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Moonwalker: the video game legacy of Michael Jackson

Kevin Kelly

Unless you've been competing in a Starcraft lock-in all week, or living under a rock in the sub-Saharan desert somewhere, then you heard the news that Michael Jackson died yesterday in Los Angeles. As strange as the guy was in his later years, he made an indelible mark on the world of music which carried over into the world of gaming.

If you were an arcade rat back in 1990, then you probably spent time playing, or at least listening to Michael Jackson's Moonwalker, which featured the singer doing battle against baddies and rescuing children by performing dance moves and using "Dance Magic" powers, i.e. spinning around and screaming "HOOOO!". Yes, for real. The game featured simultaneous three-player action, and includes a robotic MJ that appears when Jackson meets up with Bubbles the Chimpanzee.

True story -- and there's more. Read on after the break for more about Moonwalker and a video clip of vintage arcade play, along with the other video games Jackson appeared in.

[Thanks for suggesting this, Judd and Niko]

Moonwalker featured synthesized MIDI versions of some of Jackson's biggest hits, including the signature tune "Smooth Criminal" (which also was the source for the signature suit and fedora outfit you wear in the game), "Bad," "Beat It," "Another Part Of Me," and "Billie Jean." Although there's a graveyard level in Moonwalker where "Thriller" plays as your Dance Magic tune, they never made a Thriller video game, which was surprising because it was Jackson's biggest hit.

The game was also released on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, although these are generally considered to be far inferior to the arcade version due to gameplay issues. Other 8- and 16-bit versions appeared on everything from the Amiga to the ZX Spectrum. Own a copy? You might want to hang onto it. People are already selling versions of it on eBay, including the full arcade cabinet.

If you play the game through to the end, you'll see what amounts to an advertisement for Michael's music, and a credit claiming that he came up with the concept and story for the game, which, given the plot, isn't that hard to believe. It also made him one of the few musical acts to have his own arcade game, alongside Journey and Aerosmith in Revolution X.

Jackson additionally played roles in Sega's rhythm games Space Channel 5 and Space Channel 5: Part 2 as "Space Michael," in which he provided the voice and likeness for the character. He was also a secret fighter in Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2, complete with one sparkly, white boxing glove. According to Geoff Keighly's tweets yesterday, Jackson invited several EA execs out to Neverland a few years ago to pitch Thriller II as a game idea ... and EA passed on it.

It's worth wondering if Jackson will ever appear in a video game again, given the court battles in his last few years. It's surprising that a DDR-style Jackson-branded game was never released. Although, given the fact that we're seeing The Beatles: Rock Band nearly 49 years after the band was formed, there's always tomorrow. EEE-HEEEEEE!

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