Friday, 5 February 2010

The Lion King

Don't worry, we're running out of childhood classics that are worth talking about.

In this episode of Squirrel's blast from the past, we ask ourselves, "can I wait to be king?". Yes it's Disney's The Lion King, born before quantity had a higher precedence than quality in the Disney marketing language. Unlike the slightly earlier blockbuster release of Aladdin, this one was almost identical on all platforms, so chances are most kids of the 1990s have seen or heard of this game in some form or another.

For this review we're taking a trip to the African DOSBox for its superior 256-colour 320x200 visuals and high quality sound. Versions were also made for the Commodore Amiga, Sega Mega Drive and Super Nintendo, and weaker, forgettable copies were released for the Game Boy, Game Gear, NES and Master System (though the latter two only appeared in Europe). Each copy cuts back on something, whether that be levels, sounds or graphics - it's only the DOS version that contains everything, and hence why it's the subject of this blog post.

It's a platformer. One in which you play as Kimba Simba as he follows the story of the film, killing bugs and later... lions. But this assumes you're some sort of gaming god. You see, the video game, unlike the film, was not aimed at kids when it was developed. It was aimed at the clinically insane - the people who would devote a large amount of time to conquer this beast to prove a pointless point. Fifteen years ago when I first encountered this title I struggled to get past the second level. In 2010, having played hundreds, if not thousands of games since... I still struggle to get past the second level. I have memories burnt into my brain of the animals of Africa throwing you into the water or slamming your face into trees. You might not be able to wait to be king, but every other mammal on the planet seems to enjoy disrupting the monarchy. Perhaps it would be better if Simba got himself a good education and went on to develop a ballistic missile. That'll solve some problems.

The Lion King is one of those games where no two levels are the same. Similar I suppose to Earthworm Jim 2 - though the majority of levels were platforming-based, one would focus on you shooting dirt, while another would have you bounce puppies along. The Lion King isn't quite as insane, but half way through the game Simba grows up, and hence an entirely different gameplay experience is to be had. Generally everything is great, though there are some occasions where it's difficult to tell which obstacles are solid and which are just there to look good. The music is great for the time, as are the digitised voices, and though I can't say the graphics are as appealing as Aladdin, they're certainly more appealing than a lot of platformers around at the time. You could argue, however, that the graphics haven't aged that well, and this is most likely because the stylised parts of the film didn't convert well into sprite form, especially when you consider all the graphical restrictions that would have still existed at the time.

Simba starts off only able to run, jump, roll and "roar", though later sacrifices the rolling in favour of using his claws to beat enemies. Occasionally a bonus level pops up and you get a chance to play as Timon or Pumbaa collecting bugs, and there's supposedly a "stampede" level later on in which you're running towards the screen avoiding rocks. It's all fairly standard stuff, but works rather well and hence was widely praised at the time of release.

But it's the difficulty that is the real hurdle for Simba. No child would have the patience or skill to complete this game, and sadly nowadays the Lion King video game is largely ignored by gamers due to its age and the "kiddy" atmosphere that surrounds it, hence it appeals only to a niche market. The second level, for example, has you roar at monkeys in a specific order to guarantee you're thrown in the right direction. This can take a lot of trial and error work to accomplish - going backwards and forwards between a small section of the map to get the order correct. Once this is done, you soon find yourself in a quick-time event situation, where if you jump at the wrong time, you'll fall off an ostrich (or the ostrich will get stuck) and you'll have to restart the level. Now it doesn't sound painful, but taking into account the fact it can take five or so minutes to pass the level and there are no checkpoints, you soon lose patience and start to feel you may have been cheated. Then you soon grow weary of the music, and you find yourself loading up a different game instead.

But to give the game some credit, outside of the bad experiences it was still one of the first successful movie tie-ins that actually looked like the movie. It's not as good as the movie, but it didn't have 800 animators so what do you expect?

But seeing as the SNES version alone sold over a million copies, it's fair to say that it was a success at the time. There are also tons of awful Lion King pirates out there which are all inspired by this game, so there were also many years of suffering for unsuspecting customers.


  1. actually there ARE checkpoints in the second level - just before the hippos, you'll see a simba symbol (no pun intended!). touching it acts as a checkpoint

    at least, that's what i recall from my memories!

  2. I had, and still have to this day, the DOS versions of this game, Aladdin and the Jungle Book from when we've just got our old Windows 95 computer. And I almost never make it past that second level (I only got through it once or twice by fluke) but those games were still great.

    What irked me about them though was that you have to input a certain word from the manual every time you wanted to load the game. Good thing I retained my Lion King manual.

  3. The game isn't that hard
    You really need patience though

    And Scar is definitely impossible without cheats.
    You need to throw him a few times to make him get out. To do that you need to maul him when he's "tired" and you are touching him.

    The problem is the collision detection in this game is BS. Half the time you maul him instead of throwing him. And if you maul him he jumps on you and unless you have ALL the health expansions, kills you.

    The game itself resembled the movie a lot in the beginning, but then lost its touch.
    The Pridelands was fine. Only Mufasa fights the hyenas in the end, not Simba. Can't Wait to be King was fine, but there were no pink monkeys in the movie.
    Simba didn't fight the hyenas in the Elephant Graveyard, Mufasa did.
    The Stampede, Simba's Exile, Hakuna Matata and Simba's Destiny were pretty much the same.
    There were no Lava Caves ("Be Prepared") in the movie.
    Simba's Return did not involve hyenas at all.
    And Scar didn't fight Simba thrice, he only fought him once, and he wasn't WILLING to fight, he got Simba by trickery. Still, I guess cutscenes and stuff were impossible in those days.
    I loved the "Everything the light touches.. is our kingdom" parts and the ending. The ending song was really pleasing and actually gave you that "YAY I WON" feeling.

    Now if only the game let you do 2P or Co-op with Nola and Simba. That'd be awesome!

  4. Heh, I remember this! I used to play it and "DuckTales: Quest for Gold" (DOS versions) when I was a kid :) I never managed to beat any of them though :/