Sunday, January 4, 2009

I Like Little Michael

[Smooth Criminal: the world's best and most well known lean - ever]
Written by GL

Since it's still the dawn of the New Year, it's confession time. And Kal-el and I would like to confess that we are true blood Michael Jackson fans. Not all out cry our eyes out and faint in joy kinda fans, but lovers of the groove and lovers of the music of Michael Jackson. Still even.

If you were raised in the retro years like Kal-el and I were, then you have got to pay respect and homage to the great (and maybe, late) Michael Jackson - the only King of Pop. And if you're still a fan, then you might just remember Moonwalker.

We're not talking about the movie. We're talking about the game.

[The Genesis Case: awesome-ness]

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker was actually released on several platform by Sega in 1990, that were co-developed by the awesome Michael Jackson himself. The arcade version and home console versions are drastically different in terms of gameplay, but the story and concept remain pretty much the same.

The story, taken from the Moonwalker film (re-educate yourself if you don't know of it), follows Michael, on a quest to save kidnapped children from the hands of the evil Mr. Big.

Although the adversaries you fight; crooks, mobsters, gang bangers, and thugs, pack all kinds of heat, Michael chooses to face his enemies with a far greater power in hand: the power of dance. Michael's sheer power to dance is enough to topple almost any foe (even zombies). So next time, forget guns, kick-boxing and heat vision, destroy any challenges with smooth moves and damn-near perfect rhythm.

[Dance Moves: thugs love guns and the walk-in-place]

You travel through primarily horizontal stages, looking inside trap doors, dumpsters, and car trunks looking for the captured girls. Each stage requires a bit of exploration to find everyone, but once you do, Bubbles the Chimp runs out, sits on your shoulder, and points the path to the level boss. Before you get to that far, many, many enemies will try to mess with your progress, and to combat them, Michael has an arsenal of tricks up his sleeve.

Pressing the attack button makes Michael perform a single dance move. Each move he performs throws out some 'dance magic' ( like sparkles), which blows his enemies away as if they were made of paper. Michael can also do various other stylish techniques in certain situations, like sliding down banisters and other slanted rails, moonwalking along precarious surfaces, and dodging enemy fire by spinning.

[Dance Magic: sparkling in action]

Michael has a single meter that indicates both his health and his special power. Pressing the dance button makes Michael spin. Just lightly tapping it does not use up any power, but you have to have a really itchy trigger finger to tap the button lightly enough. Pressing the button for too long makes Michael lose power, just like in the case for any special move. Press it longer and Michael throws his hat once he's done spinning, which instantly destroys anything in its path, in flames of destruction (violent no?).

Finally, we have Michael's greatest power. Hold down the button long enough and suddenly, the entire game stops. The enemies will stop and gather around Michael, and then, it happens ! A beautifully choreographed and synchronized dance number begins, at the end of which, Michael no longer needs his gathering of foes, and they die, instantly. It's the coolest thing ever, and the enemies are more than happy to give their lives for a moment to dance with the King of Pop. Not even the dogs can resist Michael's dance. Not even dogs ! You remember the dogs ?

[Canine Cabaret: who let the dogs out? This caption sucks]

Logically, every little girl you find restores your health, and each stage has a quite a few girls. Basically, you can play the game safely and not use any powers, but get your health restored every few seconds.

When you gain a certain number of points, something very awesome happens; a shooting star flies across the screen. If you manage to catch it, Michael will suddenly turn into a giant robot. However, you only have about a second to get to it, and unless you watch your points, you won't be able to see it coming.

[The Giant Robot: the rarest Transformer of all]

Michael also turns into a car and drives himself between stages. But during the last stage, everything gets weirder when Michael boards a spaceship in order to have his final showdown with Mr. Big, who also has a spaceship (why not). This battle is done from a cockpit first person shooter perspective, with a complicated HUD dashboard.

[Final Battle: against Mr. Big aka Joe Pesci]

The most awesome aspect of Moonwalker is its music, without a doubt. Most of Michael Jackson's greatest songs from the 80s are played during every stage of Moonwalker. Every song you could possibly ask for. Aside from Smooth Criminal, which is the game's centerpiece, you have Billie Jean, Bad, Another Part of Me, Thriller (which is delightfully subtle here), as well as, Beat It. Despite the fact that the music here is digitized, it's still every dough-nut of awesome.

Moonwalker looks amazing if you consider the fact that it came out before the SNES. I remember, Michael's sprite was realistic and amazing for it's time and shows incredible animation. In terms of sound effects, Moonwalker was more than most average Sega Genesis games, with some very crisp voice samples of Michael himself.

It was one of my quintessential 16-bit games; and I hope it was one of your's too.

[The Genesis: block-rockin games]

The game has reached cult status now; and it probably marks the best time in Michael's huge career - when he ruled practically the entire popular music limelight.