In honor of the death of the King of Pop, Sega-16 has decided to take a second look at one of the original games that drew people to the Genesis, a special title that marked the start of a collaboration between the artist and the House of Sonic that would last a decade: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker.
It’s 1990, and Michael Jackson fandom has exploded. The Gloved One is the hottest thing since sliced bread, and Thriller has become the best selling record of all time since its 1983 release, selling one hundred MILLION copies, beating the rest out by about fifty million copies. But it’s time for more great music for the huge King of Pop fanbase, and the album Bad has just been released. To promote both it and its immense tour, the movie Moonwalker was released in 1989 nationwide. The public response is instant and massive, and of course, with Sega’s Michael Katz’s strategy to release as many celebrity-endorsed titles as possible for the Genesis in the “Genesis Does” campaign, who better to get for a game than Michael Jackson?
And so, the King of Pop was signed on to develop his own cartridge, and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker was made for consoles and the arcade (for a comparison, check out our Side-by-Side article), based off of the “Smooth Criminal” part of the Moonwalker movie. It reportedly cost seventeen million dollars to secure the licensing, and when it didn’t sell all that well and caught flack for repetitive gameplay, Sega of Japan was not happy. The result was a game that isn’t very easy to find in the wild today. But now, I’m sure Sega would be very happy as complete copies are now going for over $200 on eBay!
But we’re here to talk about the game itself. Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is a side-scrolling platformer in which you play as Jackson himself in his “Smooth Criminal” outfit, rescuing kids from the clutches of the crime lord Mr. Big. You fight all of Mr. Big’s cronies in five different levels using your star magic and dance moves. Michael Jackson appears in detailed environments ranging from Club 30, to graveyards, to Mr. Big’s hideout. Things are pretty varied in terms of level design, but the only problem is that the levels themselves look pretty much the same. There aren’t really any big differences between the sub-levels of each stage. As a whole though, the overall design looks pretty good, and really emulates the movie well. If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recognize the places in this release.
Click to see all the stages!
The gameplay in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is that of your average platformer, with a few twists added in. Jackson has to kick his way through Mr. Big’s cronies in each level, from 1930s gangsters to zombies, to SWAT teams. But rather than just straight-up fighting, he must also search all over and rescue a designated amount of kids in each level. You must look in doors, windows, and other nooks and crannies in each stage to find all of the kids. And along with fighting, you have a special meter that allows you to do a spin attack and special moves. With each special move you do, the bar depletes, and every time you rescue a kid, the bar increases. The magic bar also counts as your health bar, giving the game a little challenge. Additionally, Michael has different special moves, such as throwing his hat to take out enemies or even making all the enemies on the screen do his signature moves in a screen-zapper style dance sequence.
True to the King of Pop
Moonwalker has all the Michael Jackson quirks. You dance your way through levels with Jackson ‘s signature moves from the Moonwalk to the crotch grab! And there’s even a special feature where if you rescue a certain kid first in a level, a shooting star falls down from the sky. Catch it, and you turn into a laser-shooting, rocket-propelled robot, just like in the movie! incorporates the magic dynamic seen in the Moonwalker movie, and utilizes it in simple, yet fun side-scrolling gameplay. The only complaint I have about the gameplay is that there isn’t much replay value after a few times, as the locations of the kids don’t change with each successive play, which is an unfortunate omission that could’ve really made things better. But it is very enjoyable nonetheless.
Click to see all the magic attacks!
Another thing that really grabbed the attention of fans was Moonwalker’s sound and graphics. For a simple cartridge, it emulated the King of Pop SO well that you would’ve though thought he was in your living room performing for you. He did all his special dance moves, from the “Smooth Criminal” anti-gravity lean to the “Thriller” head-bob. And the music was so outstanding, it just made you want to get up and dance with Michael. Don’t believe me? Listen for yourself!
And the moves were recognizable too. If you didn’t know the MJ dance moves, this game would’ve taught you. Not to mention the sound effects! You had Michael’s “AWOOOOO” and “OOHs” and “AOOOOWs” all over the place. And with the power of the Genesis voice chip, you were hearing Michael’s REAL VOICE, something not really seen on consoles at the time. It was really exciting.
Moonwalking into History
In conclusion, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is one of the most memorable games on Genesis. It really makes you feel as if Michael Jackson is really in your home, only you are controlling the action! It’s got all the things that make him famous, and it will live in our hearts as one of the best licensed games ever.
R.I.P Michael, we all love you, and you will remain in our hearts as one of the best musicians in the history of mankind.
Some screen shots courtesy of Pablotron.org.