Film licenses aren’t rare, in fact they’re one of the most popular genres going. Good games that are based on films are most definitely rare – so it pleases me to say that Moonwalker on the Mega Drive fits into this category, just.
Michael Jackson and some promo shots from the film are on the box, tick. Loading up the game you see the title “Moonwalker”, we’re in the right place, tick. You start the game and a sprite of MJ looking exactly like he does in the Smooth Criminal section of the film flicks a quarter into a jukebox and aforementioned track plays. YOU ARE DEFINITELY IN THE RIGHT PLACE.
The presentation is simple with short cut scenes between levels (that are divided into three acts) in which you’ll see Michael fly around in that car that he turns into as well as a rather lovely pixellated MJ saying “oooooh!” or something similar. The attention to detail (on the first few levels) has to be applauded. The Club 30 first level is almost exactly like the same section in the movie. Molls will try and block your path as irate gangsters and pool sharks aim to get a piece of yas. The “Streets” level afterwards is also well detailed and a special mention for the all the sprites which pop nicely against the backdrops. Well, all the sprites except the dogs – we’ll assume the animal animator was hungover or something.
The platform action is good. The levels have a very Bonanza Bros feel about them (with dropped-back staircases and such) albeit with a lot more detail. MJ is easy to control and collision detection is aided by the sprinkling of magic that comes from every kick (well, until MJ’s life meter falls into the red). The spinny special attack and hat throw (both instantly recognisable) are useful in a pinch with only a tad taken off your health bar. Moonwalker offers another very special (you’ll see what I did there) way you can defeat foe – load up the screen full of bad guys and unleash the beast… Enemy attack patterns are predictable but there’s enough of them to keep you occupied. It all has a very PG feel about it, which is a good thing seeing as the film was aimed at kids and the second part of the gameplay is to rescue every child (based on the main girl character). And that’s it. No wait, you sometimes need to special move your way into different parts of levels but this is where Moonwalker falls down.
Every act, albeit in different areas in the Moonwalker world, feels the same. Beat all the bad guys, open doors and whatnot to rescue the kids, see Joe Pesci run away and then defeat about 20 bad guys as a “boss”. There are some nice surprises later but it’s a tad samey. The music is excellently done but whole songs they ain’t, so whether it’s “Smooth Criminal” or “Beat It” or one of the others, the constant repetition of the main chorus will make you go a bit crazy. Some of the soundbites are great (“Michael!”) but other melee sound FX has been neglected.
Moonwalker is extremely easy – I would advise setting the difficulty to Hard and taking it from there. Its limitations stand out more on the 16-bit than the 8-bit (where it can be classified as very good).
It’s fun for a while and if you get bored you can always press Up at opportune moments to sing along…