Michael Jackson's Moonwalker is the name of several video games created by Sega in 1990 that incorporate the personage of and were co-developed by Michael Jackson. The arcade version and home versions differ in terms of gameplay, but the story and concept remain constant. The story, which is taken from the Moonwalker film, follows Michael, using various music and dance related abilities, on a quest to save kidnapped children from the hands of the evil "Mr. Big". The games incorporated synthesized versions of the musician's hits, such as "Beat It" and "Smooth Criminal". The games have now achieved cult status and are remembered for being a memorable point in Jackson's change to a different stage persona from Thriller, to Bad.

Arcade versionEdit

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
Moonwalker arcade flyer
European arcade flyer of Michael Jackson's Moonwalker.
Developer(s) Sega
Publisher(s) Sega
Designer(s) Michael Jackson
Platform(s) Arcade
Release date(s) United States 1990
Japan August 25, 1990
Genre(s) Beat 'em up/Run and gun
Mode(s) One to three players simultaneously
Input methods 8-way joystick, two buttons
Cabinet Upright
Arcade system Sega System 18
Display Standard horizontal, raster graphics

Moonwalker was first developed into an arcade video game by Sega with the help of Jackson which was released on the Sega System 18 hardware. This game suffered from Sega's suicide battery[1] on its arcade board (a battery that, accidentally or otherwise, renders the game unplayable at the end of its lifespan). The arcade has distinctively different gameplay from its console counterparts, focusing more on beat 'em up gameplay elements rather than platform.


The game is essentially an isometric beat-em-up, although Jackson attacks with magic powers instead of physical contact, and has the ability to shoot magic power at enemies instead of getting close enough for a melee attack. A map of the stage is shown before it begins, and after which, Jackson must get from the start to the end without losing all his health, rescuing all the children and defeating all the enemies along the way.

The game can also be played multiplayer; if the cabinet supports it, up to three people can play simultaneously. All three players play as Jackson, dressed in his suit from the "Smooth Criminal" music video. The first player wears a white suit and hat, with a blue shirt; the second player's character dons a scarlet outfit with a black shirt; the third player's character is dressed in black, with a red shirt. The characters all have armbands: red for black outfit, black for red outfit, and blue for white outfit.

Dance Magic: Arguably the most memorable feature, Sega takes the concept of the "smart bomb" or "screen zapper" and changes it to the form of dancing, in a special attack termed "Dance Magic". Once activated, a heavenly spotlight shines on the player, and the player starts to dance several of the high-energy moves that have become Jackson's hallmarks. All of the standard enemies - henchmen, gangsters, guards, robots - start dancing with the player and are destroyed at the end of the dance routine (ostensibly because they cannot keep up with Jackson's dance moves). However, bosses do not dance, but do take a significant amount of damage. Any captive children on-screen at the time Dance Magic is activated are not harmed. There are three different dance routines that may be performed, and the player starts with one to three of these attacks per credit (depending on how the machine is set up).

Bubbles: Part of the peculiarity of this game comes from this unusual power-up. Bubbles the chimpanzee, Michael's real-life pet, appears in each level. Once collected or rescued, the chimp transforms Michael into a robotic version of the pop singer that has the ability to shoot laser bursts and absorb significantly more damage.


  • 1. Cavern: This level resembles a subterranean hideout and consists of long corridors with blue doors periodically. It starts with Mr. Big taunting Michael. The enemies consist of suit-wearing henchmen and small robotic mobile gun emplacements. There is no boss.
Background music – "Bad"
  • 2. Amusement Quarter: This level takes place in a nightclub and highly resembles the first level from the console version. Additionally, half of the level takes place outside on a street during daytime. The enemies consist of suit-wearing henchmen, and soldiers. The bosses for this level are two mobile robotic gun emplacements.
Background music – "Smooth Criminal"
  • 3. Night Street: This level is very similar to the outdoor half of the Amusement Quarter, but takes place at night. The gangsters and soldiers again make their appearance in this level, but are joined by many more robots. There are robots that hide under manholes, large conspicuous-looking AT-ST-like robots, and shirtless men who control armored dobermans. Mr. Big confronts Michael in this level, in the form of a laser-shooting hovercraft surrounded by eight floating laser pods.
Background music – "Beat It"
  • 4. Graveyard: In an almost complete departure in theme, this level takes place and has all the common elements of a horror movie graveyard. Enemies consist mostly of zombies and ghosts. The boss is yet another Mr. Big contraption; a large stationary three-tubed ghost generator.
Background music – "Another Part of Me", although one would logically think that "Thriller" would be more appropriate given the setting of the level. However, Thriller is used as the music for the Dance Magic attack in that level.
  • 5. Evil Fortress: This level takes place on Mr. Big's fortress on the moon, where he is preparing to fire a large laser cannon. Almost the entire level takes place on a rising elevator, where wave after wave of enemies appear. The last boss is Mr. Big piloting a large mechanical spider.
Background music – a reprise of "Bad"

Console versionsEdit

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
Michael Jackson's Moonwalker Boxshot
Front cover of the Japanese Mega Drive version.
Developer(s) Sega
Publisher(s) Sega
Platform(s) Mega Drive/Genesis
Master System
Game Gear
Release date(s) US: August 24, 1990
Japan: August 25, 1990
Europe: August 26, 1990
Australia: August 27, 1990
Genre(s) Beat 'em up/Platformer
Mode(s) Single player
Rating(s) ESRB: N/A
Media Cartridge
Input methods Joystick

Home versions of the game were released for Sega's Genesis/Mega Drive and Master System home video game systems, though the gameplay was completely different from the arcade version. The home console versions of the game were actually based on an evolved version of the home computer version of the game (with gameplay somewhat similar to the Shinobi series), in contrast to the arcade version which was a three-quarters view shooter/fighter type game. The game involved the player controlling the pop star in a quest to save all the kids that had been kidnapped by an evil gangster. In the home version, all of the children are young blond girls termed "Katies"; in the arcade version, Katie was one of three types of children who could be rescued.

The game's levels and music were borrowed from the film (though many of the music tracks were taken from Jackson's Thriller album as well) and the player had the ability to destroy enemies by making them dance. In the console game Michael could become a robot by rescuing a certain child first, and then grabbing a comet that fell from the sky. In the arcade version, Michael became a robot by rescuing his chimp pal Bubbles. The arcade version also had the novel feature of three simultaneous players (each controlling Jackson's character in a different-colored "Smooth Criminal" outfit).


The gameplay is focused on finding children, all of whom resemble Katie from the movie, which are scattered throughout the level, some behind certain objects such as doors. Most of the objects are empty or contain enemies. In contrast to the arcade version, Michael's moves more closely resemble his trademark dancing moves. For example, the standard attack is a stylized high kick that is commonly incorporated into his dance routines. The player has combination health/ability bar. One button will allow Michael to spin, being invulnerable in the process. However, this spin move will slowly lose health. If the spin is held for more than two seconds, Michael will throw his hat in a fashion of a boomerang which will destroy most enemies. The longer the spin move is held, the wider distance that the fedora will cover. If held down long enough, a dance magic scene similar to the arcade version would play, featuring dance moves taken from the film clips of whatever song is playing in the background. Michael can also use the magic to slide down banisters and eliminate multiple enemies in the process. Almost every stage has three levels, designated in Super Mario Bros. fashion as X-1,X-2,X-3. However, the final level of the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive version was a first person "flight sim" type battle between Michael (now transformed into a space ship) and Mr. Big's ship.


  • Stage 1 – Club 30
Background music – Smooth Criminal
Special perform: Smooth Criminal
  • Stage 2 – Street
Background music – Beat It
Special perform: Beat It
  • Stage 3 – Woods
Background music – Another Part of Me
Special perform: Another Part of Me or Thriller on 3-1 and 3-2. Billie Jean on 3-3.
  • Stage 4 – Cavern
Background music – Billie Jean
Special perform: Bad
  • Stage 5 – The Enemy Hideout
Background music – Bad
Special perform: Stage 1 Smooth Criminal.Stage 2 Beat It.Stage 3 Another Part of Me

Incorporation of Michael Jackson trademarksEdit

  • In the beginning of level 1-1, in mimicking the Moonwalker movie, the environment appears dark until Michael flips a quarter into a jukebox which starts playing Smooth Criminal.
  • When performing each attack move Jackson will shout "Wooo!", a sound he commonly made during his performances.
  • Occasionally, there is a brief cutscene between levels, in which Jackson shouts "Wooo!".
  • The jumping attack shows Michael raising up his arms, mimicking another dance move.
  • A Moonwalk can be performed if the player attacks and then suddenly pushes the directional pad in either horizontal direction.


  • After rescuing all the children on a level, Bubbles the chimpanzee will be magically carried to Michael where he will rest on his shoulders and point Michael in the direction of the level's boss battle.
  • The ad suggests that the song "Thriller" was included in the game. The third stage - much of it set in a graveyard, with zombies as the main enemy - suggests that song was to be used, but "Another Part of Me" was used instead. However "Thriller" can be obtained when the B Button is held and the special move is performed. Note: For some reason, certain copies of this game do not include the "Thriller" music while performing the dance attack in the third stage. Instead, clips from the song "Another Part of Me" are used, possibly due to copyright issues. Thriller can only be found in the NTSC-J Japanese release of the game for the Megadrive. (REV00 and REV01)
  • The Moonwalk can be used to cross quickly over hard-to-overcome obstacles, such as the conveyor belts from Level 5 and the spider webs from Level 4.


Jackson later would go on to have a cameo role in Sega's Space Channel 5 and Space Channel 5: Part 2 music/rhythm games for the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2. Jackson also appeared as a secret character in Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2.

The Jackson sprite is also an iconic part of web-culture, appearing in several Newgrounds animations and flash games, mostly the Genesis/Mega Drive version. The arcade version was used in one of MTV's I Love the '90s then-and-now commercials, showing the arcade Jackson sprite standing in front of the girl sprite, while she runs off screaming and a cage drops on Jackson and imprisons him.

In an issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly, an article by Seanbaby named Moonwalker as the third worst idea for a video game, however he admitted that "It wasn't that bad of a game" in the same blurb, owing more of Moonwalker's supposed infamy to its premise rather than poor gameplay. In the June 2007 issue of Game Informer magazine, Michael Jackson's Moonwalker was number 8 on the "Top 10 Worst Licensed Game Ideas (ever)" in the Connect section but Gamespot added Moonwalker into the Hall of Greatest Games of all time. However, many considered the arcade version to be superior than the Genesis version.

Sega's Reaction to Michael Jackson's DeathEdit

Like much of the rest of the world, Sega sharing its condolences regarding the death of Michael Jackson via its Twitter feed[2]. Unlike much of the rest of the world, company maintainers waited until the morning after his death to do so. Reports indicate that the number of “tweets” per second recorded on the social networking service doubled upon news of Jackson’s passing before components of Twitter outright shut down the evening he died. Sega’s Twitter feed first offered condolences: "Anyway yes, very sad to hear of MJ’s passing – I will, like most people I’d imagine be listening to some classics on my music player today." But Sega negated the possibility of a re-release of, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. The feed said doing so could be impeded by rights issues: "Lots of requests for a Moonwalker re-release, which is understandable, I’d imagine such a release wouldn’t be possible for a long time tho-who has say over the MJ image rights and estate for instance? Those things won’t be sorted particularly fast you’d've thought."


  1. The Dead Battery Society
  2. [1]

External linksEdit