System: Sega Genesis
Release Date: 1990
First Played: 1996
Status: DEFEATED – September 24, 2014
For many people, if you were to tell them that you owned a video game where you played as Michael Jackson on a quest to save children from an evil gangster set on world domination, they’d think you were joking……if you pressed the matter, they’d ask you to leave immediately and never come back to the GAP on Bay and Bloor. Fine! I don’t need your pants!! I DON’T NEED PANTS AT ALL!!!
…I seem to be off topic.
It goes without saying that Michael Jackson is a music legend; and though later in life his career was plagued by child molestation accusations and being singled out more as an oddity than an artist, he is still known the world over as an incredible singer and performer. Go to any club or party or wedding or what have you; when Thriller or Smooth Criminal or Billy Jean starts to play, you can’t help but dance!! In the height of his popularity, the folks at Sega thought it would be a good idea to team up with Mr. Jackson to make a game based off of his recent film “Moonwalker”. It was good press for Michael and great press for Sega, whose battle for Video Game supremacy had just got under way with Nintendo, and using a superstar like Michael Jackson was just the ammunition they needed! But, like so many other games based off of movies or actors/celebrities (I’m looking at you SHAQ-FU!!) is this game actually good or just a cash grab?
When First We Met…
I always talk about a video rental store called Jumbo Video as my go to place for renting games, but there were others, like Video Maxx. I rarely went to Video Maxx; apparently this was the same with most everyone in town, because in the fall of 1996, it was closing its doors. The great thing about a Video Rental store going out of business is that they have to unload their inventory, so I ventured over to the gutted husk that was Video Maxx to pick Jackal-like through its remains, which is when I stumbled upon this…
“Michael Jackson has a Video Game??” I mused, stroking my undeveloped chin hair. I had heard of Michael Jackson, who hadn’t, but it’s not like I collected his music or anything. Truth be told, I wasn’t really into music all that much, but something told me I had to get it. Maybe it would be worth something someday, plus it looked odd enough to be entertaining. So, forking over $15, I was now the proud owner of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker!
I pop it into my Genesis and am greeted with a guitar riff and the title…
So far so good…in the option section, you can pick the difficulty (Easy, Medium, Hard) adjust the controls and do a sound test of the music…but I’ll get to the music later. I go with easy, just to see what all this is about. You’re then asked if you want to play a 1 or 2 player game…
I choose 1 player! Then the game starts and things get….weird…There is an opening cut scene which shows a car that looks like the DeLorean from Back to the Future flying through the air! Then it stops and turns into Michael Jackson…you read that correctly…TURNS INTO! Then it cuts to the first level, Club 30. It’s dark inside; suddenly the door bursts open revealing a silhouette of Michael. He spins through the door and flips a coin across the room into a jukebox! The place lights up and SMOOTH CRIMINAL begins to play in all its 16-bit synthesized glory! I don’t know what the hell is happening…but I like it!
I try out Michaels moves, which all look like dance moves! “A” delivers a dance kick which shoots out blue magic dust , ducking does a jab which also shoots magic and pressing up does a pose which acts like an upper cut which, you guessed it, shoots magic. I should mention that whenever Michael does a move he makes a typical Michael Jackson sound like “Shoo” or “OW” or “Woooo”. “B” is jump, which looks like a dance jump; you can also do a jumping punch which looks like he’s posing for the camera…that also shoots magic. “C” makes you spin; this makes you temporarily invincible, but depletes life! Hold it down for a couple of seconds and he’ll throw his hat like a boomerang which can take out any enemy in one hit…but again, it depletes your health. The lower your health goes, the less magic you shoot out while doing basic attacks. Your health bar is also colour coded! Blue is full power, Yellow medium, and Red means you have no magic left; this means you just do regular jabs which do basically no damage whatsoever! Just like the real Michael Jackson!
Now I know what you’re thinking, this game is called Moonwalker; can you do the MOONWALK? The answer is YES followed by some rapid high fiving! To pull this off, do a kick and hold down the button, then move left or right; Michael will Moonwalk with ease! So I have the basic moves down, which are a lot of fun, but I want to fight some baddies and put this game to the test! You run into some guy in a suit and fedora leaning all rough and tough against the wall; he sees you and draws a gun! I easily dodge the bullet and deliver a magic kick which literally sends him flying! HaHA!! I defeat more guys in a similar fashion but then I come across……
A blonde haired child sitting on the floor crying holding a teddy bear……um, ok…..I walk towards him/her. When we meet, the child jumps to its feet and yells “Michael!!” then…now I’m going to sound crazy but just believe me…then a blue beam of light comes and takes the child away…..Yup…So…What the hell just happened!?!? Wait a minute, that kid…that looked a lot like…was…was that Macaulay Culkin?
Ok, this just got weird…but I press on. (NOTE: The children will now be referred to as Culkins from this point on) I notice on the bottom of the screen is a section that shows a Culkin picture with how many Culkins remain beside it. So I guess I need to save all the Culkins in order to pass the level, ok, here I go! The Culkins are well hidden; in this stage they are behind doors and windows you need to open. I take damage from some bullets, but every Culkin I find restores my health! Eventually, I find the last Culkin; then the screen goes black and…just hear me out ok…Bubbles the Monkey rides in on a beam of blue light and sits on Michaels shoulders. He then points in the direction that I need to go.
You still with me? Good. I do as Bubbles bids me and follow his pointing until he jumps away off screen. The music changes to some generic boss battle music and a tiny man walks on screen.
You’ll never catch me? Well you’re pretty tiny and you walk really slow…so, you know, I probably could catch you. Also, who is this guy? The main bad guy I guess. No time for that though, because I’m soon surrounded by well dressed goons! I kick and punch but there is too many of them! I decide to use my hat, even though it will cost me health. So I start to spin, building up magic power, holding the button longer than I feel I should. My life bar turns yellow and I let go expecting my hat to go flying into this horde of dapper gentlemen…but instead of throwing my hat, Michael lets out a loud “WOOOOOO!!” and poses! All the bad guys suddenly rush around and take places to either side of him. Then, THE GREATEST MOMENT IN VIDEO GAME HISTORY HAPPENS…
EVERYONE DOES A CHOREOGRPHED DANCE TO SMOOTH CRIMINAL AND THEN DIE FROM SAID DANCING!!! I watch, my mouth hung open, dumbfounded and in actual disbelief that I’m not hallucinating but what I am seeing is actually happening! Once they all drop dead, a Culkin creature appears on the right side of the screen; I walk towards it and it says “Michael!” End of Level one.
Wow. Did that just happen? Next, there’s a screen that shows your point total, and a time bonus if you beat it under a certain time limit. Then it shows a picture of Michael’s face, below is text that says what level this is…then the face lets out a giant “WOOOOOO!”
I burst out laughing! What the hell is going on!?!?! This is incredible! That happens after every level by the way, with the exception of when you travel to a different location. The next two levels play basically the same: Find Culkins, follow Bubbles, fight guys in suits. The Culkins get harder to find, but it’s not impossible. After, there is a quick cut scene introducing the next “world”. This is the street outside Club 30, and the song is now “Beat it”!
There are Ginger Kid bad guys that are easy to kill, as well as heavily armed guards and attack dogs! The Culkins are hidden in doors, windows, dumpsters (eww!), car trunks, and sewers (EEEWWW!!!), as well as in plain sight. This time however, I’m surprised to find that some hiding spots have bombs inside that deal a lot of damage! Even more surprising, these bombs end up killing me! When Michael dies, he lets out a tiny “WOOooo….” And then turns into a beam of light and flies away…thankfully, when you start again, any Culkins you found stay found, but you do start at the beginning of the level; which isn’t terrible for the most part, since these stages are pretty compact.
The Street levels prove to be pretty straight forward; the only thing that stands out is a boss fight with a bunch of dogs…
You have to hit the silver dog while fighting off the sea of other dogs that are trying to kill you! This is surprisingly tough, and I die, using up all my lives….but there are continues! After a few more goes, I defeat the dog and finish off the rest of the street levels. We’re treated to another cut scene of Michael turning into a car and flying away. He lands in the woods…the spooky woods, with grave stones and ZOMBIES!!!
And what song plays during this spook-tacular level? You guessed it, “Another Part of Me”!!……..What’s that? That’s not what you guessed? You said “Thriller”? A song that talks about monsters, has Vincent Price in it and even has Zombies in the music video?? Well, it’s not. Why, I have no clue; you’d think of all the songs you could play for a spooky level you’d play the ONE HORROR THEMED SONG HE HAS…but I digress. It’s still a catchy song nonetheless. Though when you activate your dance powers, the Zombies still do the Thriller dance…
The Zombies are much tougher than the other foes I’ve faced so far. First of all they take 2 hits to kill. After taking the first hit, they start to jump around, making them very hard targets, and 9 times out of 10, they will jump on you! This costs me some lives, but I eventually find a pattern that works to my advantage. One boss battle, after fighting off a horde of zombies, I face 2 zombies who can split in half and fly across the screen at me! This costs me more lives, and I need to continue. There’s no point in dancing with those zombies, you need all the health you can to survive! Yet, I am able to squeeze out a win….however, this is where my journey with Michael comes to an end…
These Zombies not only split in half, but they drop knives on you from above!! To make matters worse, the muck that I’m stuck in makes Michael’s movements very slow, so it’s next to impossible to dodge them! This is when I started to take this game more seriously. This isn’t just a silly game about Michael Jackson dance fighting, this is actually challenging! Try as I would, I would fail again and again…sadly I had to move on. I would never know what lay ahead in this bizarre yet strangely amazing game……
Meanwhile in the Present…
Being older and wiser, I now know that this game was based off of the movie Moonwalker. It then occurred to me that, I had never seen this movie! If I was going to put this game on my quest, I should at least research the source material. I was able to find a copy on-line; now I don’t want to do a full review of the movie but here’s the gist of it. It is basically split into 3 parts: Part 1 is a musical anthology of all of Michaels songs up to the present year of 1988. It was interesting to see the literal and figurative transformation of Michael from his days with the Jackson 5, and they played all his hits, which was great to listen to! Part 2 is where things get a bit weird. It’s a mini film that has Michael running away from clay-mation paparazzi and screaming fans. I understand that this section represents how he saw all the haters; he even has the cameras that the paparazzi carry look like guns! He out smarts them by dressing up like a clay-mation bunny and escaping on a motorcycle. At the end, he dances with the bunny costume which has come to life.
Part 3 is what is most important for our purposes because that is where the game draws its inspiration from. It opens with Michael Jackson exiting a building, dressed in a really nice suit, and getting gunned down by heavily armed soldiers! What the hell?? Cut to before…Michael is playing in a field with 3 homeless children named Zeke, Sean and Katie and their dog Skipper. Makes sense to me! Skipper runs away into the woods, so Michael and Katie give chase, only to discover a secret base belonging to an evil drug lord bent on world domination named Mr. Big who discovers he is being spied on, but Katie and Michael manage to escape. And who plays Mr. Big???? JOE PESCI!!!!!
I can’t believe it! I think it must be someone who looks like him, but, nope, that’s him!! Anyway, the film then jumps back to Michael getting gunned down by Mr. Big’s goons…except he survived through magic! There’s a chase scene that happens, which is where Michael escapes capture by turning into a car and flying away! (The game is starting to make a bit more sense now…) He lands outside and then enters Club 30 and performs Smooth Criminal (Which is the first level of the game)! Katie is kidnapped by Mr. Big and Michael chases them to another secret base where there is a massive final fight with Michael ultimately destroying Mr. Big and his evil operations!! But more on that in a bit, let’s get back to the game…
Having seen the movie and reading the back of the game box, I now know that the children you rescue in the game are not Macaulay Culkin but Katie the homeless child, though why they only use Katie over and over again is beyond me, it was probably easier to just repeat the sprite than having to make 12 different kids. Despite this new information, I’m still calling the children Culkins, as it pleases me to do so.
As per my stipulation, I select the HARD difficulty and get ready for some Moonwalker wackiness! Despite the difficulty setting, I’m able to get to the woods rather quickly, and I soon find myself facing those Knife Zombies! It’s here that by fluke I discover I can move faster through the muddy water by Moonwalking, and therefore are able to dodge the knives raining down on me with ease!! So the Moonwalk isn’t just something fun to look at, it’s actually practical! After a fun dancing cut scene, I’m in a series of cave levels, which is similar to the cave Michael and Katie enter in the movie. The song of choice here is “Billie Jean”. I don’t think Michael has any songs about being in a cave, so I’m happy enough with this.
The Culkins are much harder to find in the caves. Instead of just opening a door and finding a Culkin, you have to enter a smaller room full of bad guys, and only a hand full of these rooms have Culkins, so get ready for a hell of a lot of fighting!! To make matters worse, you have to face the Armed Gaurds, Zombies and Spiders! There are spider webs strewn throughout the level that try to slow you down, but just like the mud in the previous level, you can Moonwalk through them easily! Moonwalking past large spider symbols also knocks down a secret door, which more often than not contained Culkins. The boss fights are more the same, just a massive group of bad guys trying to kill you. There is no point in dancing in these later levels, unless you have a Culkin to fill up your life meter, so I found myself forsaking dancing for just out and out brawling…or at least as close to brawling as Michael Jackson can get! These caves are a pain to get through, but I manage to survive; so it’s on to the next and final series of levels…Mr. Big’s hide out!
The music used here is “Bad”, which is really catchy despite the synthesized quality! This level is by far the toughest; armed guards everywhere, laser guns on the roof that you don’t know exist until you’re hit by them, and the use of teleporters to access different parts of the level can get you lost quickly, unable to find a desperately needed Culkin that hide in futuristic doors and cabinets. Though the bane of my existence are the newly introduced GREEN soldiers
On the last level boss fight, I found myself surrounded by them! There is no way that I can take out a never ending onslaught of soldiers with my magic dust alone! Then it happened…now I know I said before that the dance fighting was the greatest moment in video games ever…I mean, what could possibly top that? How about Michael Jackson getting hit by a falling star and TURUNING INTO A KILLER ROBOT!!!
WHAT THE HELLL??????? You might ask, why is this happening!?!? BECAUSE IT HAPPENED IN THE FILM.
Run Pesci, RUN!!!
That is the end result of an incredibly elaborate transformation sequence which made me think that they totally could have done a live action Transformers movie in the 80s! Then we could have avoided Shia “Where’s the Beef” LaBeouf and Michael “KaBlam” Bay fucking around with my childhood!
The Green Soldiers, who previously took around a dozen or so hits to defeat, fall like so many ants to my reign of lasers and rockets!! Finally, I kill the last Green Soldier! But where is Mr. Big? Suddenly…
Mr. Big is apparently escaping in a rocket ship into space, so naturally, Michael Jackson TURNS INTO A FUTURISTIC SPACESHIP and goes after him. Now in the movie, Mr. Big jumps into a giant laser cannon that Spaceship Michael blows up with ease, but this is a video game, and so the stakes need to be raised to the Nth degree!
You’re immediately met with resistance as wave after wave of enemy ships fly at you and deal damage. My instincts tells me that I need to survive this barrage and then Mr. Big will show up, but actually Mr. Big is already there, you just have to find him. The screen at the bottom right is actually a radar which shows Mr. Big as a dot that you have to line up with the centre of the square in order to have Mr. Big’s ship appear on screen in front of you so you can shoot it. This is much harder than it needs to be as Mr. Big is flying around randomly and it’s very difficult to line up your shots, not to mention that all the other ships are firing at you constantly and you seem to be a very easy target for them, and they deal out a ton of damage. I died a lot on this fight, and actually had to start the game over and fight my way back. But, as with all epic space dog fights, I managed to pick off Mr. Big with just an inch of life left!! Mr. Big lets out a “Noooooo!” as he’s blown apart into the vacuum of space!
You’re congratulated once again, then the credits roll, which show Michael dancing with the homeless kid Zeke from the movie. The End……or is it?????
Yes it is.
I can say without a shadow of a doubt that there has yet to be a game to come out that is as unique as Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. The best part about this game? EVERTHING DANCES!
Despite the silliness of the idea, this is actually a solid game. I never found myself getting bored. The down side is that the boss fights tended to be cookie cutter; they were all just groups of people or animals or zombies attacking you; with the exception of the final boss, which I felt was executed poorly. They could have made this a fun side scrolling space shooter like Gradius with different power-ups that could up-grade your ship. And don’t make it just one level, make it several, that way you can get used to the flying mechanics; especially if you suddenly want to throw a first person space shooter randomly into the mix. Another fun boss idea that could use Michael’s music for inspiration: Why not a fight with an EVIL Michael Jackson and you could play “Man in the Mirror”! I mean, anything is better than that spaceship fight. Mind you, the idea of fighting Joe Pesci in a spaceship is pretty awesome!
The music is, naturally, amazing, and the dancing fits in flawlessly; though I wish they worked in Thriller into the zombie levels. I was able to appreciate the game more after seeing the Moonwalker film, as many of the elements of the Smooth Criminal part of the film translate nicely into video game form!
Should you play this? Hell yes! Good luck finding it though, this bad boy can sell as high as $100 on eBay, but I’m sure there are emulators around that can give you the same experience!
Well, that was by far the craziest game that I have encountered so far on this quest! But things are about to get a hell of a lot more extreme! Stay tuned for # 12 when I answer once and for all who would win in a fight: a Man-Machine or a Machine-Man?
I’ll Be Back……………..next week!