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Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker – Genesis

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker – Genesis

sega-genesis-michael-jackson-moonwalker-coverPlatform: Genesis
Developer: Sega (AM7)
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: Aug 24, 1990
Genre: Platformer
Nerd Rating: 6.5/10
Reviewed by: InfiniteKnife

If you grew up in the 80s/90s like I did, you definitely knew about Michael Jackson and were probably a fan of at least one of his songs and/or videos. Despite his questionable recreational habits, he was an incredible music icon and when you’re an icon, there is merchandise. Not only was the King of Pop’s name and likeness on consumer products like Pepsi but there were also a few video games made. I can’t imagine how many people lost their minds in the early 90s when this released.

Moonwalker is based on a film by the same name, in which Michael discovers a drug lord hiding in caves while chasing a lost soccer ball with some kid friends of his. They don’t do much to expand on this discovery other than the drug lord (played by Joe Pesci) later riddles Michael’s building with bullets from machine guns. Michael then turns into a car and gets away, coming to a stop in front of a derelict 1930s dance club that comes to life upon his entry. This leads into the actual music video for Smooth Criminal (actually one of my all time favorite music videos), during which one of his kid friends is snatched up by Pesci and hauled away. Michael sets off to rescue her and in an interesting climax, turns into a giant missile-shooting MJ robot and saves the day. The Smooth Criminal dance number aside, this was a pretty bad film, but the game adaptation actually works decently well and is fun to play.

The game follows the movie, taking some liberties, but none that really make the game feel stupid. You begin in Club 30s, with Michael entering a dark room, flipping a quarter into the jukebox, and starting the music. A nice touch. Throughout the game, there isn’t a terribly diverse set of enemies, but that can be said about a lot of platformers, so it doesn’t really take anything away.

Way to shoehorn the chimp in there, guys.

Way to shoehorn the chimp in there, guys.

The object of the game is to rescue children hidden within each level, which each have three stages. You can find them behind doors, in car trunks, behind gravestones, out in the open, etc and they refill some lost health when found. The child you save is the exact same sprite each time which I found annoying, but it made sense because it was modeled after the main girl in the film. When all the kids are found, Bubbles the chimp shows up and points you to the area of the stage where the boss fight goes down. The boss fight is usually just a group of enemies that get tougher as the game goes on, preceded by the drug lord showing up to taunt you each time.

I mean, he's right there if you REALLY wanted to catch him.

I mean, he’s right there if you REALLY wanted to catch him.

Combat is where the game gets fun because, as you can imagine, you fight using MJ’s famous dance moves. The basic attack is a kick that sends out stars that defeat enemies and playing with different button combinations does different moves most fans will recognize. As damage is taken, your life bar goes from blue to yellow, at which point your attacks have less range. When the life meter becomes red, you’re down to fighting with bare fists and need to be up close to cause damage. In addition to the jump and attack button, there is also a “magic” button that causes Michael to spin. While spinning, energy is drained, but enemies are dealt damage and if released after a few seconds, Michael throws his hat Odd-Job style which deals major damage and if it’s held down a bit longer, he gives out a “Woooooo” and all the enemies on screen line up on either side and perform a synchronized dance to the song of the stage, after which they all die. (At least they got to dance with MJ before they ate it) It’s also kind of humorous to note that while it’s not particularly odd or funny that the human enemies dance under MJ’s magic, it’s pretty comical that dogs, birds, and spiders do as well, and it’s worth it to blow through some health just to see it. The magic button also makes Michael do his iconic crotch grab when his health is in red, which is pretty hilarious and hard not to spam for a few seconds at least once each time you play.

Only a little awkward.

Only a little awkward.

The Genesis had pretty bad sound quality with voices, but in this game, all the “woos”, “Ows”, and “Who’s bads” weren’t awful and the MIDI-like versions of Smooth Criminal, Beat It, Another Part of Me, Billie Jean, and Bad sounded pretty good and made the game more enjoyable for those who enjoyed the songs outside the video game world.

In the version of the game most US players had, the 3rd level was set in a graveyard with zombies as the main enemy so one would think Thriller would be the song of choice. Instead, Another Part of Me was used (the dance was still Thriller), likely due to the fact that MJ actually didn’t write Thriller (Rod Temperton did, so there may have been legal reasons) but wrote all the others including Another Part of Me. One thing many may not know is that in the first release of the game, Thriller WAS in fact in that level, but only on stages 1 & 2 when you do the special dance move during the boss fight and held the attack button, which you don’t normally have to do. Kind of a neat little Easter egg.

Thriller dance: Always awesome

Thriller dance: Always awesome

Remember how I mentioned a little while ago that Michael turned into a giant freakin’ missile-launching robot in the movie? Well, if you were hoping they didn’t leave it out of the game, your weird wishes have been answered! There is a secret in the game that can be unlocked by saving a specific child first in a few select stages. This causes a blue shooting star to fall and if you jump and hit it before it leaves the screen, you turn into a weird looking robot that gets to go nuts and shoot things with lasers and missiles for a little bit. The regular attack is lasers that can go straight, up, and down, the jump is rocket propulsion from the legs, and the magic button shoots out a bunch of homing missiles. You can also see where children are hidden, though you can’t rescue them until the robot powers wear off. (You would think the kids would be less freaked out by a big robot than MJ scouring the land for them)

The arm bending the wrong way always bothered me

The arm bending the wrong way always bothered me

The difficulty does a pretty decent job of ramping up as the game takes you through its six levels, followed by a final boss fight in space against Joe Pesci in a first person flight shooter. The final stage and boss fight were pretty tough, especially on the higher levels as the enemies began to shoot in different directions and some were even immune to the magic of dance. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I ever actually beat the game on Hard mode because I got stuck on the 4th level.

The game also has a 2 player mode where the 2nd player gets a turn after the first player loses a life, which could get really boring if you were playing with someone who was good at the game. The second player was just a recolored version of the same MJ character sprite and everything else about the game was identical.

I first played this game as a rental when I was a kid and having been a pretty big MJ fan at a young age, I played it quite a bit. By normal platforming standards, I think it was pretty solid overall, but I think the fact that it was MJ with his music and dance moves as a setting kind of overshadowed how repetitive the enemies got. Despite that, I still enjoy booting it up from time to time and giving it a play through. It had charm and was a neat way to bring MJ to home consoles.


Enjoy it, fellas. You’re all seconds away from an untimely demise.

If you have a Genesis lying around and were a fan of the King of Pop at any point, you’ll probably find some enjoyment in this game as I did and playing around with the controls to test out all the dance moves we know will bring back some 80s/90s nostalgia for you. Oh! And just in case you were wondering, you CAN in fact do the famous moonwalk by pressing and holding the attack button when moving. As if you thought they would leave that out! P’sh!


PS – Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker was also released as an arcade beat em up style version similar to TMNT 2 where MJ shoots magic at droves of enemies while simply progressing through each level. The screen clearing dance move was still used and Bubbles came to turn you into the giant robot. The game could be played with 3 players simultaneously and had pretty much the same soundtrack as the Genesis home version (the arcade version came out before the console game).

Written by InfiniteKnife


My personal favorite games are those in the Survival Horror and Sports (baseball) genres, but I can find at least a game or 2 in just about any category that I love to play.

I grew up on Nintendo consoles (NES and SNES) and have been an Xbox guy since the first one was released in the early 2000s. It’s hard to stay away from the classics as the 16-bit era is probably still my favorite overall.


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