Written by  :  ETJB (450)
Written on  :  Jun 07, 2014
Platform  :  Genesis
Rating  :  3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars

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You've Been Touched By A Smooth Criminal!

The Good

Michael Jackson certainly earned the title, “King Of Pop”. Generations of post-war Americans grew up with Jackson's music and, yes, his music videos.

Two of his 1980s music videos – Thriller and Moonwalker – provide much of the audio and visual inspiration for the Michael Jackson's Moonwalker (“Moonwalker”) video game, which was released for the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive for PAL gamers) in 1990.

Moonwalker allows the player to take control of Michael Jackson through five different, side-scrolling, beat'em levels. The King Of Pop is on a quest to rescue kidnapped children – hidden throughout each level – and bring down a vicious, underworld gangster known as Mr. Big.

Since the game was released in 1990, it was probably developed in the late 1980s. Considering when this video cartridge was developed – within the life span of the Genesis home console system – the Moonwalker game features some truly awesome graphics, animation, music and even some digitized images of the pop star.

Each of the levels – and stages within each level – are well designed, with nice influences from the music videos. The basic game play mechanics in Moonwalker are, generally, responsive and easy to learn.

The first level – each level has about three stages to it – is set in the world of nightclubs, or a sanitized version of how nightclubs were depicted in Hollywood films and music videos during the 1980s.

One of the first things that Michael Jackson automatically does, when the level begins, is toss a coin into a juke box, thereby starting the familiar music. Many other nice little touches such as this pop up throughout the video game.

For example, each state has a certain number of hidden children for your to save (touching them makes them scream, “Michael!” before disappearing on-screen).

Once you have saved all of the children, clearly the arcade game “Shinobi” influenced the designers of this game, Jackson's pet chimpanzee jumps on the singer's shoulders in order to point where you need to go, in order to face the boss.

The player is able to make Michael Jackson “moonwalk”, hit bad guys in the crotch and make some other familiar gestures and sounds. Clearly, the developers of this game were familiar with Michael Jackson's performance mannerisms and style.

The second level takes place outside the nightclubs in the city streets, sewers and parking lots. If you manage to survive to the third level, you will be treated to some amazing woods, filled with beautiful greenery, waterfalls and, yes, lots and lots and lots of flesh-eating zombies.

Here is where the “Thriller” (1984) influences can be seen in the Moonwalker video game. Prior to Resident Evil (a.k.a. Biohazard) the zombies in this game are some of the scariest zombies you will see in a video game. The fourth level involves a series of underground caverns that need to be explored. Along with zombies and heavily armed guards, you get to face off with some mutated spiders and other mutated minions of Mr. Big.

The last levels in the Moonwalker video cartridge take place at Mr. Big's headquarters. The gangster's lair could easily pass for as one of the hi-tech lairs of a James Bond villian. Yeah, it looks that cool.

If you are good enough, perhaps even a bit lucky, you will be given the privilege of a final, outer space battle with Mr. Big himself. While Moonwalker may seem like a short game, at only five levels, it is probably one of the more difficult games for the Sega Genesis.

The level of difficulty in the game is, at time, its greatest fault.

The Bad

Michael Jackson main offensive moves are limited to punching and kicking his enemies. Players will often find themselves using these two basic moves often, because these movies do not use up your precious hit point.

If Michael Jackson has enough hit points left, his punches and kicks come with a short-range spray of magical dust, which can hurt enemies, as well as looking incredibly silly.

When I first played the game, back in 1990, I thought that perhaps the developers of Moonwalker were suggesting that Michael Jackson had kidnapped Disney's Tinker Bell, and somehow modified the fairy dust into a weapon.

Younger gamers might believe that Michael Jackson somehow kidnapped one of the sparkly vampires from the Twilight films,and ground up the vampire's skin into power.

The original arcade game gave Michael Jackson decent looking lighting bolts. Sadly, the Sega Genesis edition of Moonwalker had sparkly dust. The usage of "angel dust" or "fairy dust" or what-have-you just looks really silly.

If Michael Jackson is low on hit points, then he loses the magical dust, leaving him with just his regular fists. How do you lose hit points in the game?

Yes, you lose hit points anytime you get hit by a bad guy, zombie, animal, bullet or laser beam. That makes sense, although hit detection can get a bit annoying wen lots of fast-moving, enemies are on-screen.

However, you also sacrifice precious hit points anytime you use one of the cooler, more effective, attacks at your character's disposal; i.e. throwing your hat as a dangerous boomberang-missile projectiles or causing on-screen, enemies to dance.

This fault could have, largely, been fixed had your hit points and "special attack" points been two distinct horizontal bars.

As it stands now, you really can only afford to use these special attacks for the bosses, which means that if you do not have enough hit points to take on a boss, you are, as they say, totally and unforgivably S.O.L.

Most of the bosses in the are really just a bunch of the same enemies you have been fighting in the level, only stronger, faster and generally more annoying.

Yes, it is cool to be able to make your enemies -- including animals -- dance, but it is something that you can only use rarely, if you plan on beating the game.

Likewise, using your hat as a projectile is an awesome idea -- straight out of an old James Bond film --, but, again, you cannot "toss the hat" too often in this game.

Yes, you can transform into a cool-looking robot. However, unlike the original arcade game your transformation in the Sega Genesis game is short and largely a gimmick.

Michael will only transform into the robot for a short period if time. The robot's weapons can also cost you hit points, and while you can fly around a level, you cannot save any of the children.

Finally, something must be said about the final battle with the evil Mr. Big.

When you are ready for the final battle, you automatically transform into the giant robot. The final battle in the game is then handled as a confusing and fast-paced, first-person perspective space shooter. The player looking out of a space ship's viewing screen in order to blast various space ships. It is not a terribly well-designed shooting scenario.

Mr Big's space ship appears on the viewing screen as a small dot in the background. You have, some, control of your space ship's laser guns, and have to try and hit Mr. Big before he kills you.

Big's space ship is not only a small on-screen sprite -- often in the background. He is much faster and strong then the space ship owned by the King Of Pop.

Frankly, I am not entirely sure why Michael Jackson is using a clunky space ship, when you could have easily just used the giant, mega powerful, anime-style robot.

Anyways, if you manage to defeat Mr. Big, the game rewards you with a pretty lackluster ending; Michael Jackson and a young boy (his inner child, perhaps?) perform some dance moves while the credits role.

The Bottom Line

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker shines in terms of its animation, graphics, music and sound effects. This may be the sort of Michael Jackson fans prefer to remember; just prior to the pop star being caught up in a deep web of tabloid speculation, nasty accusations and courtroom drama.