We have all heard the news by now of Michael Jackson’s untimely death as a result of a cardiac arrest this week, and, as the world mourns, his inspiring influence is indeed evident. Since he passed away at age 50, the day has been completely flooded with tributes, news coverage and his iconic music videos throughout, and a quick look on Amazon also reveals a predictable surge in Michael Jackson album sales – at the time of writing, the top 14 best selling albums of the day on Amazon are all from “The King of Pop.” The news even successfully massacred some parts of the interweb.
Whilst “Wacko Jacko” is highly regarded for his unparalleled musical talent, he has also had some influence on the games industry, including connections to SEGA. Read on as Gamer Limit looks back at Jackson’s influences and appearances in video games of the past.
Jackson’s interests were obviously grounded firmly into the music industry, but it was also apparent that he had a keen interest in video game culture. This was personified when he formed a close relationship with SEGA during the 1990s, which soon led to the release of his very own game, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker, in 1990. Rumour also has it that he even contributed to the soundtrack featured in Sonic the Hedgehog 3.
Moonwalker was released alongside Michael Jackson’s film of the same name, and was available on the SEGA Genesis and Master System, along with a separate arcade version which differed significantly to the home console incarnations, as it was played with an isometric viewpoint. The gameplay also focused more on beat-em up mechanics. By comparison, the console version of the game took the form of a 2D platformer, with the same fighting mechanics tacked on.
Having co-developed the game himself, you took the starring role of Michael Jackson, trawling through each level as you fought off swarms of enemy mobsters with various abilities at your disposal, including the singer’s trademark and impeccable dance routines. As you would expect, performing these dances were integral to the game, but they had the added bonus of draining the energy of any nearby enemies, as it resulted in a sequence whereby everyone on screen would dance along to Jackson’s eccentric, momentous moves. Conversely however, the plot featured Jackson embarking on a quest to rescue children (I know I know) from the heinous hands of a gang leader named Mr. Big. And I think I’ll just stop there and refrain from any further comments on that subject matter.
Naturally, assortments of Jackson’s most reputable songs were incorporated, albeit in a turgid midi format, with the exception of Thriller, which is regarded as one of his most memorable tracks. Apparently, some versions of the game, such as the Japanese edition, included it whereas others did not, but it was nonetheless a curious omission, particularly as there was a level which directly mimicked the famous music video of the aforementioned song. Whilst I am on the subject of peculiarities, through the help of Bubbles, Jackson’s real life chimpanzee companion, the player was also able to transform into a robotic version of Wacko, complete with mounted weapons. To put simply, it was one of the most downright bizarre and unintentionally hilarious scenarios to ever grace a video game.
From a gameplay perspective, Moonwalker was never particularly groundbreaking and had its fair share of flaws, but it was notable for being one of the first video games to feature a celebrity persona as the main playable character, and was a commercial success as a result.
Moonwalker was the only officially branded Michael Jackson game to be released thus far, but he still managed to moonwalk his way into a handful of other unrelated games, through cameo appearances. Another decade later saw the release of Sega’s Space Channel 5, an innovative music rhythm game which Jackson expressed enthusiasm towards. He was subsequently allocated a cameo appearance in which he appears as Space Michael, performing alongside the game’s signature character, Ulala. He also made an appearance in the game’s direct sequel Space Channel 5: Part 2 and Ready to Rumble 2 Boxing: Round 2, as an unlockable fighter.
Finally, a brand new Michael Jackson game was recently rumoured to be in development, but the fate of this game of course now remains uncertain, if it ever even existed. But then, look at Codemasters and rally legend Colin Mcrae. After he tragically died back in 2007, the decision was made to continue with the Colin Mcrae Rally series as a tribute to the name – perhaps a new official Michael Jackson title could follow in the same vein?
The phenomenal worldwide reaction of Michael Jackson’s death makes one thing certain however – his legacy has lived on and is likely to prevail throughout many future generations.