It's been a decade since the King of Pop was released from this mortal coil, yet it still seems like only yesterday (thanks to that recent disturbing documentary). At this point, we'd like to examine another way Michael Jackson affected pop culture: his cameos in video games. And oddly enough, these might've actually been a more accurate representation of the, uh, eccentricity that was his everyday existence.
It should come as no surprise that a man who filled his property with carnival rides and zoo animals should also be a fan of electronic children's entertainment. He inexplicably appeared in some -- like the boxing game in which he shows up with Shaq -- and was the subject of a select few, like the one shown above. Michael Jackson's Moonwalker was released in the aftermath of the 1988 film of the same name, which featured both Joe Pesci as "Mr. Big" and unsettling California Raisins-esque stop-motion animation.
The game debuted on PC, arcade, and the newly released Sega Genesis. Playing as Jackson, you use music-based abilities to save kidnapped children to the accompaniment of bloopy covers of "Beat It" and "Smooth Criminal." It's pretty kooky, but not in any way you wouldn't expect from his videos from the era. That said, Bubbles the chimp appearing in every single level with the mission of transforming you into a laser-shooting robot is pretty above and beyond. In fact, let's use that primate for our inscrutability meter. Michael Jackson's Moonwalker gets 3 Bubbles out of 5 in its ability to furrow brows with equal parts startled concern and morbid curiosity.
Next in chronological order -- not counting his mysterious participation in Sonic The Hedgehog 3 -- comes the Space Channel 5 series. This Japanese rhythm/action Dreamcast series first saw the light of day in 1999, and has had enough staying power to get a port onto the Game Boy Advance, and was even available on Steam. Jackson shows up during the first game in a cameo as "Space Michael," providing the voice for multiple repetitions of the word "Hoo!" while helping the protagonist combat the forces of evil through the power of foot-slapping and wrist-wriggling.
The sequel was where he really got involved in the story, with his moves from "Thriller" providing a clear inspiration to the developers. Returning as Space Michael, he not only adds the words "Bang! and "Dance!" to his vocabulary, but also moves the plot forward with phrases like "Get out of here, Ulala, this is a trap!"
The fact he was involved at all with this game is a bit confounding, seeing as he isn't the protagonist. Surely he didn't need the money to buy more Elephant Man bone polish or anything like that. Maybe he just liked the game? And they did a fine job of replicating his increasingly extraterrestrial appearance and mannerisms. Let's give both games together 2 Bubbles out of 5.
Which brings us to Michael Jackson: The Experience. Released in 2010 on a number of platforms in response to the demands of hardly anyone, the even fewer people who pre-ordered or got a special edition of the game received a replica of his famous bedazzled white glove.
The "experience" here was basically a dance game based on Jackson's songs which incorporated new motion-sensing technology. While it got mixed reviews, the Wii version practically flew off shelves, proving that people who preferred that particular console were completely beyond redemption. While off-putting and unfathomable to those unfamiliar with the genre, the game itself was pretty straightforward, and delivered the sorts of things fans of making complete idiots of themselves at the local Dave & Buster's expect. 1 Bubbles it is.
Finally, we come to not what was, but what might have been. Might have been the most completely bazonkers, potentially industry-ruining game of all time, that is -- the Michael Jackson MMORPG.
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Planet Michael, a sandbox devoted to Jackson's "life, music, and concerns," was to be released in 2011 and exist in the already-established Entropia online universe. But sadly, the idea was scrapped, with the page promoting the release replaced with a Japanese website about beauty and fitness.
What did we miss out on? A virtual world in which, as a developer described it, "the player is more apt to succeed in a situation using song, dance, and adventure as opposed to violence." It was to be a space where fans could "immerse themselves in the spirit of Michael Jackson," where like-minded individuals could "meet together to become an even stronger global voice in the continuation of Michael's vision of healing the world." Oh, and also "pay tribute" and "donate to causes that were closest to Michael's heart." It's pretty much the sort of place the Heaven's Gate people thought the Hale Bopp comet would deliver them.
We can only guess what made the developers put the kibosh on this concept, whether it was the iconic musician's recent death or because they realized they had created an entire world filled with things that attract the sort of people after-school PSAs warn children about. Honestly, for every well-meaning fan of Michael Jackson, how many would see this as the brightest light possible to which they would feel drawn like depraved moths? Especially after that recent documentary we talked about? It's surprising that the Justice Department didn't take over development and put half the subscribers on a federal watch list.
Even though it never came to pass, the fact that numerous people had to have given a thumbs up to this project has to count as a thought crime. For the catastrophe we narrowly averted, the right choice seems to be 7 Bubbles out of 5.
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