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Michael Jackson's Moonwalker

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker is the name of several video games based on the 1988 Michael Jackson film Moonwalker. U.S. Gold published various games for home computers, released in 1989, whilst Sega developed two similarly themed beat 'em up video games in 1990; one released for arcades and another released for the Sega Genesis and Sega Master System. Each of the games' stories loosely follow the story of the film, in which Michael Jackson must rescue kidnapped children from the evil Mr. Big, and incorporate synthesized versions of the musician's hits, such as Beat It and Smooth Criminal. The games, particularly the Genesis adaptation, have achieved cult status.


  • Home computer versions 1
    • Home computer gameplay 1.1
  • Arcade version 2
    • Arcade gameplay 2.1
      • Arcade levels 2.1.1
  • Console versions 3
    • Home console gameplay 3.1
      • Home console levels 3.1.1
    • Incorporation of Michael Jackson trademarks 3.2
    • Peculiarities 3.3
  • Musical comparison 4
  • Reception 5
  • Legacy 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9

Home computer versions

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
Developer(s) Emerald Software
Keypunch Software
Publisher(s) U.S. Gold
Engine various
Platform(s) Amiga
Atari ST
Commodore 64
Release date(s) July 24, 1990
Genre(s) Maze game/Beat 'em up/Platformer/Shooter game
Mode(s) Single-player

Versions of the game were released for the popular 8-bit and 16-bit home computers of the time. They were developed by two small softhouses, Irish Emerald Software Ltd and American Keypunch Software, and published by U.K. company U.S. Gold; all of these have since gone out of business.[1] The home computer versions are the only games to make reference to the early portions of the film.

Home computer gameplay

The games featured four different levels. The first was a top-down maze-style level based on the 'Speed Demon' short, involving wandering the studio to collect various items and costume pieces, with the final piece being the motorcycle, all whilst trying to avoid the crazed fans. Stealth elements were used, with an onscreen map similar to that used in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. The next level had similar gameplay, riding the motorcycle collecting tokens, upon which turning into a car in order to jump a barrier to the next part.

The third level was a sort of side-scrolling level based on the "Smooth Criminal" clip, collecting ammunition and shooting at gangsters in openings above you.

The final level involved morphing into a robot and shooting at soldiers in openings, with the player controlling a crosshair. The four songs used were "Bad", "Speed Demon", "Smooth Criminal" and "The Way You Make Me Feel".

Arcade version

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
European arcade flyer of Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.
European arcade flyer of Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.

Developer(s) Sega
Publisher(s) Sega
Producer(s) Michael Jackson
Composer(s) Tohru Nakabayashi
Release date(s)
  • NA July 24, 1990

Different from the home computer version, Michael Jackson's Moonwalker (マイケル・ジャクソンズ・ムーンウォーカー Maikeru Jakusonzu Mūn'wōkā) is an arcade video game by Sega (programming) and Triumph International (audiovisuals), with the help of Jackson which was released on the Sega System 18 hardware. This game suffered from Sega's suicide battery[2] on its arcade board (a battery that, accidentally or otherwise, renders the game unplayable at the end of its lifespan). The arcade has distinctively different gameplay from its computer and console counterparts, focusing more on beat 'em up gameplay elements rather than platform.

Arcade gameplay

The game is essentially a beat-em-up, although Jackson attacks with magic powers instead of physical contact, and has the ability to shoot magic power at enemies instead of getting close enough for a melee attack. A map of the stage is shown before it begins, and after which, Jackson must get from the start to the end without losing all his health while rescuing all the children and defeating all the enemies along the way.

Screenshot of Michael Jackson's Moonwalker arcade game

The game can also be played multiplayer; if the cabinet supports it, up to three people can play simultaneously. All three players play as Jackson, dressed in his suit from the "Smooth Criminal" music video. The first player wears a white suit and hat, with a blue shirt; the second player's character dons a scarlet outfit with a white shirt; the third player's character is dressed in black, with a red shirt. The characters all have armbands: blue for white outfit, white for red outfit, and red for black outfit.

Dance Magic: Arguably the most memorable feature, Sega takes the concept of the "smart bomb" or "screen zapper" and changes it to the form of dancing, in a special attack termed "Dance Magic". Remaining stocks of this are displayed onscreen as the MJ logo which had recently debuted in the film. Once activated, a heavenly spotlight shines on the player, and the player starts to dance several of the high-energy moves that have become Jackson's hallmarks. All of the standard enemies — henchmen, gangsters, guards, robots — start dancing with the player and are destroyed at the end of the dance routine (ostensibly because they cannot keep up with Jackson's dance moves). However, bosses do not dance, but do take a significant amount of damage. Any captive children on-screen at the time Dance Magic is activated are not harmed. There are three different dance routines that may be performed, and the player starts with one to three of these attacks per credit (depending on how the machine is set up).

Bubbles: Part of the peculiarity of this game comes from this unusual power-up. Bubbles the chimpanzee, Michael's real-life pet, appears in each level. Once collected or rescued, the chimp transforms Michael into a robotic version of the pop singer that has the ability to shoot laser bursts and absorb significantly more damage.

Arcade levels

  1. Cavern: This level resembles the subterranean hideout from the movie and consists of long corridors with blue doors periodically. It starts with Mr. Big taunting Michael. The enemies consist of suit-wearing henchmen and small robotic mobile gun emplacements. There is no boss.
    Background music – "Bad"
  2. Amusement Quarter: This level takes place in Club 30s, the nightclub from the movie, and highly resembles the first level from the console version. Additionally, half of the level takes place outside on a street during daytime. The enemies consist of gangsters, and soldiers. The bosses for this level are two mobile robotic gun emplacements.
    Background music – "Smooth Criminal"
  3. Night Street: This level is very similar to the outdoor half of the Amusement Quarter, but takes place at night. The gangsters and soldiers again make their appearance in this level, but are joined by many more robots. There are robots that hide under manholes, large conspicuous-looking AT-ST-like robots, and shirtless men who control armored dobermans. Mr. Big confronts Michael in this level, in the form of a laser-shooting hovercraft surrounded by eight floating laser pods.
    Background music – "Beat It"
  4. Graveyard: In an almost complete departure in theme, this level takes place and has all the common elements of a horror movie graveyard. Enemies consist mostly of zombies and ghosts. The boss is yet another Mr. Big contraption; a large stationary three-tubed ghost generator.
    Background music – "Another Part of Me"
  5. Evil Fortress: This level takes place on Mr. Big's fortress on the moon, where he is preparing to fire a large laser cannon. Almost the entire level takes place on a rising elevator, where wave after wave of enemies appear. The last boss is Mr. Big piloting a large mechanical spider.
Background music – a reprise of "Bad"

"Billie Jean" plays over the credits.

Console versions

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker

Front cover of the European Mega Drive version.

Developer(s) Sega AM7
Publisher(s) Sega
Producer(s) Michael Jackson
Korimizu Imokichi(aka Roppyaku Tsurumi)
Designer(s) Roppyaku Tsurumi
Composer(s) Hiroshi Kubota
Platform(s) Mega Drive/Genesis
Master System
Release date(s)
  • NA August 24, 1990
  • JP September 29, 1990
  • EU January 25, 1991
  • AUS February 1991
Genre(s) Beat 'em up/Platformer
Mode(s) Single-player

Home versions of the game were released for Sega's Mega Drive/Genesis and Master System home video game systems though the gameplay was completely different from the arcade version. A version was also rated by PEGI for release on Virtual Console,[3] but it never materialized, and it was never specified which version was considered for rerelease. The home console versions of the game were actually based on an evolved version of the home computer version of the game (with gameplay somewhat similar to the Shinobi series), in contrast to the arcade version which was a three-quarters view shooter/fighter type game. The game involved the player controlling the pop star in a quest to save all the kids that had been kidnapped by Mr. Big. In the arcade version, Katie was one of three types of children who could be rescued, in the home version, all of the captive children are young blond girls termed "Katies", although Zeke appears in the end sequence.

The game's levels and music were borrowed from the film (though many of the music tracks were taken from Jackson's Thriller album as well) and the player had the ability to destroy enemies by making them dance. In the console game Michael could become a robot by rescuing a certain child first, and then grabbing a comet that fell from the sky. In the arcade version, Michael became a robot by rescuing his chimp pal Bubbles. The arcade version also had the novel feature of three simultaneous players (each controlling Jackson's character in a different-colored "Smooth Criminal" outfit).

Home console gameplay

The gameplay is focused on finding children, all of whom resemble Katie from the movie, which are scattered throughout the level, some behind certain objects such as doors. Most of the objects are empty or contain enemies. In contrast to the arcade version, Michael's moves more closely resemble his trademark dancing moves. For example, the standard attack is a stylized high kick that is commonly incorporated into his dance routines. If the player continues to hold the kick button, and moves Michael backwards, he performs Michael's signature Super Mario Bros. fashion as X-1, X-2, X-3. However, the final level of the Mega Drive/Sega Genesis version was a first person "flight sim" type battle between Michael (now transformed into a space ship) and Mr. Big's ship.

Home console levels

  • Stage 1 – Club 30s
Background music – "Smooth Criminal"
Special perform: "Smooth Criminal"
  • Stage 2 – Street
Background music – "Beat It"
Special perform: "Beat It"
  • Stage 3 – Woods
Background music – "Another Part of Me"
Special perform: "Another Part of Me" (REV01 version only) or "Thriller" (REV00 version only) on 3-1 and 3-2. "Thriller" (REV00 version only) or "Billie Jean" (REV01 version only) on 3-3.
  • Stage 4 – Cavern
Background music – "Billie Jean"
Special perform: "Bad"
  • Stage 5 – The Enemy Hideout
Background music – "Bad"
Special perform: 5-1 "Smooth Criminal". 5-2 "Beat It". 5-3 "Thriller" (REV00 version only) or "Another Part of Me" (REV01 version only)

Incorporation of Michael Jackson trademarks

  • In the beginning of level 1-1, mimicking the Moonwalker movie, the environment appears dark until Michael flips a quarter into a jukebox which starts playing "Smooth Criminal".
  • When performing each attack move Jackson will shout "wooo!", a sound he commonly made during his performances.
  • Occasionally, there is a brief cutscene between levels, in which Jackson shouts "wooo!" or "who's bad?".
  • The jumping attack shows Michael raising up his arms, mimicking another dance move.
  • If Jackson's energy is low enough (around or under 25%), he can perform his infamous crotch grab as an in-game taunt via a button sequence.
  • A Moonwalk can be performed if the player attacks and then suddenly pushes the directional pad in either horizontal direction. It can be used to cross quickly over hard-to-overcome obstacles, such as the conveyor belts from Level 5 and the spider webs from Level 4.
  • Jackson has a spinning move which, if held onto long enough, forces all onscreen enemies to dance with him.
  • Many of Jackson's catchphrases such as "hee-hee", "shamone", "hoo!", "ow!", and "who's bad?" are featured throughout the game.
  • After rescuing all the children on a level, Bubbles the chimpanzee will be magically carried to Michael where he will rest on his shoulders and point Michael in the direction of the level's boss battle.


  • The ad suggests that the song "Thriller" was included in the game. The third stage — much of it set in a graveyard, with zombies as the main enemy — "Thriller" as the dance attack music is present in the early versions of the game known as REV00 which has all 3 parts of the Woods level and the third part of the Enemy Hideout level, while the later version known as REV01 has "Another Part of Me" used as the dance attack music for the first two parts of the Woods and in the third part of the Enemy Hideout while "Billie Jean" is used as the dance attack music in the third part of the Woods possibly due to copyright issues (since Jackson is not the songwriter of Thriller).[4]

Musical comparison

Since all three games were made in isolation, and all hardware had different sound and memory capabilities, they all included a different selection of songs. The levels on which each song was used is summarized below.

Song Computer Arcade Console
"Another Part of Me" 4. Graveyard 3. Woods (level) also the

dance attack music in the REV01 version for 3-1 and 3-2

5. The enemy hideout (dance attack in 5-3 in the REV01 version)

"Bad" 1. Studio 1. Cavern

5. Evil Fortress

4. Cavern (dance attack)

5. The enemy hideout (level) Ending credits

"Beat It" 3. Night Street 2. Street

5. The enemy hideout (dance attack in 5-2)

"Billie Jean" Ending Credits 3. Woods (dance attack in 3-3 in the REV01 version)

4. Cavern (level)

"Smooth Criminal" 3. Club 30s 2. Amusement Quarter 1. Club 30s

5. The enemy hideout (dance attack in 5-1)

"Speed Demon" 2. Motorcycle race
"Thriller" 3. Woods (dance attack in the REV00 version)

5. The enemy hideout (dance attack in 5-3 in the REV00 version)

"The Way You Make Me Feel" 4. The enemy hideout


Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 54.2[5]
Review scores
Publication Score
CVG 90%[6]
Crash 70%[7]
Sinclair User 6/10[8]
Your Sinclair 75%[9]
MegaTech 85%[10]
Zzap!64 60%[11]
Mega 78%[12]
Sega Power 90%[13]
Compute's Guide 19/20[14]

Critical reviews were mixed to positive. Your Sinclair compared the Spectrum version of the game to Gauntlet and Operation Wolf, saying it was well animated and "a surprising amount of fun".[9] MegaTech said that the Megadrive version was an addictive platform game that had "excellent graphics".[10] Mega Magazine placed the game at number 91 in their list of the best Megadrive games of all time, saying it was average.[15]


Jackson later would go on to have a cameo role in Sega's Space Channel 5 and Space Channel 5: Part 2 music/rhythm games for the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2. Jackson also appeared as a secret character in Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2.

In the June 2007 issue of Game Informer magazine, Michael Jackson's Moonwalker was number 8 on the "Top 10 Worst Licensed Game Ideas (ever)" in the Connect section. GameSpot added Moonwalker into the Hall of Greatest Games of all time.

See also


  1. ^ "Moonwalker". MobyGames. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  2. ^ "The Dead Battery Society". Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ 26/Jun/2009 Michael Jackson: How Rod Temperton invented Thriller
  5. ^
  6. ^ C+VG magazine review,
  7. ^ Crash magazine issue 72,
  8. ^ Sinclair User review, issue 95
  9. ^ a b Your Sinclair review, issue 49,
  10. ^ a b MegaTech magazine index, issue 5, page 77
  11. ^ ZZap magazine review, issue 55
  12. ^ Mega rating, issue 9, page 23, Future Publishing, June 1993
  13. ^
  14. ^ Compute's Guide to Sega, Steven A Schwartz, ISBN 0-87455-238-9, p78
  15. ^ Mega (magazine), issue 1, page 84

External links

  • Michael Jackson's Moonwalker at MobyGames (console versions)
  • Michael Jackson's Moonwalker at MobyGames (computer versions)
  • ScrewAttack's Video Retrospective of the Arcade & Mega Drive Versions
  • HonestGamers Arcade Review
  • New Michael Jackson video game in the works:
  • X-entertainment article on the videogames
  • Michael Jackson's Moonwalker at Games4Win (PC playable)
  • Moonwalker at World of Spectrum
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