Westwood Studios and Virgin Interactive Entertainment deliver a hardcore platforming experience with Disney’s The Lion King.
Disney’s The Lion King (PC)
(USA 1994, developer: Westwood Studios (defunct), publishers: Virgin Interactive Entertainment (defunct)/Disney, platforms: PC-DOS, Sega Master System, Sega MegaDrive, Game Gear, NES, Super NES, Game Boy)
Lion Simba grows up to take back his African kingdom from the claws of his uncle Scar who was responsible for the death of Simba’s father.
Classic retelling of a story
The Lion King is one of the most loved Disney movies, just right after or before Aladdin, although it has the advantage of offering a story that isn’t instantly recognizable from another culture’s tale. The journey of Simba and his development from a small cub into a big lion opens up all sorts of narrative possibilities and, except for the humorous part, is a more mature tale, concerning itself with revenge and redemption. Of course the game only shows short stages of Simba’s life, but it does a pretty good job of introducing each with stills from the movie.
The circle of life
What sets the game apart from Disney’s Aladdin or The Jungle Book is that one doesn’t always play the same-looking character. Starting as a small lion who can barely growl, but can jump on or roll over smaller enemies, one then plays as a full-grown lion who can intimate and stun his enemies by a louder growl and use his claws to defeat them, although he isn’t as fast in movement. These different abilities make for more varied gameplay, as they’re also used for solving a few puzzles, e.g. clawing one’s way through thorns or rolling through obstacles. While the small Simba sections rely more on platforming, with bonus levels not deviating much from that formula, the big Simba stages are much more about combat, although jumping and holding on to very small ledges doesn’t change.
The circle of death
The levels re-enact some set-pieces of the movies, like a 3D section in which one has to run away and evade a stampede. But they also take some liberties with the license, e.g. a level in which one has to ride on ostriches, swing from one animal’s tail to another or roar at apes so that they turn in different directions and throw Simba around like a pinball. While all these ideas are great and make for some memorable and often fun scenes, one aspect that almost deprives the game of any joy is the extremely high difficulty. There are so many unfair passages that it becomes nearly impossible to complete the game, even with cheat codes, as instant death becomes common, resulting from not jumping/ducking soon enough from the ostrich to evade a tree trunk, missing a ledge to grab or constantly falling into water and gaps due to wonky controls. Even on the lowest difficulty, the health meter drains as fast as some unavoidable dangers rain down on Simba, e.g. stones from above that can’t be seen or escaped from. It’s one thing to challenge the player, but it’s quite another to bring him or her to the point of simply giving up entirely. Having no savegames or level codes doesn’t make this any better, either.
Animation on the small screen
The presentation makes one almost forget how unforgiving the game is, with some great-looking backgrounds, character sprites, and fluid animations that perfectly capture the original movie’s fun and drama. The original soundtrack tunes also add to the atmosphere, and even if the voice acting is only partly used in cut-scenes for one or more lines, it’s another nice touch to complete the cinematic atmosphere package.
A game for those who persevere
Disney’s The Lion King should be an easy game to love, but as it’s not an easy game to play, one soon realizes that it’s nowhere near as enjoyable as it could be. It might look and sound the part, but with so many difficulty spikes, even the most hardcore platform gamers will despair at times. This is really a shame, because the different abilities of Simba in his two life stages and some fun level design ideas would have made a really good game if it were more accessible and less unfair.
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