While they’re perpetuating popular hardcore franchises like “Splinter Cell” and “Assassins’ Creed” on the Xbox 360 and PS3, Ubisoft’s quietly established a successful micro-niche of choreography dance games on the Wii. “Just Dance”–the first of these games–emerged as a best-seller when it came out last year and followed by “Dance on Broadway” this year, which gave players the chance to do routines from classic musicals “Guys & Dolls” and “Hair.” Now those titles are being joined by “Michael Jackson The Experience.”
The game lets players dance (and sing, in the PS3 and Xbox versions) to the late superstar’s choreography. I had a chance to check out the Wii version of “MJTE,” the baby brother of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 offerings. Those games have been delayed, leaving the Wii game the only one still scheduled to arrive this holiday. (There’s also a handheld version on the Nintendo DS, which plays very similarly to the 2006 hit “Elite Beat Agents”.) The Microsoft and Sony versions of the MJ game use those companies’ Kinect and Playstation Move motion gaming hardware, while “MJ” Wii uses the standard remote. In each case, your movements are tracked to see where they match up with the on-screen movements, Where “Just Dance” and “Dance on Broadway ” have gentler interpretations of playable footwork, the Micheal Jackson game takes none of the complexity away from the Gloved One’s moves.
The King of Pop gets a weird, slightly fantastic visual interpretation in the video game memorial. There’s no other way to put than to say that he doesn’t quite have a face. In some songs, he’s the Afro-sporting, bell bottoms-rocking dancing machine of the J5 years, only slightly grown up. In others, his skin color’s the light-skinned beige of his later years. In none of them does he have a nose (any of his noses) or a mouth. Ubisoft says that this decision is meant to let players more easily think of themselves as Michael Jackson, but it has the odd effect of only reminding you just how bizarre he wound up looking before he died.
Still, one cool corollary to making Jackson’s discography playable is that Ubisoft’s made videos for songs that never had them. The Afro MJ that I mention above was dancing through “Workin’ Day and Night,” from the 1978 album “Off The Wall” Never mind that MJ had aged out of the J5 attire by the time the album was released, the creative license here offered by the game in these instances is still fascinating. In such cases, the steps in the game’s new music videos have been created with the help of choreographers who worked with Jackson.
As far as the music itself, six tracks have been announced already. Nothing further on the track listing or whether there will be downloadable content for the game has been made public. Here’s what out there so far:
• Beat It
• Billie Jean
• Black or White
• Earth Song
• Smooth Criminal
• The Girl Is Mine
• They Don’t Care About Us
• Who Is It
• Workin’ Day And Night
If you’re in New York City this weekend, you’ll be able to try out these songs this weekend at New York Comic-Con. Look for Ubisoft at booth #1617 at the Jacob Javits Center. The Wii version of “Michael Jackson The Experience” will be in stores on November 23rd and the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions should be out early next year.