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Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker Review

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Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1990 Also On: Genesis/Megadrive

Here’s an odd one. I remember playing Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker in the arcade once at an old Hills store. It was actually pretty good as far as I remember, and I knew they made some console versions but didn’t try any until now. As far as platformers go, you’re better off playing Shinobi or Kenseiden on your SMS. This isn’t the worst of games, just nothing really worth noting. It seems more like an attempt to cash in on the name, which at the time didn’t carry the same problems that it does today.

Graphically, the Master System does pretty well showing off what it can do. You have a great intro, some pretty fluid movements and so forth. Of particular interest is Michael himself, the programmers did an excellent job of making it feel like you’re actually controlling him, down to a number of signature dance moves. Unfortunately, this is kind of silly at times. His main kick, for example, is modeled after a move, so it looks quite good in this respect, but in terms of ass kicking, well, gay. Other characters, like the zombies later on, are pretty tame in comparison with some really choppy animations. Most of the detail is good, but the colors are pretty bland in general. And some of the ending animations during the final boss segments are atrocious.

Musically, they didn’t do that bad here, in terms of technicality. In terms of making it interesting, no. As you may expect, the musical scores for this game are simply different Michael Jackson tunes. I have to say they’ve programmed them quite well, it just doesn’t fit anything. I mean, sure, it sounds cool to hear it reproduced so well, but some of the tunes, in spite of the attempt at placing them on levels where they apply, just don’t get you into the action, they don’t get you into anything, they’re pop songs, what else is there to say? I’m not going to get psyched beating the hell out of zombies while listening to ‘Another Part of Me.’ Shouldn’t it be ‘Thriller?’ On a quick note, apparently it was supposed to be but no one seems real sure what happened. Anyway, the point is this stuff is just not standard fare for a platformer. Most of the effects are decent, no real problems there. The only other big complaint is that the boss music is totally lame.

As for the gameplay, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker can be kind of fun, at times, but overall ends up being quite boring and tedious by about the third level. So, as in the movie, Mr. Big has kidnapped children, and Michael has the rescue them from each level before facing a “boss” (I’ll explain the quotes in a bit) and moving on. Each stage has three levels, and Michael can perform a fair number of moves like kicking, punching, throwing his hat if you find the icon and dancing to attack. Dancing reduces your life, unfortunately, so it would have been nice if they somehow integrated it more other than making it a super move but it does look pretty cool. Other than this you have five levels with a varying number of children to find, a boss, and blah blah blah, let’s get to the problems.

First off, is anyone else finding this game idea totally stupid? Why in the hell would I want to control Michael Jackson, kicking around at spiders and zombies while rescuing little girls from closets and caves? Does that make sense to anyone? Apparently it did to the programmers. Second, the overall combination of graphics and sound does little if anything to get you into the game, one of the most boring combinations I’ve seen in awhile. Third, after rescuing all the children in each level, you face what are considered bosses, amounting to nothing more than you taking out a few extra characters that you faced in the level proper. What? Fourth, this game is quite easy until you get to the final boss, a novice gamer will run through it in little time at all. Fifth, there isn’t a good integration of weapons or anything. Though this is different than the arcade, some power-ups or something would have been nice. Considering the year this came out and how incredible some games were at the time, you’d think they would have put some effort into making it play good. The only power-up you receive is a hat to throw. Thanks, I guess.

The final problem, though I could list many more, is the final boss segment, this is the one thing you’re going to hear the most complaints about. I’d have to say this is probably the most insane thing I’ve ever played, and I’ve been playing some bad games recently. The thing is, it’s not programmed bad, it’s just really, really, really, incredibly, Grand Duke of Hell hard. The first part isn’t that bad, you have to take out thirty of Mr. Big’s guards who seem to shoot randomly and in all directions while you move robot Michael at the bottom of the screen. Hard, but nothing like the final segment. Here, you have to control Michael as a flying robot, shooting at one of four gun batteries hidden behind holes in a mountainside. What’s hard about it? This is probably one of the few stages in history that actually features completely random enemy movements. It will take you years to actually beat this thing, it pretty much rests on total luck because dodging some of their shots is literally impossible since they follow you, in addition to quickly opening and closing before you get a chance to land an incredibly slow laser blast. I don’t think I’ve played a harder boss before. This game just sucks all around in this category by the third level, but the final stage will bring the most courageous of gamers to their knees.

I’ll give Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker some points for creativity, because I have to say, based on a movie or arcade game or not, this is a pretty risky attempt at making a platformer. The gameplay itself is quite basic, but the idea is pretty original. However, at the same time, this game did not age very well, even then it was kind of weird, but now with everything the poor guy has gone through, you can’t not look at the game strangely. I mean, who would feel right after playing a game where you kill dobermans with a hat while locating little girls in car trunks? Creative in a way, but not something that actually makes for a good game in the end.

Boy, yeah, I don’t think I’ll play this again. The first two levels are kind of relaxing actually, and then as you get further and it gets harder, you just start to hate it. By the time you make it to the final boss you’re looking forward to it ending, and then have to deal with one of the most difficult rounds in history, beatable though it may be. In terms of length this game is not short enough. Joking aside, it’s a decent length if you care about that, but that’s until you get to the last round, which will definitely add about an extra hour of play to an otherwise short game.

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is an interesting bit of video game history, one of those strange titles that most people from the era remember, none of whom have any fond memories about it. Overall, it looks okay, sounds bad, plays okay until the ending and otherwise just doesn’t do anything for anyone. I doubt it will do anything for you either, so unless you want to nab the ultra-rare Euro gift pack of this waste, don’t bother.

Graphics: 5.5
Sound: 5
Gameplay: 3.5
Creativity: 6
Replay Value/Game Length: 3
Final: 4.6
Written by Stan Review Guide