(This review is dedicated to Michael Jackson, who departed us far too soon.)
Most people don't believe me when I first tell them that this game actually exists. Many are willing to concede that there might possibly be a video game based on Michael Jackson, but insist that I am lying when I begin to describe the game in detail. My retort is simple and oft-repeated. You just can't make this up.
Moonwalker is based on the movie of the same name, with the loose plot being that the villain, Mr. Big (played in the film by Joe Pesci), has been kidnapping children. Therefore, Michael Jackson has two major tasks to complete in this game.
1) Save all the little children.
2) Kill Joe Pesci.
The game itself is a beat-em-up from an isometric perspective. Most games like this are mere sidescrollers, but Michael Jackson lived in three dimensions. Each stage features a midi synth version of a Michael Jackson tune as background music, which is fantastic.
This game features only two buttons. They are labeled "Shot" and "Dance." Pressing Shot causes Michael to place one hand behind his head and the other extended forward, which unleashes a blue energy shock. Holding the Shot button down causes him to place both hands overhead to charge up a blast. All movement during this charging period consists of moonwalking. Releasing the button shoots a powerful blast with extended range. Using Shot in close quarters makes Michael do a spin move, which oddly enough is inordinately strong.
The Dance button, on the other hand, requires dance power to use. You start with one dance power per life, and can occasionally get bonus dance powers. Using Dance sends a spotlight down on Michael, changes the music, and causes every enemy (even dogs) on screen to dance with him in tandem. After all, when Michael Jackson starts dancing, who can resist joining in with perfect synchronization? At the conclusion of the dance, everything on screen spontaneously explodes. It's like looking in the face of God - one cannot dance with Michael Jackson and expect to survive the experience.
There are five stages in the game. Throughout each stage you will find children huddled in corners and the like crying "Michael! Michael!" Touching them (on the shoulder) effectively rescues them, for which they will thank you. Sometimes they will give you health or bonus dance power. Michael has to save every child to advance to the boss of the stage, but only the last four stages have boss encounters.
After defeating the boss, the children you saved during the level excitedly run toward Michael to celebrate their liberation. And then Michael celebrates with them, as you see above....well, I'm sure it's totally innocent. He's just dancing and they want hugs. He saved their lives, after all. The next level will then begin with a quick comic book style intro, the usual Jackson yelp, and a dance move.
On the subject of stages, I do have a bone to pick. First off, the game itself is pretty short. I suppose that saves money in an arcade, but another stage or two wouldn't hurt anyone. Secondly, stage 1 is called "Cavern" and stage 5 is called "Evil Fortress," but they are clearly the exact same level. The only difference is that the Cavern is over within a minute of starting it and has no boss. I guess it was supposed to be a training stage or something. They even have the same background song, "Bad."
And speaking of background songs, there is a graveyard level complete with zombies, and yet "Thriller" is nowhere to be found. The exclusion is understandable when you look at the fact that every song appearing in the game was written entirely by Michael Jackson, and Jackson did not do any writing on "Thriller." Even still, the feel is just not what it could be.
And you know, zombies are probably some of the most "normal" enemies in this game. As you play you will be confronted by: Mobsters, Laser-wielding shock troopers, shirtless crack addicts with knives, dog handlers with stun batons, armor plated dogs, robotic statues, laser turrets, zombies, guys rolling around in tires, miniature steamrollers with lasers, renegade vacuum cleaners, buzzsaw launchers, flamethrowing sewer lids, drone hovercraft, tear gas grenades, and finally, small and giant versions of frog-hopping piston machines. These last are some of the most difficult to defeat; partly because they take a lot of damage, and partly because you really don't want to touch them.
As bizarre as all this has been, I haven't even gotten to the strangest part yet. Toward the end of every level you will encounter a chimpanzee running around in overalls. Why the chimpanzee is there, how it is able to survive with all of the above, and why it is dressed are all unexplained questions. All Michael cares about is the fact that touching this chimpanzee turns him into Mecha Jackson.
In this form the Shot button now shoots lasers out of Michael's fists. Holding the button down charges his missiles. When released, Michael fires missiles out of his abdomen at whatever unfortunate soul is in front of him. The Dance button causes Michael to temporarily revert to human form (so he can do more dance moves than just the robot, presumably), explode everything on screen as usual, and transform back into the cyborg version of himself. It is in this form that Michael fights every boss battle.
The bosses start out pretty reasonably, as far as this game is concerned. The first is a pair of cannons on wheels, with protective shields. It's weird looking but not totally strange in concept, I guess. The second boss is Joe Pesci in a hovering machine surrounded by little laser pods, all of which can be killed individually. When Pesci's vehicle itself takes enough damage, he flies away, ending the stage.
It's the last two boss fights that really get you scratching your head. In the graveyard level Joe Pesci has somehow commandeered or created a machine that spawns ghosts out of three separate tubes. The entire fight he's shouting what sounds like "BOOM! Move it!" but I can't really be sure. Robo-Michael Jackson has to destroy each tube individually while also lasering the ghosts that attack him. When the machine explodes, the entire catwalk Joe Pesci is standing on levitates with jet engines or something, and flies away. What just happened?
And the final boss fight takes place atop the Evil Fortress, with Joe Pesci in some sort of spiderlike contraption. As it walks around smoke and sparks come through the floor at you. I don't really know what they're supposed to be. So you shoot and dance your way to its destruction, and you're treated to a screen of Mr. Big screaming like a girl whilst burning to death. Meanwhile his fortress is exploding. Michael, unable to run out of the fortress in time to escape the explosion, decides to do what any rational person would do in such a situation. He transforms into a jet and flies away. I repeat: Michael Jackson turns himself into a jet.
Then we get the epilogue which consists of a textual summary telling us that the children are safe and Joe Pesci is dead, but what of Michael? Well, the children seem to say he'll be back someday to...and that's it. It cuts off there. He'll be back someday to what?! Now, maybe the machine I was playing it on was glitched, maybe I've never seen what the ending was supposed to say, but that's a rotten cliffhanger. Then we get shots of Jackson's feet dancing and stuff, and a high score screen with him sweating a lot. It's all pretty ridiculous, and it really makes you wonder who in the world could come up with this thing.
Bottom Line: 13/20