Michael Jackson's Moonwalker Review by: RedrunelordMichael Jackson's Moonwalker
It is curious how an opinion of something or someone can change over time. A terrible war that would have been considered glorious at the time may slowly grow more putrid over time to the thoughts of the living, like the First World War. As well, a political leader that may have been considered brutal might be regarded, in hindsight, as a benevolent leader, not a tyrant. A notable example of a controversial figure in history was Captain William Bligh of the HMS “Bounty” as even in modern times it is difficult to assess how fair or brutal he was. Records that have been collected from various ships shown that he was a relatively noble captain, and one unwilling to raise the whip unless necessary compared to other captains, but said records would have been impossible to assess in his time. Even then, it is difficult to tell for sure as there is no guarantee his documentations are accurate.
Back in the 1980's Michael Jackson was truly the king of pop, for he never suffered from a lot of the ridicule he does now over various controversies that are instantly condemned. Indeed, it is difficult to discuss him or his music for long without bringing up a physical characteristic, or one of the controversies that surrounds him nowadays, but it is curious to think of how things were back in the 1980's, when he was the bomb. Like him or hate him, the fact of the matter is he boasts the most sold record of all time, Thriller.
It was relatively rare to play AS a celebrity at the time, so it is understandable how Michael Jackson's Moonwalker attracted gamers over to Sega's consoles. Michael Jackson's Moonwalker is most commonly remembered on the Sega Genesis or in the arcade, but there was a version for the Master System as well. Obviously the master system version will be inferior to the Genesis version on a technical level, but how is it as an 8 Bit game overall, and are there ways it surpasses its 16 bit brethren?
Michael Jackson's Moonwalker is a side scroller "beat em up" where the player's goal is to rescue all the little girls from an unknown gang. They are hidden across the level behind doors, in car trunks, etc., and the player needs to find them all and then proceed to survive an endurance round against various men in sharp suits. The game play is rather straightforward, with one button jumping and the other button being the attack.
Visually, the game is fairly competent for an 8 bit system, but the overall design is rather subjective as to whether or not it is appealing to gaze upon. Regardless, it is competent because it is obvious what is what, and the graphics do not have any real crippling problems, like some of its contemporaries. It is rather interesting that the vast majority of Michael's enemies are men in sharp suits (perhaps ZZ Top fans litter their higher ranks), which are clearly distinguishable from Michael in his white suit and hat. The animation is rather fluent, and some of the “cut scenes” are quite well done, with what was available for the Master System, as demonstrated by the introductory scene when Michael Jackson enters the bar, flips a coin into the Juke Box, and the level starts with Smooth Criminal. That brings up the audio department, which is rather important considering the game is revolving around a pop singer. The musical selection is primarily composed of Michael Jackson's hits up to that point, with different songs on loop for different stages, and they are good 8 Bit renditions of the song. However, let it be noted that someone who despises Michael Jackson's music will NOT LIKE these renditions regardless. The sound effects, and minimal voice acting is reasonably competent for the purpose, making the audio department a pass on a technical level.
The game play is generally similar to the Genesis port, but there are a few differences that separates this title from its brother. Since the Master System's controller uses two action buttons, it does not use move combos exactly like its brother does. In the Genesis version, by pressing the third button at the right timing with the right combination Michael would perform a certain move, such as tossing his hat much like Oddjob, perform a spinning attack, or annihilating every enemy on screen by using a special move to make them dance all at the costs of some health points. There are no attack power-ups except a temporary invincibility where Michael Jackson becomes Mecha Jackson. In the Master system version, all the attacks are done through the B button with various D-Pad combinations, which is rather cumbersome. Unfortunately, however, these attacks still requires health to be drained which is exceptionally redundant as the point of using these attacks in the first place is to take less
damage. A potential alternative could have been to have a separate meter, and to have the kids refill the meter. There are weapon power ups, such as throwing the hat, which finally gives the player a proper ranged weapon that does not drain their health, but there is a drawback. The drawback ultimately is that it fires at a delayed and slower rate, so a sudden surprise can still hurt Michael.
Since to perform these combative protocols movement is essential, it is worth noting the actual control. As mentioned before, the animations are competent, and Michael is easy to control. Indeed, one advantage this game has over the Genesis is that Michael can go up and down the staircases much easier and quicker, giving the player maximum mobility.
Now, fluent controls for game play is rather useless if the game play concept is flawed. Unlike the Genesis port, the player is required to search every single door to look for the kids, and may grow repetitive rather quickly, especially if only one kid was missed but it is unclear which doors was touched and which ones ignored. To complicate matters, the AI can and will respawn if Michael leaves the area, and if using the hat can take a lot of damage, so this is a game where repeated play and memorization is essential. Whether or not this is a problem for a player depends entirely how they would feel about repetition in games. The stage's final boss is a bit monotonous but better than the Genesis port. In both versions, the level will end in an endurance round against a bunch of well dressed brutes, but how to get to this boss varies. In the Master System, the player will begin the fight by collecting the last kid, let the screen fade to black, then appear in the room where the fight will commence. Real simple, and real easy. The Genesis version, however, requires the player to look for the boss with a vague direction given, yet requiring precision to find. Score one point for the Master System.
The game isn't hard, but as mentioned before do require memorization. Since the AI will return from the dead when Michael moonwalks (yes, you can moonwalk in this game, just kick then use the D-Pad/arrow keys) or dances back into the screen where they've fallen, knowing where they come from will help. Since Michael Jackson's special attacks are useless, the player has to rely purely on good timing to score hits. Ducking with the hat attack is the player's best friend, as they are protected from bullets and can prevent melee attacks. Nonetheless, without serious practice this game will not be beat.
Overall, there isn't a whole lot to actually comment on for this game, as most of its appeal is the novelty as playing the king of pop. While nothing special, this game is not unplayable, and if someone was to choose a beat em up side scroller style game, then Michael Jackson's Moonwalker is doubtlessly a possibility. The Master System doubtlessly got its advantages over the Genesis, and should not be ignored as much as it has. In a medium like this, despite changing opinions, someone can not truly change the image of Michael Jackson as portrayed by Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.