Remembering the King of Pop: A look back at Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker for the Sega Genesis

So, this article started out as a review of the game and quickly turned into an opportunity to celebrate the life of an artist I greatly respected (as an unbelievably talented transcendent musician, if nothing else).  Because this was meant to be a genuine work of praise, I let my voice come through much more than in the last article–but less so than those that followed.

I published this article on the day of Michael Jackson’s funeral as both a personal memorial, and as a shameless attempt to garner views–but even I was surprised when a literal ton of people viewed it.  Unfortunately, Examiner’s payment policy assured that I wouldn’t receive anything for it.

Originally published at on 07/07/2009

So, I recently went to see Public Enemies (which is, for those of you who don’t know, a loose account of the life of mob boss Al Capone where ol’ Scarface is renamed “John Dillinger” for reasons unknown to me) and, though it certainly is a good film, I couldn’t help but let my mind wander to the greatest gangster movie of all time: Moonwalker.  I mean, that motion picture had everything a human being, animal, or plant could ever want in a gangster film.  There were guns; dance numbers; Joe Pesci kidnapping children and sporting a ridiculous topknot; Wesley Snipes learning what it truly means to be “bad”; and, arguably the two most necessary components for a good gangster film, Michael Jackson turning into both a car and a robot.  Ah, Moonwalker.  What an awesome piece of the 1980s you were.  Sega, in its infinite wisdom, saw Moonwalker for what it was always meant to be:

A money machine.

 You would think that these superfluous moves would at least restore health... especially the crotch grab...
You would think that these superfluous moves would at least restore health… especially the crotch grab…

And so in 1990, Sega developed a game for the Sega Genesis that celebrated the King of Pop’s music career within the confines of Moonwalker’s largely incoherent storyline.  Those who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s know that this game needs no review and no introduction.  For those of the new generation, however, I’ll try to give you a brief run-down of the object of the game.  Starting out in the Club 30 pool hall (with “Smooth Criminal“ playing in the background), the player as Michael Jackson must rescue all of the children kidnapped by Mr. Big (Joe Pesci’s character from the film).  This is a requirement in order to advance in the game; Bubbles the Chimp won’t lead Michael to the stage boss until the player saves every single solitary child in the area, whether hidden behind doors, inside car trunks, behind tombstones, or out in the open.  To impede the player’s progress, Mr. Big employs several henchmen ranging from mobsters and street thugs to zombies, dogs, and what look like Cobra Vipers from GI Joe.  From Club 30, Michael makes his way through the streets (with “Beat It” playing as the background theme), a graveyard (“Another Part of Me” in the background with “Thriller” playing during the dancing sequences), caverns (“Billie Jean” as background theme), an inner sanctum that resembles the Technodrome (“Bad” as background music), and a final battle in which the player pursues Mr. Big via Michael’s “Battle Plane” while speeding through space.  Each level plays out like one of Jackson’s music videos, with the exception of the cavern level.  Really, how does one associate caves with “Billie Jean”?  The final level is a bit of a departure from the platforming in the rest of the game, as well, since the perspective shifts to a sort of flight simulator (Michael’s in a spaceship, so it makes sense).

 This picture is somehow appropriate.  This joke, however, is not.
This picture is somehow appropriate.  This joke, however, is not.

Michael comes up against some pretty steep odds in the game.  Jacko’s not unarmed, though, and this is where the game gets even more interesting.  The player can utilize what I can only guess is fairy dust in order to dispatch foes, as well as Michael’s patented spin, hat, and something called “dance magic” in which all enemies on-screen will dance with Michael for a few seconds before dropping dead.  In addition to these offensive attacks, the player can make Michael perform a number of moves that have no in-game affect whatsoever, including the incredibly cool moonwalk and the infamous crotch grab (no one can ever accuse this game of being an incomplete Michael Jackson experience).  At random, a star will fall from the sky and, if the player can catch it quickly enough, Michael will change for a short time into a robotic death machine that fires bombs from its shoulders and lasers from its eyes, effectively killing every enemy in sight.  Absolutely classic.  The game is difficult, sometimes to the point of being ridiculous (especially during some of the boss fights), but this is a minor flaw that is easily disregarded.  Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is an above average game and truly worth a try (which, considering the game’s recent status as a “collector’s item”, might be easier said than done).

 Hoo!  Who's bad?
Hoo!  Who’s bad?

All joking aside, I can think of no better thing to do on the day of Michael Jackson’s memorial service than play this game.  Love him or hate him, no one can deny that Michael Jackson changed music forever.  Though his actions within the confines of his personal life were scandalous and, by most accounts, unpalatable and unacceptable, let us mourn the artist at his craft if we cannot mourn the man.  This isn’t for Michael Jackson the father, Michael Jackson the son, Michael Jackson the husband, Michael Jackson the brother, or Michael Jackson the accused.  This is in memory of Michael Jackson the musician.  Here’s to Michael Jackson, forever the King of Pop.  Respect him or beat it.


For more info: Moonwalker gameplay footage and vintage commercial at MTV

I’m going to go out on a limb right now and state that, given the evidence presented, I honestly don’t think Michael Jackson did what he was accused of in the 1990s. Considering he was never found guilty of any crime, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that this is the case in the eyes of the law, as well. When I wrote the original article above, I thought with Jacko’s death, the accusatory bullshit was behind us. Apparently I was incorrect.

Earlier this summer (May or June 2019), it was announced that, due to accusations of molestation brought against Michael Jackson in the documentary Leaving Neverland (which were largely disproved long before the documentary was ever released, by the way), all future commercial releases of The Simpsons Season 3–whether streaming, download, or physical media–would see the Michael Jackson guest star episode removed.

While I won’t get on my soap box too much right here and now, allow me to make abundantly clear where I stand on the subject:

Censorship is wrong.

That is a tenet I will hold until the day I die. No artist or art lover can truly ever be in favor of censorship and claim to be an artist or an art lover. The cognitive dissonance of that prospect is too great a circle for me to square in my mind.

The announcement of the removal of the episode made me sick then, and it still does. The man was cleared. Has been cleared. Even if he hadn’t been cleared, there’s no justification for the removal of the episode. But in this era of #MeToo and safe spaces where we shoot first and ask questions never, the whims of a small vocal minority echo louder than any mob ever has before, and now companies are doing the dangerous work of anticipating what may cause controversy among a small squad of hand-wringers and pearl-clutchers and are cutting and slicing content accordingly.

But I digress. The full scope and measure of this soap box proclamation will have to wait for a more appropriate time. For now, I will say in closing that I still think the game is great, and so is the musician who inspired it.

– Randall Malus, 07/18/2019

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