A look at the games of the King of Pop.
In a sad turn of events today, the proclaimed King of Pop Michael Jackson has died at 50. That is entirely too young, especially for somebody so full of indisputable talent. For years, Jackson enchanted the world with not only his music, but also his unparalleled dancing. The man pulled off moves like the infamous lean in the "Smooth Criminal" video and left a mark on the world when he busted out the moonwalk in 1983 at the Motown 25th anniversary celebration concert. If you weren't around for it, just know this: the world went crazy when he pulled it off.
In addition to music and music videos, Jackson was also known as a fan of videogames. His Neverland Ranch had many arcade cabinets on free play. But Jackson did not just want to play games, he wanted to be in them, too. And so in 1990, Jackson teamed up with one of his favorite game companies, SEGA, to create the game Michael Jackson's Moonwalker for the arcade, Genesis, and Master System, as well as current personal computers at the time.
Michael Jackson's Moonwalker for SEGA Genesis.
In Moonwalker, you helped "Smooth Criminal"-era Jackson rescue kids from the nefarious gangs of Mr. Big. Bubbles the chimp was also along for the ride. Michael had basic moves like kicking and thwacking gangsters with his hat, but he could also deploy dance attacks that got every enemy on-screen swaying and popping along with him. Ultimately, the dance attack left them drained of energy while Jackson sauntered to the next scene. The arcade version of Moonwalker was different than the console edition. It was a three-player game viewed from an isometric camera. Finding Bubbles in the arcade also turned Jackson into a robot that could laser beams.
Check out the Genesis commercial for Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.
The console edition of Moonwalker was a side-scrolling game with a very similar plot, but different action. Jackson was still determined to rescue kids from Mr. Big's goons, but the game played more like Rolling Thunder and Shinobi. Jackson could kick chairs into thugs and fling his hat with speeds that knocked enemies out cold. The dance attack is also available with the same effect: every criminal on-screen attempts to be as smooth as Jackson, but faints after the dancing stops.
Moonwalker attained solid success, but Jackson would not be seen in another video until the following decade with the release of Space Channel 5, also a SEGA joint. Jackson appears in a small cameo in Space Channel 5 as Space Michael, moving to the music with heroine Ulala. It was a clever cameo that helped further Space Channel 5's already tremendous buzz. The Space Channel 5 cameo actually came as a result of Jackson showing interest in the upcoming game. Jackson had a representative reach out to SEGA and ask about being involved. It did not take much convincing at all. SEGA was more than happy to have the King of Pop in the game.
Jackson's cameo in Space Channel 5 generated major buzz.
In the sequel to Space Channel 5, Jackson was upgraded from cameo to the boss of Space Channel 5. He is kidnapped by aliens in the game and must be rescued by reporter Ulala. Once saved, Jackson flanks Ulala as she continues her dance-off with the Purge aliens threatening the galaxy.
Not long after Space Channel 5, Jackson popped up in another videogame: Midway's Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2. The sequel was a cameo-laden fighter with appearances by not only Jackson, but also Shaq and the Clintons. Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2 appeared on current-gen consoles in 2000, not long after SEGA's Space Channel 5.
Jackson was a fighter, not a lover in Ready 2 Rumble: Round 2.
Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2 is the last game where Jackson makes an actual appearance, but his music and costumes continued to appear in videogames in his stead.
"Beat It" is a playable track in Guitar Hero World Tour. Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust features the red outfit from the "Thriller" video. The famous video is also referenced in the new PopCap casual game Plants Vs. Zombies. And music from Moonwalker is played when you place the proper initial in Daytona USA on the Saturn. Beyond these games, there were rumors of a new Michael Jackson game in the works. Its status is now unknown, although IGN will track it down and see what the scoop is regarding its status.