the DS version of the game on-hand, which I was able to play briefly through "Billie Jean," and was pleased to see that it plays much like Elite Beat Agents or portions of Rhythm Heaven. There's a rotoscoped, cartoonish version of Michael on the top screen, while you follow along on the bottom screen by tapping with the stylus, or using the d-pad. It plays the complete and full versions of the songs, and is meant to appeal to a younger audience ... but it was admittedly fun enough for me to put on my purchase wishlist for later this year.
Bottom line: with the Kinect/360 and Move/PS3 versions being rolled back to 2011, I'd wait on finding out more about those before choosing a console version, but the DS version is addictively fun. I imagine the PSP will follow suit with similar gameplay, and if that proves true then either of those versions are an easy recommendation.