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Michael Jackson: The Experience (DS) (Nintendo DS) Review

Review for Michael Jackson: The Experience (DS) on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

An avid lover of video games in life, his Neverland home once stocked with the latest SEGA arcade units, Michael Jackson left his fingerprint on the gaming world just as he did in other mediums. Most prominent, off the back of the 1988 film of the same name, was Michael Jackson's Moonwalker, an all-kicking, all-dancing platformer on the Mega Drive. This was not Jackson's sole venture into games, however, and not the only partnership with SEGA. In 2000 and 2002 respectively, MJ featured in Dreamcast dance 'em ups Space Channel 5 and Space Channel 5: Part 2, and that is not to forget the did-he-didn't-he rumours of his working on the soundtrack to Sonic the Hedgehog 3 at some stage during development, these days practically confirmed both by slightly less vague comments from SEGA and a number of similarities between the game's final score and later released Jackson tracks. Before his untimely demise, MJ had been working on a game, quite possibly to coincide with his This Is It residency at London's O2 Arena. Whether Michael Jackson: The Experience is, ultimately, the game that was originally planned or not is unknown, but Ubisoft have played to the strengths of Nintendo DS with the title's handheld version.

Rather than taking us on a fantastical voyage through the stories portrayed through his short films, Ubisoft have focused on the main things that Michael Jackson was loved for: his music and his moves. While the Wii version - and the upcoming Move-enabled PlayStation 3 and Kinect for Xbox 360 editions - has the obvious advantage of allowing players to actually get up and shake their body down to their favourite songs, Michael Jackson: The Experience DS instead 'borrows' a rhythm game concept already proven on the handheld. Taking a rather large leaf from iNiS' Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan book, the game is played by tapping on numbered circles that appear on the touch-screen in time with some of your favourite Jackson tracks, a cartoon-like 3D MJ dancing on the upper screen all the while. These circles are accompanied by swiftly shrinking rings surrounding them to dictate the timing; once the ring closes around the dot, that's your cue to click.

Some markers are attached to tubes of colour that players must trace along, and occasionally the circles will move aside for a screen-filling wheel that must be spun as fast as possible, accumulating lots of points and causing the on-screen Michael to perform one of his trademark moves - the more you spin, the more he spins. Points are also awarded for every successful circle hit, and by chaining together accurate taps, score-multiplying combos will come into action; if these can't be maintained, you'll have no chance of getting the scores necessary to unlock further tracks. Some markers will be adorned by stars, too, and hitting a chain of these correctly will add to a star meter at the bottom of the screen. Fill the star to the top and give it a quick jab, and the points on offer will be doubled for a short period of time. The developers seem aware that some of the sections can get a little intense, however, and there are regular 'show time' breaks wherein the MJ avatar takes over both screens with some of his iconic dance routines, giving your hand a tiny break in the process.

Screenshot for Michael Jackson: The Experience (DS) on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

The less-strict, abstract circle system, as opposed to an instrument-based music game like Rock Band, allows the developers to hop around the tracks as they choose, cherry-picking the most recognisable elements and aligning them with the taps. One moment you may be moving along the bassline of a song, the next skipping along the vocals, or the drums, or any other instrument present. They've done a good job in this regard, as your tapping generally goes with the main part of whatever song is being played, but also allows it to deviate to highlight a particular drum kick or vocal tick. Even without necessarily hearing the songs and just tapping to the circles - though quite why you'd want to play like that is a mystery - it's easy to, if you already know the songs well, interpret which point in the track is currently playing.

As you would hope, the sound quality is excellent throughout, with the proper audio tracks used - no crappy cover versions here. Unfortunately, the downside of the audio standard is the amount of songs on offer: a mere twelve. While each of these tracks fits in well, casual fans will likely be confused at some of the selections, too. Why, for example, can you find the likes of Bad outtake Streetwalker when better known songs including Thriller, Dangerous and Earth Song have been omitted? That is to say nothing of Streetwalker's quality - it's an excellent song that works well with the game - but it is bizarre that it has been picked over some of MJ's most well-known releases. The lack of any tracks from HIStory, Blood on the Dancefloor or Invincible is a little disappointing, too.

Due to the number of songs, it's possible to blast through the entire career mode, on medium difficulty, in around an hour if you pick up on the gameplay mechanics quickly, though multiple challenge levels alleviate this problem to an extent; since it's so short, players will probably have little issue with playing it all the way through a number of times on the different difficulty settings. There are also various trophies to collect that represent different periods in Michael's life, awarded for achieving target scores on each song, and a jukebox mode allows you to listen to the music and make micro-Michael perform a few select dance steps along with it.

Screenshot for Michael Jackson: The Experience (DS) on Nintendo DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review


Does nothing new, but uses the format set by Ouendan to great effect.


Nothing too fancy, with the main emphasis put on the MJ caricature. The animation on this is pretty spot-on, and each song gets its own limited set of dance moves.


The sound quality is top notch, though the song selection is a little confusing at times despite all fitting the game well. Trademark vocal samples trickle in often.


There are only twelve songs to play through. You'll probably get a few of runs out of it, but it's more than possible to fire through all the tracks in one session.

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 7 out of 10

Good - Bronze Award

About this score
Rated 7 out of 10

If it's dancing and shouting that you want, you're best off jamming over to the home consoles, but Michael Jackson: The Experience DS uses the system well by employing the rhythm gameplay of a much-lauded series. The main let down is in the small tracklist and the omission of some key songs, but Michael Jackson fans will find much to enjoy here.

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Senior ModeratorStaff Member

I thoroughly enjoyed this, which came as quite the surprise following the preview version that seemed really boring. Shame it's such a short experience, though - like Mike, I crashed through in an hour or two.

( Edited 26.01.2011 08:11 by jesusraz )

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter

It's a very fun game. I got it for $20 and that made it an even easier purchase. Since we won't be getting Elite Beat Agents 2 I've bought this and got Looney Toones Cartoon Conductor as a gift from my wife last christmas.

I won mine from the recent C3 competition, haven't played it as yet, but looking forward to it

EdEN said:
It's a very fun game. I got it for $20 and that made it an even easier purchase. Since we won't be getting Elite Beat Agents 2 I've bought this and got Looney Toones Cartoon Conductor as a gift from my wife last christmas.

Ah, I knew there was another Ouendan/EBA type game out there, totally forgot about Looney Toons! Will have to grab it. Smilie

This is the version I would get, if I bought it. I really enjoyed Elite Beat Agents and the Ouendan games, so I think I'd like this.

I won mine, too in the same competition, it arrived today, thank you again cubed3, I'm super happy! Wishing u all the best! Smilie))

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