Michael Jackson's Moonwalker

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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, while 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 (specifically the "Smooth Criminal" segment), in which Michael Jackson must rescue kidnapped children from the evil Mr. Big, and incorporate synthesized versions of some of the musician's songs.

Home computer versions[edit]

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
Developer(s)Emerald Software
Keypunch Software
Publisher(s)U.S. Gold
Amstrad CPC
Atari ST
Commodore 64
ZX Spectrum
ReleaseJuly 24, 1990
Genre(s)Maze game/Beat 'em up/Platformer/Shooter game

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]

Home computer gameplay[edit]

The game features four different levels. The first level is a top-down maze-style level. The next level has similar gameplay, riding the motorcycle collecting tokens.

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 last level involves morphing into a robot and shooting at soldiers in openings, with the player controlling a crosshair.

Arcade version[edit]

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
European arcade flyer of Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.
European arcade flyer of Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.
Producer(s)Michael Jackson
Composer(s)Tohru Nakabayashi
  • NA: July 24, 1990
Genre(s)Beat 'em up/Run and gun
Mode(s)Single-player, multiplayer
Arcade systemSega System 18

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 Mūnwōkā) 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 short-ranged magic power at enemies. The magic power can be charged by holding the attack button to increase the range and damage of the magic power. If up close to enemies, Jackson executes a spinning melee attack using magic power.

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 (white for player 1, red for player 2, black for player 3).

Jackson's special attack is termed "Dance Magic". 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 missiles and absorb significantly more damage.

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)
Sega/Arc System Works (SMS)
Producer(s)Michael Jackson
Roppyaku Tsurumi
Designer(s)Roppyaku Tsurumi
Composer(s)Hiroshi Kubota
Takayuki Nakamura
Platform(s)Mega Drive/Genesis, Master System
  • NA: August 24, 1990
  • JP: September 29, 1990
  • EU: January 25, 1991
  • AU: February 1991
Genre(s)Beat 'em up/Platformer

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.[4]

Home console gameplay[edit]

The gameplay is focused on finding children, all of whom resemble Katie from the movie, who are scattered throughout the levels, 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; in the Sega Genesis version, Jackson's attacks fire off blue sparks, giving him greater offensive range. If the player continues to hold the attack button, and moves Jackson backwards, he performs his Moonwalk dance move. Jackson also has a special attack button which, when held, will cause him to start spinning; releasing it will cause him to throw his hat at enemies, destroying them instantly, but if the button is held for longer, Jackson will bring all on-screen enemies together to start dancing to his music. Once the choreography is finished, all enemies are damaged or defeated. These special attacks cost Jackson some health, sapping up to half his full life bar at full charge. Rescuing children restores some of Jackson's health. Once all children are rescued, Bubbles will mount on Michael's shoulders and point him in the direction of the level's final confrontation, where Mr. Big taunts him before sending waves of enemies for Jackson to defeat (on the Master System version, Bubbles is absent, and the levels cut straight from the final child to the enemy rush).


Critical reviews were mixed. 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.[16] In 2004, the Genesis version of Moonwalker was inducted into GameSpot's list of the greatest games of all time.[17]


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.[18] Jackson's cameo did not return in the VR version of the first game.[19] Jackson also appeared as a secret character in Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2.[20] The Genesis version of the game is the subject of episode # 63 of "Angry Video Game Nerd."[21][22]


A prototype of the Sega Genesis version dated April 24, 1990 surfaced that contains various differences from the final version. Most notably a full Thriller music track is present in the graveyard stage as well as a different final boss battle which is incomplete. Other differences include but are not limited to: changes in level layouts, different cutscenes, as well as minor differences in sound samples and other musical tracks. The prototype was acquired by Landon White[23] who dumped and preserved the ROM file[24] online on August 6, 2018.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Moonwalker". MobyGames. Blue Flame Labs. Archived from the original on 2006-03-19. Retrieved 2009-07-18.
  2. ^ "The Dead Battery Society". Arcadecollecting.com. Archived from the original on 2000-10-19. Retrieved 2009-07-18.
  3. ^ Good, Owen (2011-08-09). "Europe Rates Michael Jackson's Moonwalker for Virtual Console". Kotaku. Archived from the original on 2019-02-19.
  4. ^ Michael Jackson's Moonwalker (Genesis) All Secret Shooting Stars. YouTube.
  5. ^ "Michael Jackson's Moonwalker for Genesis". GameRankings. 1990-08-24. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
  6. ^ C+VG magazine review, http://www.solvalou.com/subpage/arcade_reviews/248/229/moonwalker_review.html
  7. ^ Crash magazine issue 72, http://www.crashonline.org.uk/misc/reviews.htm
  8. ^ Sinclair User review, issue 95 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-10. Retrieved 2011-07-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ a b Your Sinclair review, issue 49, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-09. Retrieved 2011-07-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  10. ^ a b MegaTech magazine index, issue 5, page 77
  11. ^ ZZap magazine review, issue 55 http://www.zzap64.co.uk/cgi-bin/displaypage.pl?issue=077&page=072&magazine=zzap
  12. ^ Mega rating, issue 9, page 23, Future Publishing, June 1993
  13. ^ "Out-of-Print Archive • Mega Drive reviews • Moonwalker". Outofprintarchive.com. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
  14. ^ Compute's Guide to Sega, Steven A Schwartz, ISBN 0-87455-238-9, p78
  15. ^ "Michael Jackson's Moonwalker Review". IGN. 2008-03-31. Retrieved 2019-02-18.
  16. ^ Mega(magazine), Top 100 issue 1, page 84
  17. ^ "The Greatest Games of All Time: Michael Jackson's Moonwalker". GameSpot. Archived from the original on October 18, 2007.
  18. ^ Kris (2012-02-28). "How Michael Jackson Willed His Way Into Sega's Space Channel 5". Siliconera. Archived from the original on 2020-08-04. Retrieved 2020-11-18.
  19. ^ Admin Team (2020-02-10). "Space Channel 5 is coming back as a VR game without Michael". MJVibe. Archived from the original on 2020-03-07. Retrieved 2020-11-18.
  20. ^ Wulf, Edgar (2020-10-25). "Looking Back to 2000 and the Launch of the Iconic PlayStation 2". TheXboxHub. Archived from the original on 2020-10-31. Retrieved 2020-11-18.
  21. ^ Knight, Rich (2020-10-11). "5 Reasons Why Michael Jackson's Moonwalker Scarred Me as a Child". CINEMABLEND. Archived from the original on 2020-10-14. Retrieved 2020-11-18.
  22. ^ Matei, Mike (2009-01-07). "AVGN: Michael Jackson's Moonwalker". Cinemassacre. Cinemassacre Productions. Archived from the original on 2010-04-12. Retrieved 2020-11-18.
  23. ^ White, Landon (2010-12-17). "Landon White". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2020-11-18.
  24. ^ Acenitro (2018-08-07). "Proto:Michael Jackson's Moonwalker (Genesis)". The Cutting Room Floor. Archived from the original on 2018-08-17. Retrieved 2020-11-18.
  25. ^ Evilhamwizard (2018-08-07). "Michael Jackson's Moonwalker (Apr 24, 1990)". Hidden Palace. Archived from the original on 2018-08-13. Retrieved 2020-11-18.

External links[edit]