Michael Jackson returned to the world of videogames once again last year, tying neatly into Ubisoft's stable of dance craze-leading games. Alongside the primary Wii version -- which later was released in upgraded form on both PlayStation 3 Move and Xbox 360 Kinect -- there also came portable efforts, with the Nintendo DS edition taking on a form similar to iNiS' Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan / Elite Beat Agents. For the 2011 Christmas season, with a new handheld to support, Ubisoft have launched yet another assault on the music game charts with Michael Jackson: The Experience 3D. Is this just the same game re-wrapped, though, or does it do enough differently to make HIStory in its own right?
In fact, to Ubisoft's credit, Michael Jackson: The Experience 3D is not content to slip off its dancing shoes, fling off its fedora and phone in a lazy port. Everything, from the visuals to the gameplay to the tracklist, has been overhauled since the DS original. Now the music is accompanied on-screen by a more lifelike Jackson, who dances along with track-appropriate iconic moves in costumes and on backdrops directly taken from the music videos. Remember The Time features Egyptian dress and pharaoh-pleasing arm wiggles, while Ghosts has a skin-shedding MJ haunt his way through a creepy mansion hall. Though 3D doesn't really have any effect during core gameplay, each song is introduced with a 3D video, again inspired by the official music videos, to set the mood. Leave Me Alone's multi-layered opening particularly impresses.
The range of the songs has been reconsidered. Gone are slower tracks such as Heal the World, now replaced with tracks plucked from Blood on the Dancefloor, including the title track, and 2010 post-humous single Hollywood Tonight, for which the dancing avatar changes to the video's leading lady rather than MJ himself. Each one sounds brilliant, too, even only through 3DS' speakers, but naturally it's better through a good set of headphones. At only 15 songs long, though, there isn't a whole lot to play through. Plus, there's still no sign of Invincible era songs...
The circle-tapping, tube-tracking gameplay of the DS game has been thrown out, replaced with strokes of the stylus, the directions dictated by arrows that appear around the edges of the touch-screen. Purple beat circles will form at the very top of the screen to indicate the time a tap is required, similar to the earlier version, but otherwise it's a case of waiting for faint arrows to come together to time a swipe properly. Curved movements and circles for spins also crop up regularly.
At once this fits in more with the dancing spirit and feels less restrictive, as actions can be carried out anywhere on the screen, but it can also get very complex and sometimes difficult to keep track of when the moves start to stack up, especially since the instructional icons are small. Freestyle segments let players flick their hands as they please for limited periods of bonus point-scoring time. Sustained move matching builds up combos that also increase the scores, but there can be issues with this as the touch boundaries can be very sensitive. For example, a diagonal can, on occasion, be construed by the game as a horizontal in the heat of a frantic dance.
StreetPass and unlockables provide some incentive to hit those high notes, as best scores are shared wirelessly with other players as you roam the roads, while accomplishing combos and other achievements in each song opens up further costumes for MJ. Points also accumulate into a big meter that allows access to new difficulty settings when certain point boundaries are reached. It's a good job that these are in here, though, as otherwise there is little reason to push too hard -- all songs are available from the very beginning.
A new, interesting take on touch controlled music games. It can get confusing when more actions are required, though.
Good model and animation on the avatar MJ, and the 3D videos are impressive.
Superb sound quality and a more interesting tracklist than the previous portable release, but still limited by the number of tunes.
Only 15 songs, all unlocked from the beginning. Unlockables and StreetPass high scores stretch the experience a little, but not enough.
Michael Jackson: The Experience 3D improves on the DS edition through its presentation and song choices, but whether it does in the gameplay stakes is more debatable. It certainly works and gets closer to dancing than the last attempt, pushing the 3DS release to be slightly better than the DS one, but it is perhaps more fiddly than it should be, and more songs are still a must.