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A Look Back at Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

Whatever your feelings on the demise of the king of pop, if you’re in your mid-twenties or older you’ll remember this game. Moonwalker was based on the movie, itself a collection of music videos and montages culminating in a lengthy,  naive adventure- tale involving Mike trying to save three kids from the evil, drug-dealing Mr Big, played by Joe Pesci. The centerpiece of this is the fairly spectacular video for Smooth Criminal. This imagery formed the backbone of the Sega arcade game and shortly afterward; the Genesis and Master System versions.

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The arcade cabinet was an isometric beat-em-up that saw Jackson trawling the streets, rescuing children and throwing magic bolts at hoodlums, armed guards and robotic dogs. Utilizing the dance button activated a smart-bomb style dance attack that forced every enemy to get in behind Mike and dance along with him before expiring suddenly. The home console versions followed the same premise, only with a 2D platforming engine, more suited to the hardware.

The game was decried by many as a crappy license but think hard. How many other games feature singers kicking the crap out of thugs and then coercing them into highly coordinated dance routines? Most music fighters are rap-based and one-on-one. I’m thinking Def Jam Icon here and Wu Tang: Shaolin Style. There are simply no others. So in that way, Moonwalker stands alone. Also it contained digitised, chip-tune versions of Mike’s music. Smooth Criminal, Beat It, Bad, Billie Jean and the obvious choice for the graveyard level; Another part of me. (Licensing, precluded the use of Thriller outside Japan). It was plinky-plunky and exemplary of the limitations of the Genesis, but still funky and recognisable and it gave the game a musical identity.

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It was simple stuff. Smack about bad guys and rescue the kids from around the levels. Bubbles the chimp then comes and sits on your shoulder and points the way to the boss, which invariably turns out to be a bunch of goons. Very occasionally you’d get a shooting star that would turn you into a missile-spewing flying robot. It really wasn’t bad at all… well it was Bad… in a good way. Licenses may mean this game will never see the light of day again, but I would encourage Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo to consider it for their online marketplace. It will obviously sell and for the youngsters who weren’t around when it came out, (before the premise of Mike hunting for children took on an objectionable aspect), it’s a great fun title with challenge and replayability. Well worth the 400 points or equivalent it would cost.

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Michael appeared later in Space Channel 5 (parts one and two) and as a secret character in Ready 2 Rumble Round 2, both on the Dreamcast, so clearly his relationship with Sega and indeed video games stayed healthy. I would not be surprised if a Jackson-themed Singstar tore up the charts this Christmas. We gamers have definitely not seen the last of this man.

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  • Nathan Hardisty

    Brilliant article, well done sir.

  • ScubaSteve

    I loved this game! UFragtv even did a special tribute to MJ by having like 15 people streaming Moonwalker LIVE on their site, I won some prizes from them as well. Pretty epic! R.I.P MJ Check out my recording of Moonwalker at http://www.ufragtv.com