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What made the classic game 'Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker’ unique

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  1. vili
    Although the article talks about two versions of the Moonwalker game, there were actually three. And the third one, released for home computers, is I think the most interesting of the bunch. While...
    • Exemplary

    Although the article talks about two versions of the Moonwalker game, there were actually three. And the third one, released for home computers, is I think the most interesting of the bunch.

    While the arcade and home console versions are extremely loose adaptations of the film's "Smooth Criminal" section that also venture into "Thriller" territory, as if Sega wasn't entirely convinced that they could sell a Michael Jackson game based on material from his new album alone, the home computer version follows the full Moonwalker film more faithfully.

    The first part of the home computer game is a nightmarish portrayal of fame, where you play as Michael from a top-down perspective. Just like in the film, you have just exited a film shoot, and are now being chased down by crazy tourists, fans and the press in a labyrinthine film studio environment. Everyone wants a piece of you and naturally your only way to escape and survive is to put on a golden rabbit costume, get on a motorcycle, then a speed boat, and finally a sports car, just to get away from it all. Because that's the life of Michael Jackson in the 1980s.

    It's a long and frankly quite tiring section of the game, but whether intentionally or not, it conveys the absurdity and torment of an international superstar pretty well. So much so that I remember how playing this game as a kid actually did make me think about my own relationship with my heroes, and why this version of the game left me with such a strong impression.

    The Amiga version's sound world is particularly fitting here, as in the first half you hear a four-second loop based on the song "Bad", over and over again, with Michael's disturbed breathing added on top of it. Listen to that continuously for 15-30 minutes and you are sure to experience vertigo of some sorts.

    Later, once you get moving with the various vehicles, the soundtrack switches into a loop created from the song "Speed Demon", but sounding more like Sam Cooke's Chain Gang, a song about prison labour. It feels very fitting.

    Other home computer versions have different soundtracks, and while the Amiga version I think best fits the claustrophobic mood of the beginning of the game, I must also draw your attention to the absolutely brilliant SID chip adaptation of "Speed Demon" that was included for the vehicle sections of the Commodore 64 version. If you know the original song, give this freewheeling adaptation a listen.

    The second section of the game takes the player into the "Smooth Criminal" section of the film, and therefore closer to the two Sega versions. But the home computer version has none of that "charm the enemies with your dance moves" nonsense. No, in this one bullets fly everywhere as Michael dashes across the bar to grab an assault rifle and, dodging the enemies' relentless shelling, cold-bloodedly kills them all. Or dies himself, depending on your skill level as a player.

    The third and final part of the game has Michael turn into a robot, just like he does in the film, and kill the rest of the baddies with lasers, as well as taking care of the big bad destroyer beam which the villain of the film tries to use before Michael puts a stop to it. The Amiga version's soundtrack disappointingly recycles the "chaing gang" loop from earlier, while the Commodore 64 version decides to go down the full-on bizarro route (even for this game) and gives you a rather happy sounding SID chip version of "The Way You Make Me Feel", which always made me laugh. And oh so very happy.

    All in all, it's a wonderful experience. While the home computer Moonwalker is, objectively, a much worse game than either the pretty good console Moonwalker, or the excellent arcade Moonwalker, I would still argue that it is the most interesting and unique of the three, and also the most faithful to its source material.

    11 votes