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The Musical Box #19: Chiptuned Michael Jackson

The Musical Box features 30 articles focusing on game music production and implementation. Edition #19: Michael Jackson's Moonwalker

There are not a lot of successful partnerships between pop music and videogames. Most approaches seem to focus on the promotion of the artist to the detriment of the features that make a game so cool and appealing. This is obviously not the case for Moonwalker, a rare gem from the 16-bit era that captured the minds and ears of many gamers when it was released in the 90's.

Profile
Game: Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
Released: 1990
Platform: Sega Genesis (Mega-drive) and many other platforms
Developer: SEGA
Composer: Michael Jackson

The Set-up

Moonwalker is a videogame based on the movie with the same title and both were created to promote the album "Bad." There are several versions of the game released for different platforms, but this edition of The Musical Box will focus on the Mega Drive release.

The game is a side-scroller with incredibly beautiful graphics and simple, but addictive, gameplay. Michael needs to save kidnapped children that are hidden in 5 stages based on scenes from the movie. The player's attacks are actually Michael's staple dance moves, including the famous "moonwalk."

Co-developed by Jackson himself, Moonwalker features synthesized versions of some of Michael Jackson's greatest hits such as "Smooth Criminal," "Beat It," and "Billie Jean." Even considering the limitation of the console’s sound capabilities at that time, the result is quite impressive. The game soundtrack is incredibly close to the original versions and even featured an instrument that simulated Michael's vocal lines.

The moment

Check out the first stage of Michael Jackson's Moonwalker and listen closely to the comparison.

The impact

Creating convincing chiptune versions of well-known songs is not as easy as it seems. Synthesized sounds (especially at that time) are very simple and don't have the same sonic impact as real instruments. Moonwalker's soundtrack is one of the few examples in the game industry of a game that could really translate the power of such memorable tunes into an unforgettable musical experience in a videogame.


Special thanks: Gilliard Lopes, Rafael Kuhnen, Fernando Secco, and Sandro Tomasetti.

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