Genre: Action Developer: Sega Enterprises Publisher: Sega Enterprises Players: 1 Released: 1990
Sometimes the truth is more baffling and bizarre than anything dreamt up by the imaginations of mere humans. Sega may sit back and revel in the creative genius behind Sonic and Nintendo may praise the day they invented Mario, but sometimes there lives a character so crazy that fictionalizing his persona for the purposes of a video game just isn’t necessary. Can you see where I’m going with this?
It may carry the unfortunate distinction of paving the way for future diabolical music star cash-ins such as Britney’s Dance Beat and Aerosmith’s horrid Revolution X, but Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is head and shoulders above these messes by the sheer PRESENCE of its main character alone. You don’t have to hysterically flock to his hotel windows waiting to be showered by money/memorabilia/babies to recognize that Michael Jackson is, or was, a towering figure in music. His celebrity status may be fueled more by the lunacy of his actions these days but Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker stands as an unforgettable conformation of both his weirdness and his coolness. Unfortunately, it also serves as a reminder that stripped down arcade ports leave a sour taste in the mouth and that attempting to rectify the limitations of the console you’re porting down to is a bad move. Here it has resulted in a fun isometric beat’-em-up transforming, kind of like the star himself, into a stale imitation with graphics that pale in comparison to the original’s exuberant animation and colour. But hey, at least the music’s good!
Nothing could make the superb midi recreation of Smooth Criminal irritating, not even this platformer’s tendency to repeat its tracks for the entire length of the three sections that make up one level. Moonwalker plays a somewhat risky game of constantly reusing its music, but who cares? It just doesn’t matter when Billie Jean is providing the rocking (if, er, slightly oversynthed) accompaniment to your oh so stylish assault on a thousand generic goons. Busting their guts with your Star Power is ludicrous and hilarious and effective and I’m not sure what else — it’s truly bemusing to see Michael Jackson, clad in a white suit with hat tilted, sliding across the wooden boards to lash out with a cloud of blue stars emanating from his smooth kick.
Moonwalker desperately wants to be a game that wows people with the flashy style of a music video, delivering dance move after dance move masquerading as a legitimate attack. When you’re not spinning your hat through a crowd of cookie-cutter attackers you’re leaping through the air in with finger pointed and feet together, unleashing a fatal blast of blue stars accompanied by a distinctive Jackson screech. And Moonwalker is only getting warmed up with these smooth moves! Your super special attack simply has to be seen to be believed: Michael will launch into a frenzied spin, causing him to breakout into a hyperactive sequence of twists and turns and tip-toe swaying. Should any enemies happen to bust in on your impromptu dance routine they too will burst into dance, attempting to mimic the master. Of course this is something they can’t do, so they’ll fall fatally to the floor after the sequence. At the risk of seeming redundant, this is simply INSANE!
But it gets better. Moonwalker is eager to please, so it allows you to moonwalk at every single opportunity. Kill a biker enemy with an elaborate kick of Star Power? Hold that button down and moonwalk away from the scene of the death like a smooth criminal! Decisively deal the death blow to a zombie? Hold that button down and moonwalk through the mist! Find yourself on a pool table? Who cares if there’s no enemy, break into the moonwalk anyway!
Should you run perilously low on health things simply get weirder. Yes, really. When Michael is just about down and out, executing the special attack causes him to grab his crotch and scream OWWH! for some reason. I think this is as good a time as any to mention why you’re doing all these enemy beating dance moves and crotch grabbing shrieks. Michael’s purpose in this game is to rescue petite red dressed girls and their teddy bears from Mr Big, a generic monstrosity straight from the Archie Villain School of Lame Bad Guys. His crime: he’s a drug dealer, and remember kids, winners don’t do drugs. Although they do sometimes let surgeons cut their face to pieces.
It a shame that the only people desperate to cut your face to pieces in Moonwalker are one trick thugs who pour into levels, though. The game attempts to mask their practically non-existent AI by filling levels with enemies. Unfortunately it doesn’t boost the entertainment levels. As Michael you must OWWH your way through stage after stage of these thugs, enduring ridiculous door opening inanity as you hunt for lots of identical girls who respond to your heroic crotch grabbing and moonwalking with a cry of “MICHAEL!” Amusing, disturbing, inspirational? However you view Moonwalker, it’s important to remember that this is official merchandise.
It’s also important to remember that the arcade version is much more enjoyable. No matter how much fun you have playing with Michael, the lack of quality in this substandard adventure is ever presence, bubbling below the surface ready to rear its dull and dreary head. Rescuing children is repetitive; opening doors and cars and graves to get to them is also repetitive; and fighting lame enemies who fail to make you think at all is ultra repetitive. Basically, Moonwalker is horrendously repetitive. Games such as this always have to try harder because their concept is inherently boring. There’s just no escaping the fact that searching for girls by looking through doors, caves, graves and other silly places just isn’t fun — especially when you miss a girl and must run through every location in an attempt to find her while annoying enemies drift aimlessly around you.
Aside from the baffling abilities of Michael Jackson, Moonwalker makes no attempt to inject this type of adventure with any ingenuity or excitement. Well, actually it does make one attempt — one lousy, useless attempt at generating a flash of excitement. Should you save one particular child in one particular order (or some similarly obtuse goal) a shooting star will miraculously make its descent from the heavens and, should it strike Michael, the spectacular will happen. His body will transform under the power of the star and turn him into – a robot! Yes, a robot with rocket powered boots and laser eyes. Unfortunately, unlike in the arcades this version of robo-Michael cannot save children. So, there’s not much you can do as a robot. Enemies constantly respawn so you can’t clear them out of the level and you can’t fight the end of level bosses as a robot because Bubbles is scared of robots.
Bubbles? Yes, Bubbles. The chimp. Moonwalker is always looking to freak you out in new and stranger ways and the appearance of Bubbles just defies any logic. Once you save all the girls, he’ll (and I’m not making this up) fly in on a shooting star to take his position on top of your shoulders where he will point you in the direction of the boss. Oh, and when I say boss, I really mean a collection of the same plain thugs that assaulted you throughout the level. Such a mediocre climax is typical of a game that, once you look past the dancing of Michael, is a thoroughly dull experience. Of course, the moves of Michael are really the main attraction here, and it is enjoyably disturbing to see him strut through levels screeching like… well I’m not sure what. But why not just play the arcade version instead? It’s more entertaining than this boring trudge through murky settings in pursuit of a bad guy who hides girls in bushes.
SCORE: 4 out of 10
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