Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (Arcade & Sega Mega Drive) – Retro Game Review

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker Retro Game review

Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. For as long as I have lived, he was huge; his music has and will become eternal as well as his oddities. Even after death, he’s still a star in the music industry, but when he was alive, you knew who he was. In my opinion, for someone who isn’t a fan of pop music, I have no issues with most of his music and I like most of them. Fun fact, I have a segment of ‘Who is it’ for my ringtone as a joke. Anyone can be inspired by Michael Jackson, but there can only be one Michael Jackson, I don’t think we’ll get someone like him again…can we?

Anyway, if he can do music, he can have his own movie, and somehow he only had the one, he only needed the one, and it’s one I actually grew up with. Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, based on one of his (not-so) original dance moves that make you remember him. Released in 1988, it’s mostly an anthology movie of…to be honest, a bit of ego-stroking on Jackson’s part, mostly music videos, some odd moments, but the memorable part of the film is the last segment, Smooth Criminal and it’s just awesome. I mean the scene where he actually sings the song and that part is filmed well, the rest of it. Joe Pesci is just a guilty pleasure.

Did you know that Michael Jackson may have liked video games? I mean, he worked on SONIC 3 AFTER ALL AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Anyway, there were home computer games based on the movie…SEGA’S ARCADE GAME IT IS!

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, developed and published by Sega with audio-visuals made by Triumph International, it was released in 1990. The game was produced and designed by legendary…Michael Jackson; eh, he can do music, he can do movies, he certainly can do games, if only he was alive, he could have finally made Half-Life 3.

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker – You tried to do this as a kid right?
The plot mostly follows the Smooth Criminal segment. Mr. Big is kidnapping children because drugs are bad so remember that!

The game is mostly a beat ‘em up, and no, Michael doesn’t go Rocky and smack people upside the head, instead he flashes his enemies with his magic powers because Jackson wields it, or he can do some slice attack if you get close enough to an enemy, hold the attack button to charge up your magic power to do extra damage. You can also use a special attack, known as Dance Magic, where all the enemies will dance with you before dying. During the levels, you’ll rescue the children (Like Gamora, he loved those children dearly), most children you rescue will give you either health or Dance Magic. Though sometimes they give you nothing, and Little Suzie needs to give Michael some kind of reward…sorry, terrible joke, I’ll edit it out in post. But Michael’s Chimpanzee friend Bubbles, will appear near enough before a boss, touch the monkey and you turn into Robo-Jackson, where he can shoot lasers and missiles and makes fighting bosses cool.

The gameplay is quite fun, it has a great simplicity to it, but it can be quite difficult (it’s an Arcade game after all) and health can decrease quickly due to having tons of enemies and bosses can be annoying, but even with that, it’s still entertaining The graphics are fantastic, we once again get sprite shrinking with Michael’s transformation segments. The level design is also decent; I’m not a fan of isometric games, mostly due to Vietnam flashbacks of Sonic 3D. The music is just awesome, bits of “Smooth Criminal”, “Beat It”, “Another Part of Me”, “Billie Jean”, and “Bad” and the sound card does a great job emulating the music.

Overall, Moonwalker for the arcade is a fun experience; it does a great job making you feel a little bit like the King of Pop. In terms of being faithful to the movie…well considering that this is Moonwalker, it really doesn’t matter. It’s a game I recommend playing, especially with friends as this is a three player game, though everyone wears the Smooth Criminal suit with two other players being in different colours, which is a shame, what about the Thriller suit, or the Bad costume, or even the suit he wore when he did the Moonwalk, but oh well, we still have a great arcade title.

I would recommend the Arcade machine to purchase if you have some ‘loose’ change, but it may not be the best financial choice as the board contains a battery that, when used enough, will die and make the machine unplayable, and I don’t think you can even replace it. So like everyone else, MAME it is.

But that wasn’t the only game Sega made; there was also a Sega Mega Drive version released in 1990 in Japan and in the US and in 1991 in Europe and Australia. Once again, the plot is the same as the arcade version.

The game is a platformer where you mostly open doors and windows and whatnot to find children (they’re very important to him), who all happen to look like the girl from the movie Katie, whilst flicking sprinkles at enemies. During the game, you can also find children in trap doors, dumpsters, and car trunks (and because this is Michael Jackson, this is very uncomfortable). After collecting all the girls in the level, Bubbles will come and direct you to the final part of a level where you fight the enemies you fought in each level. If you manage to find a shooting star, you can turn into Robo-Jackson, where you can fly around and shoot down everyone with a laser because of course you do, though from what I know, you can only get it if you earn a certain number of points and the star will appear at random so it’s difficult to even catch it anyway.

In terms of the special attack, it’s been changed from the Arcade original, where you spin around, which can usually damage enemies anyway, but spin enough times to do the Dance Magic. It’s cool and all, especially when dogs are around in one of the levels, but it can decrease your health so I recommend using it in the final parts of levels. And by the way, every time you rescue a girl, your health increases. 

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker Arcade

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker made for a great arcade game
The gameplay is pretty good, it controls well apart from getting up or down the stairs. But it just gets repetitive and there’s the Cavern levels, where you have to find children in different rooms, but the levels are so big that you have to backtrack to find any girl you’ve missed. That’s if you make it with the end of levels eventually getting harder no thanks to the amount of enemies that appear on-screen. And this is where I start to hate this game, it’s not awful, but after a while it becomes repetitive and I hate repetition when not done right.

The graphics and level design is really good for the Mega Drive at the time, some nice detail to some of them and the design of some levels feel a bit similar to the Arcade original minus the isometric level design. The music is awesome, once again using Jackson’s tunes, though the first revision of the game features a segment of Thriller in the Graveyard level when doing the Dance Magic, though this can only be done in the first revision and later releases removed Thriller, I don’t know why they removed it since it kind of made sense but who knows.

Overall, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is OK at best, for a Sega Mega Drive game released in the end of its early years, it’s a good licensed game, though there are some severe issues that would make me play it again. But I guess it’s better than having a terrible game and Michael Jackson expects nothing but the best.

You can get it on the Sega Mega Drive.

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