The Lion King is another one of those games I owned when I was very young and have very fond memories of. I remember the bright colours, the great animations and the music but after playing through it recently all I can remember is the frustration.
It’s strange, when playing it I thought I would rip the game to shreds with how it frustrated me and felt like it cheaped me out of many lives. But. Thinking about it now it was all in good fun. It reminds me alot of the final level on Bioshock Infinite, at the time it was annoying and I hated it but afterwards you think, was it really that bad? Yes, it was, but you can forgive it because of its good points that you appreciate more when it’s all over.
I’ll start with what got me so frustrated. It’s very trial and error. Around every corner you’re simply forced to learn something for next time or forced to kill yourself because you now know you missed something. This is common in Sega Mega Drive games because there were no save points but the checkpoints seemed so far apart that you would have to do four or five of these die and learn sections before you knew what to do and you’re only given two lives on normal difficulty. On top of which it doesn’t tell you anything. Ever. Not the controls, not the special moves or what you’re suppose to do against bosses. Many will argue this simply makes it a challenge especially compared with other Disney games such as Aladdin that were criticised for their simplicity and hand holding. I’m all for a challenge but I believe the middle ground between these two games would have been the perfect balance for this platformer.
There’s also the deadly face touch. If you claw at an enemy as adult Simba he will move forward slightly and this can cause you to actually get hurt straight after the attack from simply being too close to the enemy. This means you have to maneuver yourself to the perfect position between not reaching them and not getting hit. It sounds so obvious when I write it like that but that area can be so minor that usually you just have to take the hit.
The Lion King is also very unforgiving. When you’re trying to grab hold of suspended rocks or the swinging tail of a rhino you must get the jump spot on or you’ll fall, often to your death. Unlike games like Donkey Kong where if you’re a little bit out they’ll count it, I mean if you’re half a centimeter off from where they want you to grab, you missed it. You must also grab the edge of the rock for example as well, attempting to grab the centre of it counts as a fail.
So not to sound like I’m whining I’ll balance my frustrating by stating that this game is beautiful. As most of the Disney games were at the time when Disney had many a platformer game. The foregrounds and backgrounds are rich with colour from the first to the last levels. Combine this with well crafted animations and you’re on to a winner. The way Simba moves and interacts with the environment both as a cub and as an adult have clearly had a lot of thought put into them from the way he growls to the way he climbs the environment.
From the start you get a decent health bar in comparison to other games which give you only one or two hits and this is probably because of the amount of things that can get you in each level. The health bar can also be upgraded by collecting certain bugs hidden throughout the game. Several times though I felt I got hit cheaply as enemies will fall from the sky and land right on top of you setting up mini-boss battles but starts you with a disadvantage. Similarly when you hit an enemy by landing on their head in the classic manor you can get hit due to there not being enough time to land on them and then get out the way before they attack.
To accompany the gorgeous levels there’s great music. Music from the movie that players will instantly recognise, even if you haven’t watched the movie since you were a child. The sound effects are also very impressive and you’ll recognise a lot of them if you ever played Mickey Mania, another platformer from Disney. The music score helps to keep the game true to its roots as does the level design and story. It may seem obvious that a game should closely stick to the content it’s based upon but as we all know over recent years this isn’t always the case. Video games based on movies haven’t gone down so well and have been merely a way to cash in on movie success.
The Lion King is primarily a platform game. However, half way through the game you become adult Simba and gain the ability to attack with your claws and then the game feels more like a beat ’em up. You’re faced with far more enemies and less jumping and climbing sections, though they’re still present. It almost feels like two different games and I have fond memories of the first half, more so than the second.
The whole game clearly had a lot of thought and effort put into it. To help tell the story there are some short animations at the end of some of the levels. These animations though clearly don’t have as much thought put into them as the rest of the game. They’re a good idea to fix the gap between areas but feel distant from the fluidity of the game play. The final fight is also very distant, feeling forced and repetitive. Excuse the pun but it feels like you’re watching a cat fight from a parking lot, it’s all about jumping on top of Scar, scratching him and pulling his hair until the opportunity opens up to throw him. A throw move that’s never explained during or before this fight and forced me to revert to good old Google.
I have no doubts that this is explained in the games manual but….I’m a man, we don’t look at that.
Some of the ideas in the game were perhaps a little a head of their time, for example the stampede level. Similar to Crash Bandicoot for example, the stampede is a level where you run towards the camera while avoiding the, you guessed it, stampede running towards you. The player also needs to jump over rocks that appear at the bottom of the screen. It’s a very difficult level made harder by the graphics and it being difficult to tell which “lane” the animals are in for you to avoid which makes them difficult to avoid. This is no fault of the game by any means and is more a case of their grand ideas being limited by the technology of the time. All in all though, a good idea to break up the platforming elements of the game and it’s an important part of the movie and therefore needed to be included in the game that tries to be so close to the original content.
In closing, I feel like I have more things that frustrated me on my list of notes than those that made it enjoyable. But you just can’t argue with the game player, the colours, the level design and the music that makes this game very enjoyable both for myself and the child I was when I first played the game. It’s a shame you have to go this far back to find a true movie tie-in though and that’s exactly what it is. It’s true to the originally content, it’s fun to play, though rather frustrating, overall it’s a game that should not be missed. Just stick with it when it feels like you want to throw the game at a wall and by the end you’ll feel like it’s all been worth it.
Find our full playthrough of Disney’s The Lion King below. As always, it’s not a speed run or perfect run of the game. I did die, I did get hit in annoying ways but this is the playthrough I did and what I base my review on. Though I did edit out the times between checkpoints where I died otherwise this video may have been nearer three days long.
Even all these years later, despite it being rather unforgiving, it's still a great example of what a platforming game, and a movie tie-in, should be.