I could talk about the specifics of this game, or the story or... lots of things, but more than that, I'm curious about the jump from musician to game. There are a few others worth mentioning (Aerosmith and “Revolution X”, the hilariously terrible Journey arcade game), but none stand out in my mind as much as the Moonwalker games (there was an arcade version, in addition to the Genesis one).
The question that jumps out at me here is: “Why did Michael Jackson inspire a game, and plenty of other equally talented musicians and performers didn't?” Plenty of musicians have inspired movies, self-indulgent ones at that, and I have the vague childhood impression of “Moonwalker” being somehow more legitimate than anything that's come out since, but in all likelyhood, that's because I was 3 when it did. I'm aware of how ridiculous it is, I assure you.
Even given that, though, Moonwalker is just a game about Michael Jackson. Someone was able to make a Michael Jackson game (which was a decent enough game, not great), but nobody would be able to make a Prince game, or a Bruce Springsteen game, or a John Mayer game. They're all exceptional performers and exceptional musicians (as Michael Jackson was), but they're missing some quality that Michael Jackson had.
For your approval, ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you the Michael Jackson Moonwalker Intro. You know, the one where you see his shoes walking in the spotlight, and they start dropping little sparkles. He does a little twirl, and goes up on his toes? Remember that?
No? Well, how about now? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Quite simply, I think he was able to make this jump because someone on his PR team came up with the brilliant idea to sell him as if he had magic powers. By tapping into the supernatural, he becomes a larger than life figure, and (brace yourself) begins to stand for something larger than just himself. That's what separates a product from a brand. To repeat a tired example: Canada Dry is a soda. Mountain Dew is a lifestyle. Bono is a performer. Michael Jackson is... something else.
The question, of course, is “What?” More on that tomorrow.