The Black Eyed Peas Experience Review
Game: The Black Eyed Peas Experience
Developer: iNis, Ubisoft
Available on: Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii (Xbox 360 version reviewed)
Ubisoft aren’t new entrants into the dancing game genre by any means. The Just Dance series is the biggest selling dancing franchise on the market and has just seen its third instalment released to retail. The company also produced Michael Jackson: The Experience, which made use of arguably one of the most sought-after musical licenses in existence. That was the title with which the company first took their dancing games to the Kinect hardware. Strangely, the Wii and PlayStation 3 versions of the title closely resembled the Just Dance franchise, whereas the Kinect version was rebuilt almost from the ground up, in a whole new style. So now that the company have decided to take their single-artist formula further – with a collaboration with one of the most successful hip-hop/pop acts at present – what method have they taken?
GRAPHICS: The first thing that is likely to hit you with this game is that the menu systems and overall presentation have improved greatly from the release of the Michael Jackson title. Whereas that game was rather bare-bones and simple in its presentation, the Black-Eyed Peas (BEP) version has funked things up little. Images of the band are flashed around left right and centre, whilst 3D models of the entire group dance and strut their stuff. The screens are all very slick and polished and the style resembles that of rival Harmonix dancing game, Dance Central somewhat – certainly more than it does Just Dance.
The in-game graphics and presentation more closely mirrors Dance Central too. Rather than using the simple cartoon-style rotoscoping of Just Dance, or the actual video capture dancers seen in the Michael Jackson Experience, the game chooses a third option and the character models both of the band members and of the player avatars are rendered as stylised 3D dancers, the colour palette and fashion styles are very reminiscent of the Dance central style – you would be forgiven for thinking that this title had been put together by the Harmonix design team.
SOUND: Obviously, being a music-based title, sound effects and speech are used very infrequently – or at least are not central to the overall experience. The songs and music are the main feature here. With a selection of around thirty different tunes by the artists in question, fans of the group are spoilt for choice – especially as the sound fidelity is top-notch.
But then that also presents us with the biggest issue with the title, one that is quite obvious. All of the songs in the title are Black-Eyed Peas songs. That will immediately limit the appeal of the title, as although their music is very popular nowadays, it has nothing like the same kind of universal appeal and generational cross-section of fans as the music of Michael Jackson does. In fact, there are probably very few groups who could carry an entire title by themselves. There are arguably few groups at this point in time bigger than BEP worldwide, but it still makes the game somewhat niche. Add to that, the fact that all in-menu music and background music is just samples taken from the same selection of songs from the setlist and you can imagine that the menu tunes can get rather irritating, quite quickly. Creating original music for incidental screens, so as not to over-play the songs that you will be dancing to, could have really reduced annoyance levels.
GAMEPLAY: The game is made up of two main options; Dance Party and Deluxe Experience. Dance Party lets one player (or two players simultaneously) dance straight away, with no options or variables to adjust, with the choice of having up to two backing singers accompany them, with the use of Microsoft wireless microphones. Unlike Michael Jackson: The Experience, this game does not support the built-in Kinect Microphone – although it seems somewhat strange to include it in one game and drop it for the next – but this does result in better detection of the vocals of the singer, as the wireless microphones were designed for singing games. Dancers select a song and dance to it rightaway, being scored for how accurately they imitate the moves performed on-screen. At the end they are given a grade to measure how well they have done.
When dancing, the Black Eyed Peas appear on-screen, performing the dance moves facing the player, whereas the player avatar is also on-screen, facing the band. You must imitate the moves of the dancers and if you do so successfully, your avatar will also mirror the moves. Unfortunately the linking of your moves to the avatar of yourself on-screen is a bit hit and miss, with the avatar performing the moves in a set animation – rather than doing exactly what you are. This makes it hard to see what you are getting wrong about the move, as you cannot work out which limbs are in the wrong position or if you are out of time. By having a set animation cycle, the player cannot read their avatar in order to improve their performance. What is good, is that whereas this game will show small icons on-screen of the next move which is upcoming, so that you can prepare for it – unlike other dance titles where these appear like static flashcards, the ones in this title are animated, so you can really read what move is coming up and what actions you have to prepare for. This is very helpful if you don’t know the moves very well.
The Deluxe Experience however allows for the same number of players, in the same orientation, to learn dance moves, unlock dance venues and to edit their own avatar. Players can choose the gender and skin colour of their dancer, altering their face and hair from a small selection of options, before dressing them in some new threads. The options are all very limited, although more clothing and accessories will unlock later. Then they are given options to start dancing, or enter the choreo-maker, where you can put together your own dance routines.
At the risk of comparing the game to Dance Central too much, it should be said that the main strong point of the game is the tutorial modes of the game – which is far more in-depth and helpful than that in Just Dance, and comes close to rivalling the practice modes in Dance Central 2. When players choose to start dancing in the BEP Experience, they will have to complete three steps of learning before they can perform the whole routine. Each step is selected individually and will teach the player three dance moves from the overall routine. This is done in a gentle way, letting the player watch dancers perform the move, before trying it themselves, then putting it all together into a mini-routine.
The way this is handled is very good, and the tutorial doesn’t get boring as it is all quite fast-paced and energetic. These sections are as long as a full song in itself, but you can see the difference that this makes when you try jumping into a dance without learning the moves in advance; it is so much harder. It should be said that the dance routines are quite challenging and very high-tempo, which is offers a great challenge – especially for those who may have found Just Dance too easy – and the tutorial mode really is a must-play. After successfully finishing the three learning steps, you can perform the whole routine, putting together all of the moves you have learnt and at the end of your song you will be shown leaderboards based on your scores, which can rank you against the whole world, or just against your friends.
By successfully completing tutorials and dances in Deluxe mode, you gain followers, which in turn can unlock clothes and accessories as well as unlocking new venues to dance at. This acts as the progression method for the Deluxe mode, which is as close to a story mode as you get in the game. Throughout Deluxe mode, challenges also appear from time to time – where BEP band members will ask you to complete certain objectives in your routines. You might be asked to nail 30 moves at the “incredible” rating during a routine, or to clear a song to at least a “B” grade whilst hitting the finishing pose perfectly. Completing these tasks successfully rewards you with bonus clothing items, whereas failure yields no punishment.
Singing in the game is only an optional extra, and can only be performed whilst someone else is dancing. Lyrics appear at the bottom of the screen and bonus points are added to the score totals for the song depending on how well the singer matches tone and melody. The choreo-maker is a somewhat shallow mode unfortunately. Whilst creating your own dance routines sounds like a good idea and having the ability to share them online across Xbox LIVE, or import other people’s routines does seem like a nice touch, the way you put together routines has a few major flaws. Of course, you can only create routines which accompany existing songs on the game. This means you are changing the dance moves for a song that has already been choreographed by professionals, so it seems like a bit of a futile effort. Secondly, you can search moves to place into your composition by dancing yourself. The game is meant to recognise your move and guess which in-game manoeuvre you wanted to use. This system however will only recognise moves already in-game, so you need to have a good knowledge of the dance moves to even use this feature.
MULTIPLAYER: Whilst two players can play cooperatively in both single dance modes and Deluxe mode, there are few options based around these. You can just dance a straight dance – which yields both individual scores and a combined, averaged score between yourself. This only involves dancing one song at a time – no competition modes are available and the game doesn’t save anything to do with these performances at all – only progress and scores in Deluxe mode are recorded. In Deluxe mode, the two of you dance co-operatively at the same time, in order to clear a stage. Your scores are combined to give an overall clearance score, which will reward you with new followers accordingly. Two additional players can join in by singing, as mentioned previously, so it is possible to have four players working together.
LONGEVITY: The lack of different modes, both in single and multiplayer severely limits the lifespan of the title. There simply aren’t enough different features in the solo game to keep you wanting to perform song after song, and there is no real competition in the multiplayer modes to create any sort of excitement and party atmosphere. Most of the items and extra venues in the game could be attained quite soon, but as you will just be working through all the songs one-by-one with no real exposition or feeling of progression, players may find it difficult to motivate themselves to go through every tune. You can track the Challenges you have passed and failed in the “My Dancer” section, so you can go back and try to clear all challenges, which is also true of achievements, but these features aren’t very prominent and some gamers may simply miss them. Further songs will be made available for download, so you can add a little more variety to the setlist, but the fact remains that the game modes are limited and you will only be dancing to the music of one artist in the whole game.
VERDICT: A strong tutorial element and challenging dance routines are sadly let down by a lack of gameplay options and what is not a particularly exciting setlist. Of course, fans of the music of the Black-Eyed Peas will enjoy the selection highly, but perhaps the game designers should have taken a leaf out of the book of the Guitar Hero creators who – when dealing with a single-artist game – also included songs from artists who influenced the group in question. This just helps to widen the scope of the setlist and add some variety to the game. The main failing is that there is little that will make players return to the title again and again. With a lacklustre career mode and thoroughly uninspired multiplayer options, the game has a real longevity deficiency. The visual style of the game and its brilliant teaching method show some real promise, but “I Gotta Feeling” that The Black Eyed Peas Experience really could be better.