Michael Jackson's Moonwalker

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This article is about the video game. For the Michael Jackson film, see 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 Mega Drive/Genesis and 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[edit]

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
Developer(s) Emerald Software
Keypunch Software
Publisher(s) U.S. Gold
Composer(s) Michael Jackson
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 software houses, Irish Emerald Software Ltd and American Keypunch Software, and published by U.K. company U.S. Gold.[1] The home computer versions are the only games to make reference to the early portions of the film.

Home computer gameplay[edit]

The games feature four different levels. The first is 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 are used, with an onscreen map similar to that used in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. The next level has similar gameplay, riding the motorcycle collecting tokens. The motorcycle turns into a car in order to jump a barrier to the next part.

The third level is a side-scrolling level based on the "Smooth Criminal" clip. The player collects ammunition and shoots at gangsters in openings above the player character.

The final level involves 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[edit]

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
Designer(s) Michael Jackson
Composer(s) Tohru Nakabayashi
Platform(s) Arcade
Release date(s)
  • NA: July 24, 1990
Genre(s) Beat 'em up/Run and gun
Mode(s) One to three players simultaneously
Cabinet Upright
Arcade system Sega System 18
Display Standard horizontal, raster graphics

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[edit]

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

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.

Jackson's special attack is 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 Jackson, and Jackson starts to dance several of his hallmark moves. All of the onscreen enemies start dancing with Jackson and are destroyed at the end of the dance routine (ostensibly because they cannot keep up with Jackson's dance moves). bosses do not dance, but do take a significant amount of damage. 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 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.

The game's soundtrack includes "Smooth Criminal", "Beat It", "Another Part of Me", "Billie Jean", and "Bad".

Console versions[edit]

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
Michael Jackson's Moonwalker Boxshot.jpg
Front cover of the European Mega Drive version.
Developer(s) Sega (MD/Genesis)
Arc System Works (SMS)
Publisher(s) Sega
Producer(s) Michael Jackson
Roppyaku Tsurumi
Designer(s) Roppyaku Tsurumi
Composer(s) Hiroshi Kubota
Takayuki Nakamura
Platform(s) Mega Drive/Genesis, Master System
Release date(s)
  • NA: August 24, 1990
  • JP: September 29, 1990
  • EU: January 25, 1991
  • AU: 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 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 involves the player controlling the pop star in a quest to save all the kids that have been kidnapped by Mr. Big.

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 has the ability to destroy enemies by making them dance. Jackson can become a robot by rescuing a certain child and then grabbing a comet that falls from the sky.

Home console gameplay[edit]

The gameplay is focused on finding children, all of whom resemble Katie from the movie, which are scattered throughout the level, some behind objects such as doors. Most of the objects are empty or contain enemies. Jackson's 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 Jackson backwards, he performs his Moonwalk dance move. Jackson has a combined health/ability bar. He can spin, being invulnerable in the process. However, this spin move slowly drains health. If the spin is held for more than two seconds, Jackson throws his hat in a fashion of a boomerang which will destroy most enemies. The longer the spin move is held, the wider distance that the fedora will cover. If held down long enough, a dance magic scene similar to the arcade version plays, featuring dance moves taken from the film clips of whatever song is playing in the background. Michael can also use the magic to slide down banisters and eliminate multiple enemies in the process. In certain levels, a shooting star may appear which temporarily transforms Michael into a cyborg that can attack enemies with various artillery, but cannot collect children. Almost every stage has three levels. The final level of the Mega Drive/Genesis version is a first person "flight sim" type battle between Jackson (now transformed into a space ship) and Mr. Big's ship.


Aggregate score
Aggregator Score
GameRankings 54.2[4]
Review scores
Publication Score
CVG 90%[5]
Crash 70%[6]
Sinclair User 6/10[7]
Your Sinclair 75%[8]
MegaTech 85%[9]
Zzap!64 60%[10]
Mega 78%[11]
Sega Power 90%[12]
Compute's Guide 19/20[13]

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".[8] MegaTech said that the Megadrive version was an addictive platform game that had "excellent graphics".[9] Mega Magazine placed the game at number 91 in their list of the best Megadrive games of all time, saying it was average.[14]


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.[citation needed] GameSpot added Moonwalker into the Hall of Greatest Games of all time.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Moonwalker". MobyGames. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  2. ^ "The Dead Battery Society". Arcadecollecting.com. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  3. ^ http://kotaku.com/5399896/europe-rates-michael-jacksons-moonwalker-for-virtual-console
  4. ^ http://www.gamerankings.com/genesis/586315-michael-jacksons-moonwalker/index.html
  5. ^ C+VG magazine review, http://www.solvalou.com/subpage/arcade_reviews/248/229/moonwalker_review.html
  6. ^ Crash magazine issue 72, http://www.crashonline.org.uk/misc/reviews.htm
  7. ^ Sinclair User review, issue 95 http://www.sincuser.f9.co.uk/095/index.htm
  8. ^ a b Your Sinclair review, issue 49, http://www.ysrnry.co.uk/articles/moonwalker.htm
  9. ^ a b MegaTech magazine index, issue 5, page 77
  10. ^ ZZap magazine review, issue 55 http://www.zzap64.co.uk/cgi-bin/displaypage.pl?issue=077&page=072&magazine=zzap
  11. ^ Mega rating, issue 9, page 23, Future Publishing, June 1993
  12. ^ http://www.outofprintarchive.com/articles/reviews/MegaDrive/Moonwalker-SegaPower17-2.html
  13. ^ Compute's Guide to Sega, Steven A Schwartz, ISBN 0-87455-238-9, p78
  14. ^ Mega (magazine), issue 1, page 84

External links[edit]