By now, you've probably heard the news of Michael Jackson's untimely passing. No, we’re not here to cynically exploit the immediacy of a vacated Pop throne... We genuinely think the only thing more tragic than the death of Michael Jackson is that many youngsters have had the man's legacy overshadowed by his bizarre appearance and his recent allegations of child molestations and theme park villainy. Damn shame. Especially since the man and gaming share quite a history with one another.
In the 80s, Michael Jackson could do no wrong. After numerous multi-platinum albums, about a billion chart topping singles, and music videos eagerly directed by John Landis and Martin Scorcese, Sega brilliantly parleyed Jackson’s love of games into a deal to create something of a cultural synergy unseen since the days of the Journey arcade game. (Can’t believe we just wrote that!) Not only did MJ’s golden touch add a little legitimacy to the bourgeoning field of videogames, it also turned out to be pretty damned popular.
Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker - 1990
Arcade, Genesis, Game Gear
Based on the music video/feature film Moonwalker, Sega’s arcade-turned-Genesis game is a peculiar blend of platforming, beat-em-up, children hunter, chimp wrangler and dance-off. Dressed in Smooth Criminal garb, the King of Pop traverses themed levels such as “the woods,” “Club 30,” and “enemy hideout” saving kidnapped children and defeating bad guys while MIDI versions of his songs play on endless loops in the background.
Above: So, women in this game are always trying to mess with Michael. They’ll grab him and hold him so other enemies can score cheap shots
The arcade game plays like an isometric beat-em-up, while the console versions are 2D side-scrollers. You never really beat up the bad guys either. By hitting the Attack button, you punch or kick “magic” sparks at the villains, while shouting “Whoo!” If you have enough magic stored, you can hold down the Special button, which causes all the enemies to break out into a wondrously choreographed dance routine, depleting most of their health.
Above: Another feature is the ability to “save” the children. But whenever you find one, they scream “Michael!” and run away from you as fast as possible
Once you find all the children in a level, Bubbles the chimp (Jackson’s former simian friend) jumps on your shoulders and points the way to the end of the level and a boss fight. And just like the movie (and what we’re assuming is Jackson’s private fantasy), you turn into a gigantic robot once you catch a falling star. Seriously better than other ego-centered games like Shaq Fu or Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City.
Details concerning Michael Jackson’s involvement with the Sonic 3 soundtrack have been trickling out over the web for years now. Hell, documentaries have been made on the subject. It’s all but confirmed that Jackson had in fact been initially contacted to work on music for Sonic 3… but was excused amidst allegations of seducing unnamed members of Sega’s demographic. Is that a conflict of interest?
That’s all fine and dandy, but when Sonic Team claimed his contributions had been removed entirely… well, that’s the kind of stuff that turns a casual internet user into a digital flatfoot. Just listen to what they uncovered by comparing Jackson’s “Stranger in Moscow” with Sonic 3’s end credits music:
Michael Jackson - Stranger in Moscow
Sonic 3 - Ending Credits Music
Ignoring the frantic pace of the latter, both share a hauntingly identical underlying base. Many have even pointed out how numerous Jackson trademarks still bleed through the Sonic 3 soundtrack, including similar chord progression even more clearly evidenced when you overlay an accelerated version of MJ’s “Who Is It?” with IceCap Zone 1:
Sure you can claim that by speeding up beats you can match nearly anything. But once you take into account Moonwalker, and appearance in Space Channel 5, and the man himself cavorting around with Sonic, it’s pretty clear that Sega desperately wanted to be in the MJ business. So, since key members of Jackson’s production staff are credited, it seems a shame to leave off The King of Pop’s moniker just because he sexed up a couple of children (ALLEGEDLY!)
Space Channel 5 and Space Channel 5: Part 2 – 1999 and 2002
Dreamcast, PlayStation 2
Continuing MJ’s love affair with all things Sega, Jackson made cameo appearances in both Space Channel games under the guise of Space Michael. These cult rhythm-based games placed you in the high heels of the hot, space reporter Ulala as she used her dancing (and your memorization skills) to blast aliens to dust aboard a space ship. Where does MJ come in? Well, naturally he’s under attack by the Rhythm Rogues and after Ulala comes to the rescue, he uses his singing skills to defeat a robot. By the sequel he was a fully fledged character.
How the hell did he get involved with Space Channel 5? In a May 2007 EGM interview with series creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi, he says "We were in the middle of production of Space Channel 5, in 1998 or 1999. I got a call from the U.S. from my partner - the executive producer of Space Channel 5 - and he said, 'Oh, Michael wants to act in Space Channel 5.' I said, 'Who's Michael?' 'Who is Michael Jackson?' he said, 'The Michael Jackson - the real Michael Jackson'
My partner had shown him the 60-to-70 percent complete version, when it was almost at the end of the game. We had one month to finalize. But Michael wanted to do something, so we suggested that if he was OK with it, we could program the people in the game to do the Michael Jackson dance when taken over by aliens. he said 'yeah.' We initially had five aliens who danced. One of them became Michael Jackson."
Ready 2 Rumble: Round 2 - 2000
Dreamcast, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Advance
Forget that last pathetic entry in the Ready 2 Rumble series. Back in the days of timed Dreamcast exclusives the series was in peak form, and that rings triple true for the game’s celebrity appearances. Take one look at the Wii’s R2R: Revolution roster of grotesque David Hasselhoff, Simon Cowell caricatures… then go back and look at Ready 2 Rumble” Round 2.
Just slightly outshining Bill and Hillary Clinton is none other than Michael Jackson. Sure, this makes us pine for the day when the R2R meant something, but in all fairness, how do you top that line up?! By our count, it features a President, a Secretary of State, and a playable Grammy award winning King once you beat the game twice.
Other MJ Images we had lying around
Above: An MJ parody appears in Plants vs Zombies
Above: From Moonwalker arcade, fighting an AT-ST apparently...
Above: A lovely panel displaying the glory that is Sega's Moonwalker
Above: From our All Console Avatar Showdown feature. We've actually made an MJ in just about any game we could, so below you'll some raw, never-before-published images
Above: Made in PS3's Home
Above: Sorry for the woman's body, MJ...
Above: Miichael Jackson
Above: From his uncredited role in one of the best Simpsons episodes ever
Above: No idea... but the man will surely be missed
Other games featuring the music of Michael Jackson
LEGO Rock Band - 2009
Rock Band Unplugged - 2009
Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol Encore 2 - 2008
Guitar Hero World Tour - 2008
Boogie - 2007
Elite Beat Agents - 2006
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City - 2002
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