Didn’t Beat It: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

By Kieron Gillen on June 26th, 2009 at 7:47 pm.

There's one really good story involving PCG and Michael Jackson

Being up late last night, Alec and I were filled with the urge to post a screenshot from Plants Versus Zombies – or even better, an animated Gif – and just leave it there overnight. In a rare moment of leaning towards good taste, we decided against it. Waking up in the morning, we find that a mass of the mainstream games press have pulled together articles about his many appearances in videogames.

Googling around isn’t good enough, sez I. Someone should play the game.

Which is me. Somewhat unfortunately.

The PC version is on the resurgent Underdogs – and I do raise the eyebrow of a Michael Jackson game being on a site originally about underdogs. But maybe he is. I mean, no-one took Moonwalker seriously – in the game world, he was an underdog. And from Billy Jean onwards, Jackson always had a knack at turning sympathy towards the powerful rich hyperstar rather than the actual underdogs. I saw the film for free as a kid, as part of some keep-the-urchins-busy Summer-thing. I think it was the first film I actually walked out of. Physical acts remain the best critciism.

Now, in the period the game came out, even great films didn’t have a chance of having a great tie-in game. Playing the PC Moonwalker game, I can’t believe its developers even cared slightly about Jackson. Alternatively, they had about a half-day to do it. Or maybe they really did care about Jackson, but they spent all their time making paper-mache statues with their own man-glue rather than learning to design games. Or – even worse – perhaps game design really was that poor back then.

It involves Jim

It’s a four-level multigame thing. As the Underdogs review explains, the first two sections are so impressively tedious, you probably won’t get to the better second half. The Underdogs reviewer is correct. I managed to get to the second level, then burned away the remainder of my life, and the idea of starting again – we’re in pre-check-point and level select times, my friends – well, I’d rather listen to Earth Song a half dozen times in a row.

(I’m interested in reading a mass of writer’s response to Jackson’s passing, and Tom Ewing’s noting that the paranoid, delusional, wracked 90s-material seemed to be more in tune with the moment now made me go and listen to Earth Song. I gave it a shot and… well, the second I finish this piece, I’m going to go out to Tom’s club with Alec and biff him right on the kisser. No.)

Anyway – the first and second levels basically involve you running away. They’re large-scale Pac-man games with you as Jacko. trying to first collect the keys for your bike, then your stage equipment, then a rabbit costume to disguise you. Now, if I was Jacko I’d have got the disguise first, because the area is full of deformed grotesqueries of fans – some mounted on horseback – all of whom if they spot you will try and chase you down and take one of your lives. You can run to outspeed most of the baddies, but eventually you get tired out. The enemies don’t. There’s no reliable way of dodging them, so if your run is depleted they get you and presumably tear you from limb like the end of Suskind’s Perfume (SPOILERS! – Literary Ed). If a horse is on the screen, you’re probably dead already. There’s a time limit too – the one time I managed to survive and get a lot of the equipment in one go, it ran down to zero. The only good thing is that you can grind out the level, getting one item at a time.

Because you have 20 lives. The old-skool game criticism rule of thumb of the number of lives being inversely proportional to a game’s quality holds true.

And a screenshot. Yes.

Okay, it’s terrible. It’s not even amusingly terrible. It’s a long, slow grind. But just by playing it, hearing the DOS-Era PC sound version of Smooth Criminal, watching the Jackson iconography fired through a CGA filter works as a focus for my thinking on the man. In some ways, Moonwalker PC is a better reflection of Jackson than many other things connected to his myth.

I mean, a record like Scream spoke of a relationship with the press and an uncomfortableness in the eye… but I’ll still dance to it. It’s called scream, but it’s not a scream. That wasn’t Jackson’s style. It took a group of hack-coders to get to a core fact about him, something which the fantastical nonsense of the film which it’s based upon failed to do.

It’s a game which says one thing and says it clearly. Being Michael Jackson? Being set impossible, meaningless tasks by an unseen yet inescapable and undeniable father figure/torturer? Being chased and hounded every second of your life? Never being able to run fast enough to get away?

It’s not fun. It’s no fun at all.

, , , .

41 Comments »

  1. KindredPhantom says:

    RIP Michael Jackson.

  2. The_B says:

    I was always a sucker for the Arcade Coin Op version, which was always the best – the three player beat em up style with the Moonwalk as a Streets of Rage-esque Smart Bomb. I must’ve wasted many 20ps in my local fish shop just trying to beat it.

    …no pun intended. OR WAS IT?

  3. Smurfy says:

    Speaking of MJ, I can’t wait for his comeback tour, I’m pumped!

  4. TheLordHimself says:

    I wondered whether his death would make it onto this site, apparently it did.

  5. Jazmeister says:

    Great games writing! About, you know, something I wish would just stop appearing all over the internet. CVG didn’t even try to tie it into games, initially.

    I’ll accept mass e-mourning when Shigsy dies.

  6. panik says:

    “I wondered whether his death would make it onto this site, apparently it did.”

    Jackson in sims 3 coming soon

  7. jsutcliffe says:

    I think you should have gone with the zombies, personally. Good taste has no place on RPS unless you’re John W.

  8. Andrew Dunn says:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPlyPR0V1lw

    I can never get HTML links to work, but this video seems relevant. (Consolevania, Moonwalker)

  9. Some Guy says:

    Where is Michael Jackson’s funeral?

    the recycling plant.

  10. Some Guy says:

    bloody enters vanished
    guess i needed to use full stops at the end of the lines.

  11. l1ddl3monkey says:

    He got enough.
    He stopped.

  12. Moorkh says:

    EGA, not CGA, surely!

  13. PC Monster says:

    Which Michael Jackson game? Rapelay, was it?

    Ba-doom ching.

  14. Guto says:

    The console version of this game is pretty decent. I remember finishing it some years ago. Anyway, it was a great loss indeed, brilliant artist…

  15. Chis says:

    Oh hell, I had this for the Amstrad CPC, yeeeears ago.

    I feel old. :P

    And yeah, why I kept going back to this I’ve no idea, but the overhead pre-GTA style sections were oddly compelling.

    Anyhow, HG101 have thoroughly covered this game:
    http://hg101.classicgaming.gamespy.com/moonwalker/moonwalker.htm

    Recommended reading, as always with HG101.

  16. gojiro0 says:

    Best part of Moonwalker was rescuing the children from the closets of that skanky bar and then being led on by a monkey. We should have known right then.

  17. Christian says:

    Don’t stop til you get enough.

    Says it all (I guess). :)

    @ Smurfy: Yeah, that would be a real Thriller…

  18. Wulf says:

    Well, that was a rather crass way to open the post, it crosses a line with me when jokes are about the recently deceased (regardless of whomever it was that died).

    So… more Jim/John/Tim, please? I’m beginning to feel they’re whom I come here to read, these days.

    Speaking of which…

    @jsutcliffe “[...] unless you’re John W.”: I disagree in part, as I find that both Jim and Tim too are focused journalists with the capacity for good taste. They may laugh about it and think it untrue, but they’ve never done anything that’s made me twitch.

    Anyway, the Mega Drive/Genesis version of Moonwalker was actually a pretty damned decent time.

  19. Jim Rossignol says:

    I would totally have gone with PvZ.

  20. sinister agent says:

    I remember playing this after borrowing it (as part of a pile) from a friend. For maybe ten minutes. It was indeed unutterably awful.

    I’m not going to bother with gags, as I’ve already read the definitive gag thread, with people actually coming up with witty off-the-cuff references rather than repeating what their mate Dan texted them from the pub.

  21. jsutcliffe says:

    @Wulf

    It was a joke about John generally being referred to as “the nice one.”

    Also, I feel like PvZ would have been entirely appropriate — a contemporary video game with great reviews (sorry Moonwalker — you didn’t cut it with me then; you don’t cut it with me now) with a slick reference to Michael Jackson in his heyday and as I’m sure people would generally prefer to remember him.

  22. SmallGods says:

    I’m sorry people, but these jokes just have to stop.

    I mean, they’re bad, bad. They’re really really bad.

  23. K says:

    I had this on the Spectrum. I still feel like it was a waste of money. So, in some ways: sad, and other ways: justice.

  24. msarge says:

    I’m going to have to agree with Jim Rossignol on this one. PvZ would have been perfect. Someone please post the GIF.

  25. Metal_Circus says:

    It’s a shame Michael Jackson died. He quite litterally touched the kids of all ages.

  26. Paul Moloney says:

    I know 2 of the guys who worked on Moonwalker, or at least one of the ports – done by a company called Emerald Software once based in Waterford, Ireland – they were young and needed the money I’m sure they’ll say! According to this page – http://www.answers.com/topic/michael-jackson-s-moonwalker-1 – 2 companies worked on the home computer versions.

    P.

  27. Helm says:

    Good piece. If you don’t mind a nitpick, that is EGA, not CGA. You can spot CGA very easily, when the screen has only 4 colors on it. EGA has 16 colors. The piece is about an old pc game being particularly obsolete, getting the terminology right is a benefit.

  28. dud root says:

    I played this too much on Atari 1024ST… Not sure why, it was an awful awful ‘game’

  29. Scandalon says:

    Helm – or, it could be TGA…Tandy Color Graphics – 16 colors at CGA resolution! :P

  30. Ben Abraham says:

    Perfume was RUBBISH.

  31. cHeal says:

    I Had Moonwalker for the old Spectrum Z2 back in the day, it was probably the best game we ever got for it. Can’t even remember playing, just remember thinking it was great.

  32. Cigol says:

    I remember Moonwalker on the genesis and it was a good game – especially if you were a fan of him and his music. Looks like the PC has been getting shitty ports for a lot longer than I originally thought!

  33. EyeMessiah says:

    I don’t think we have seen the last of Michael Jackson.

    Mark. My. Words.

  34. Gorgeras says:

    Omg, if Plants Vs Zombies had come out just a little later, that would have seemed awfully tasteless.

    I put 50/50 odds on some tabloid hack seeing the game and selling a story giving the impression that the game came out more recently.

  35. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    The arcade shooter and Genesis platformer were better, but his most striking appearance would have to be the Space Channel 5 titles, as they do their best to show his dance moves.

  36. Nick R says:

    Apparently copies of Moonwalker are going for ridiculous prices on eBay. I wonder how long it’ll be before someone posts the listing:

    SONIC 3 GENESIS WITH RARE UNRELEASED MICHAEL JACKSON MUSIC (RIP)

  37. Luchian says:

    Ages ago I wrote a review of the Arcade version of Moonwalker.
    In short, it was awful. But I’m sure you could of guessed that already. If you’re interested, the review is here :

    http://luchian.livejournal.com/52469.html

  38. Ginger Yellow says:

    Never played the computer game, but like The_B I was a big fan of the arcade as a kid. One of the few arcade games I actually finished. It took three of us about a fiver, back when arcades cost 10p or something like that.

  39. Le Grand Pamplemouusse says:

    Michael Jackson – His heart just couldn’t beat it

  40. poo and shake says:

    your a fuck!!!!!!!!!!!!

  41. poo and shake says:

    your a barsterd