Michael Jackson's Moonwalker review
Well, the moon isn't going to walk itself!
Try not to remember Michael Jackson as an alleged child molester; remember him as the king of pop music, and the king of dance! Thriller is still regarded as the finest piece of pop music to have ever been released, with an ear for melody and catchiness, and another ear for beats that make for great dancing material, even if nobody can dance as well as Michael Jackson himself. Even with that masterpiece aside, his stuff is pretty good. When it came time to make a movie... it was alright with all things considered, but the exclusive content wasn't worth the price of admission. You'd be better off downloading the music videos and songs themselves - great choreography, but as a movie, it wasn't too good. Now, when it came time to make a video game based on it, all I could think was "how can you do this...?" The short answer is a platformer with a 16-bit rendition of a few choice hits. The long answer? Well, I think you'll have to read the rest of the review for that...
The movie didn't have much of a storyline, as it was more of an anthology film than anything else, and... neither does the game, but it's a 16-bit platformer, so what we have is at least passable. Basically, this guy named Mr Big and his goons have kidnapped a lot of kids and it's up to Michael Jackson to stop Mr Big and rescue the kids. I would LOVE to make a mean spirited joke about that, but instead, I'll just say that it's typical for a platformer in this era, not to mention that it does a decent job of retelling the Smooth Criminal portion of the movie. Oh sure, in the movie, he was only meant to rescue one kid while he's out rescuing thousands in the game, but still, it at least tries to retell it with some competence, just using the visuals...
Quick, before he gets away!
Oh, who am I kidding, it doesn't really retell the story. It just uses it loosely for a premise that winds up being a collectathon. In each level, you'll be required to find all of the kids - most of which, will be hiding in doors, windows, bushes and other such objects you could hide kidnapped victims. It seems like a good enough concept in theory, but in execution, it's a tad on the tedious side, as you have to check through every checkable object to make sure you find the kids, and in a fair few cases, a lot of them are pretty close together. Not to mention, enemies may be distracting, and once you're done dealing with them, well, I hope you can remember which objects you've checked, or else, you'll be spending some time checking again. It's especially important in all three acts of the second level, because some of them contain bombs that will respawn if you check that object again, and they can hurt you not just by hitting you with the explosion, but by the bomb itself just touching you, classic old school style.
Once you've found the kids, Bubbles, Michael's trusty monkey sidekick, will shoot from behind him, attached himself to his shoulder, and point to where the boss fight is. Well, for the first two acts of each level, it's not a boss fight; it's an endurance round of sorts as you'll have to defeat a wave of enemies without any health restoration - when you rescue a kid, you get a bit of health back, by the way. On the third act though, it is a boss fight, and they tend to be stronger versions of the enemies you've encountered throughout the level. Having said that, they have a decent amount of HP, can deal a fair bit of damage to you, and can take down an unprepared dancer with ease. In traditional old school style though, enemies simply have to touch Michael in order to hurt him. In fact, there are only very minor differences between enemies - some are smaller, some are more agile, some jump towards him, some shoot him, and most importantly, some have more endurance.
What about Michael himself? He can kick and punch stardust at his enemies, but his best attack is the spin attack. It whittles his health down as he uses it, but it's worth it when he either fires his hat at enemies, or gets them all together to dance. Both attacks are quite devastating, but they're both at the cost of some health, so you should only ever use these attacks, especially the dance attack, if you absolutely need to. Otherwise, kick stardust at them, because one or two hits is usually enough. Sometimes, a star will shoot from the sky, and if Michael touches it, he'll turn into a robot, who can fire missiles and generally destroy everything in his path while being invulnerable to damage. Unfortunately, he can't rescue kids while in this form. I suppose a robot is scarier than a guy who would wind up being branded a child molester by the media (whether that's actually true or not is up for debate - one that I don't want to participate in). Damn. I would love to be rescued by a robot! Then again, like how the two insta-kill moves only work if you sacrifice a chunk of your health, it's there to balance things out... oh, and it's only for a limited of time, but I think that'd go without saying...
But having said all of that, combat is certainly a lot better than the scavenger hunt. It's simple, but it manages to work, especially as you progress through the game and face tougher foes. In fact, from the third level onwards, it gets fairly tough, as the enemies have a bit more stamina, and the bosses have more tricks up their sleeves. But at the same time, it moves at a fast enough pace to be exciting, despite somewhat floaty jumping controls on Michael's end. There's always enough to hit, more to hit later, some to keep an eye on, prioritizing which to hit first, and always that risk/reward factor when it comes to the hot throwing and dancing that manages to keep things interesting.
*insert lyrics to Beat It here*
The graphics are fairly good. Not much actually stands out, except for the fluid animations on Michael's end. Each kick, each punch, and especially each step, which looks like he's moonwalking as opposed to just walking, is given a lot of care. The animation for everything else is fine too, but just not on par. A couple of frames here and there are skipped. It's not enough to look choppy, but it's certainly noticeable enough. As far as static designs go, everything looks as they should, and the colors manage to give it a sort of dark, gritty look (in part due to the Genesis's lack of colors), but it's nothing too impressive... well, maybe it was back when it was released to make Nintendo fans jealous (this was back when it was Genesis VS NES, or 16-bit VS 8-bit), but not now when the Genesis's hardware was really being taxed with the likes of Sonic The Hedgehog and Vectorman.
The soundtrack consists of - what else - Michael Jackson songs that are given the Genesis treatment. Each of the handfun of songs sound dirtier, more... grungy, which is quite the contrast for the clean sounding production of the original songs, especially Beat It, and you know what? It's still very, very enjoyable! Perhaps it's because it sounds dirtier or just because it's catchier than a cold just like their original counterparts - whatever it is, the soundtrack is full of awesome! As for the sound effects, most of it is what you'd expect to hear in a Genesis game, except for compressions of some of Michael's famous... I guess you can say lines? I don't know, what would you consider "Aaow", "Hoo" and "Who's bad"? Either way, with all things considered, they're reasonably good compressions... but that's with all things considered.
Moonwalker receives a 6/10. It has some simple yet enjoyable platforming action and strong production quality, but it's let down by the tedious scavenger hunt.
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