Genre: Action Developer: Sega Ent. Publisher: Sega Ent. Players: 1 Released: 1989
Released in 1989 before the Genesis version, Moonwalker on the Sega Master System is a solid action game with some platforming elements mixed in with the later stages. Like its sixteen-bit counterpart, the game is loosely based on the Moonwalker movie from 1988. As Michael Jackson, you’re out to rescue all the children who’ve been kidnapped and secreted away by Mr. Big before he can transform them all into mindless slaves.
Moonwalker takes place over six rounds, with three levels per round. You’ll start in the Club 30 nightclub searching behind doors and windows before moving onto stages that include a parking garage rife with armed gang members, a graveyard full of zombies, and a network of spider-infested caves. Finally, it’s on to Mr. Big’s high tech hideout for the final showdown with his army of laser rifle-wielding soldiers.
Michael can kick, punch while crouched and punch in the air while jumping or leaping across the screen. Unlike the Genesis version, these are strictly melee attacks as there are no magic sparkles that emanate from Michael’s hands or feet to give him an extended range. If you want a ranged attack, you’ll have to locate a special power up in the form of Michael wearing an orange-colored suit, which is typically found behind any of the places where you are searching for the children. Grabbing this will replace your normal standing and crouching melee strikes with a hat throw, which is a must-have in some of the later rounds. Michael also has access to his dance magic that causes the entire background to go black, ala the Master System version of Golden Axe’s magic attacks, while he performs a short dance routine that will destroy all on-screen enemies only and drain some of this life bar.
The controls are simple and spot-on with normal attacks and magic assigned to button one and jumping to button two. You can hit the pause button on the console to bring up a menu which shows how many children you have left to rescue, but it’s not all that necessary. To perform magic attacks, hold down button one and Michael will start spinning to attack. Keep holding down the button, and he’ll trigger one of his dance routines. If you’ve mastered the control setup on the Genesis version then you’ll have no trouble, as everything feels the same right down to the moonwalk. Michael animates very well and most of his signature moves and routines are on display for magic attacks. The graphics are also on the good side, with each stage being well represented, albeit with some repetition in the overall stage design.
Enemies attack in much different patterns than the Genesis version. The Club 30 thugs sporting guns and knives, the gang members in the parking garage swing and hurl their baseball bats, and the zombies in the graveyard seem much more aggressive as they leap through the air at you.
Regarding the sound and music, Moonwalker does a good job with its 8-bit renditions of Michael’s classic songs. All of the songs found in the Genesis version are present, including “Smooth Criminal,” “Beat It,” “Another Part of Me” (sorry, no “Thriller” music in this version either), “Billie Jean,” and “Bad.” Some of the sound effects are of the same variety that you’d hear on the Genesis version, and they hold up well here.
So how does this version measure up? For one thing, there are no difficulty settings and you’re given unlimited continues, which you’ll rarely use until you hit the final confrontation with Mr. Big (which I’ll explain more momentarily). Michael’s dance magic is underwhelming here, and I found I didn’t use it in most boss battles as his regular attacks are far more effective at clearing enemies quickly and don’t draw off-screen enemies on-screen to be destroyed. Only those present at the time you trigger the routine will be eliminated. The Master System version does feature new transformation sequences of Michael becoming a car or plane which aren’t present in the Genesis version.
I’ve always thought that the gameplay Moonwalker on the Genesis has a great flow to it as you move through the levels dispatching enemies while searching for the kids, and the Master System version retains that feeling. The one area of real frustration is the final battle with Mr. Big. You’ll transform into the giant robot to take him on in a fight, which is broken down into two stages. The first is a shooting gallery of sorts with four of his laser rifle-wielding solders running back and forth firing at you while Mr. Big sits invulnerable behind a wall of glass. You’re a large target here and dodging enemy fire is not easy. Your goal is to destroy thirty of the soldiers before the next phase of the fight begins. You have to move in a set pattern with good timing to hit the soldiers on the lower-left and then to the lower-right multiple times to thin them out before going for the two on the top row. Don’t be surprised if you use up about a dozen continues here the first time around.
In the second phase, you’ll transform into the battle plane and engage in another shooting gallery, only this time it’s in front of a cliff face with four gun turrets built into it which open, fire a shot, and then close, often in a random pattern. Your job here is to hit each turret twice to destroy it and hopefully avoid the laser fire. As the battle plane, you’re much more agile but you still have your work cut out for you here and like the first phase, you can expect to use up another dozen or more continues as well. It’s an overly tedious conclusion, and I’m glad the developers on the Genesis version decided to ditch it and go another route.
Other than that, Moonwalker on the Master System is a good game and will give seasoned Moonwalker players on the Genesis something new to experience. It isn’t a simply watered down port but rather a slightly different version. Like its Genesis counterpart, this one is still holding a high value so obtaining a copy at a decent price may prove difficult.
Score: 7 out of 10