Moonwalker is one of those games that if you didn’t already know it was a game, you’d be forgiven for believing it to be a joke. Its also a game that really has to be seen to be believed. However, that doesn’t necessarily have to mean that the game is a bad one. Released for the Mega Drive/Genesis in 1990, Moonwalker stars the man behind the music Michael Jackson, in the starring role as the hero, as he alongside his trusty pet monkey ‘Bubbles’ travel from bars, to the streets, and even to a graveyard, in order to find and rescue all the children from the sinister plans of Mr. Big. I bet the game sounds even more like a joke to you now eh?
Well to begin the game is extremely well animated and rather than the ‘King of Pop’ being a mangled mess of pixels he is instantly recognisable as are all the characters, though unfortunately all of the children look identical to the girl from the film of the same name. In addition the stages are also extremely well made with foreground and background features being well created using the Mega Drive’s graphics. This is especially well presented in the opening animation where Jackson flicks a coin into the nearby jukebox to start the music to Smooth Criminal and the first stage with it.
Stages are set out in the Mario & Sonic style of three levels per world for you to battle your way through saving the children, and again this is no let down with the gameplay being solid with respect to the combat. The combat takes the form of a side scrolling brawler within a set area and Michael can dance, sprinkle stardust, knock items and obviously Moonwalk in order to defeat the enemies. This works surprisingly well and combat flows fluidly with the game never feeling too easy or too difficult. Other aspects of the gameplay can cause an awful lot of frustration though. The children Michael is searching for are located in a mixture of plain site and hidden behind areas such as windows and doors.
This sounds easy, however there are so many locations that at times it can become a process of trial and error going back through every single window/door/etc. Additionally, some locations can be downright impossible to find without a guide. For example when you have reached the streets you are expected to also explore the sewers, though in order to access this you have to spin for an extended period of time over the manhole, a move that takes half of your life away, not very obvious. These massive leaps in logic are also not isolated to the streets and occur in other locations too for example the caves whereby it becomes extremely difficult to distinguish between wall and doorway. On the flip though Bubbles’ input whereby he points you to the boss after defeating all the enemies can’t be seen as anything but a pointless quirk, as the boss’s location is an awful lot easier to find than some of the children.
The sound though makes up for any faults you may find within the gameplay and will actually keep you going if you inevitably find yourself applying the trial and error approach to finding the children. The game’s soundtrack features all of Jackson’s most famous tracks up until the game’s release in 1990, all recreated in their MIDI glory, and this soundtrack really does push the Mega Drive/Genesis’s sound capabilities to its max. From Smooth Criminal to Billie Jean, and even to Thriller in the rarer early versions of the game, you’ll find yourself possibly singing along to the instantly recognisable songs. Even the sound effects work perfectly and fit the feel of the game, though Michael’s trademark high pitched scream can become a little annoying after hearing it more times than you’ll care to remember.
Replay value here largely depends on how much you an enjoyed the game. Whilst the game is quirky, enjoyable and solid in its combat, it can become repetitive after a while and this will hinder the enjoyment and replay value for some, though this won’t happen initially. Nevertheless, as I said at the start, what many may see as a joke, is actually an enjoyable ride, one that is actually made better for its star studded lead character and pop culture tie ins.