The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King
Video Game Review
By Jeffrey Kieviet

the-lion-king-snes-cover

Nants Ingonyama Bagithi Baba (It’s the Ciiir-cle, the Circle of Liiiiiiife!)
Remember the movie? How ’bout the video game? Inspired by Maggie’s Savannah at Sundown, a few days ago we whipped out the old SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) to pounce on porcupines and devour bugs.
While not my favorite Disney Classic, no one can deny that the film is a beautiful tale of adventure, excitement, family duty, and betrayal (heheh, “duty”). Except the people who made the White Lion movie, but I’m a firm believer that artistic freedom and integrity means if one wants to steal shots directly from previous released material (see Firefly), that just speaks to the impact of the source. The 2nd guy to do a close up wasn’t stealing from the 1st, he was just the next stepping stone to creating a standard. Prideful lions standing on a rock outcropping wasn’t an original idea in 1960, nor in 1994. But they did make it pretty to the eyes and ears.

The Pridelands
Press the start button (after setting the game on “Easy”), Timon the mercat says in a 16-bit voice “It starts.” That’s not a lot of words, but Mario still wasn’t speaking by Nintendo 64. This game was way ahead of it’s time regarding look and sound. Unfortunately the game-play leaves a lot to be desired. You can roar, which, as a cub, does little more than flip porcupines on their backs, but it is cute and entertaining for a culture obsessed with online cat videos. You can jump on the baddies, but most of them are these same flippin’ porcupines (which you cannot jump on unless they’re on their back [insert innuendo here]). At then end of the level you come to the hyena. This guy (or girl if it was voiced by Whoopie Goldberg) is impossible unless you’ve set the game on easy. It will bite & bark unavoidably until it gets tired and starts panting, only at this point can you attack and knock it out. On harder game settings, this can waste several hours and lives. Unless you already consider playing video games a waste of life already, but if that’s the case, what are you doing online? Go out and play soccer, our teams need better players.

"Rawr!" - Jonathan Taylor Thomas
“Rawr!” – Jonathan Taylor Thomas

Can’t Wait To Be King (Roar At Monkeys)
“(Roar At Monkeys)” actually appears on the level’s title screen because otherwise you’d just wander back n’ forth between hippos until you die of old age; their is a lot in this game that just happens without giving you any help or direction. It’s like you’re just dropped off on safari, without being able to swim, amid pyramids of hippopotamuses and pretentious giraffes. Regarding the controls, certain functions like grabbing & swinging need to be very carefully done. You can’t just shoot for the ledge or hippo’s tail, you need to make sure the detailed tips of Simba’s claw’s land exactly on the hook. I remember when Mario jumped and cleared the gap by the big toe on his right foot, less than a pixel holding him from the castle or certain death in the lava below, but now you can’t even stand on the giraffe’s long snout, you’ve got to land full in the face! On the plus side, the background music is actually a quality rendition of the song from the film (“I’m gonna be a mighty king, so enemies beware”), so you can hum along for hours on end as you memorize the order that the purple ostrich has to jump over pink rhinos so you can get to the next batch of monkeys to roar at. The world of the Lion King is not much different from our own.

"No no no, right here. Full. In. The face." - Giraffe
“No no no, right here. Full. In. The face.” – Giraffe

The Elephant Graveyard
Remember how scared you were when the hyenas cornered Simba inside the giant skull? Considering similar games of the time, they are able create an atmosphere that makes this level terrifying. If only for the number of lives you lose learning the quirks of bad-bugs and faulty trampolines. Bugs were the coins/power-ups to our little lion cub. But now there are spiders and black-widows, bugs that take away life from us idiots dumb enough to eat ’em. And now there’s hyenas a-plenty; what had only been an end boss on level 1 now pops up all over the place, knocking you off rib-bones so you fall back to the beginning of the level (back BEHIND the half-way save point!). You jump blindly off a ledge to land on a dead-skin-stretched-between-bones trampoline, bounce once, and when you catch your breath and collect your bearings, the skin-trampoline tares without a warning and you plummet to your death, round 27 of the “Death Scene”: Simba dizzy’s against a black screen like Bukowski-on-a-bender, and collapses into a puddle of dead kitty-cat. The “Death Music” begins to eat into your soul. For realz, the graphic death-centered theme of this level still haunts my nightmares. But so does the cartoon version of Captain Hook. Thanks for the night-terrors Disney.

These bones belong to all the Simbas you’ve killed far. This is a collect-the-continues type of game.

The Stampede
What’s great and addicting about this game is the variety. The first level is a simple side scroller, jumping up platforms and pouncing on lizards; level two you’re swinging from monkey to monkey, bouncing from a rhino’s nose to a hippo’s tail; the third level is a macabre voyage into the dark nether-reaches of elephant hell, testing your luck with poison bugs and broken bones; now you’ve got to run straight at the camera as wildebeests trample you from behind or rocks burst into your path to send you tumbling under bloodthirsty hooves. Wildebeests have hooves, right? This level is a test of endurance and memorization. Sad to say, this many decades later, the familiar pattern of ‘beest vs rock was reserved in the traumatized recesses of my childhood memories. You can get stuck between two slow moving wildebeests while a fast one runs up the middle or you can get trapped on one side by rocks and have to perfectly time your jump to clear them (until for some reason they think it’s funny to present a question mark so you have no idea where the rocks are coming from). Worst, there’s no half-way save point so when you’ve been trampled and beaten to a shaggy pulp, you have to start all over, forcing you to repetitively remember the pattern until you just run out of track and the level ends. Remember some of those games that would randomly drop you in a mine cart and you’d have no control over speed or direction and all you could do was propel forward hoping for the best? Imagine you’re being chased by Decepticons while in the mine cart and you can’t see where you’re going and bombs are blowing up in front of your face! That’ll give you a good idea of what this level represents.

It's no wonder Mufasa didn't make it...
It’s no wonder Mufasa didn’t make it…

Simba’s Exile
About half the levels are completely unrelated to the movie. I guess they needed 10 levels and the film only had half a dozen songs to base them on, so they throw in random deathtraps to give you a more in-depth look at the horrors the civilians of the Savannah must endure. Aside from the barbed briers and barreling boulders, there are coconuts falling at you the entire time. That’s right, at you! So as you’re hanging on to a ledge for dear life, narrowly escaping the instant death that chases you down slanted pathways in the shape of a boulder, the coconut knocks you from your hold and you fall into nothingness & another “Death Scene.” Speaking of the boulder that tumbles after, I don’t understand what the designers were thinking. Say you escape the raging rock, make it to the end of it’s killing path, and jump down to the lower platform. You are then given zero seconds to get the hell out of the way since the boulder follows you down to squash you like your favorite bug. The only way to avoid it is to turn around mid-air and risk the barbed brier patch. But if you’re too efficient in this maneuver, you can accidently clasp the edge of the platform, meaning the boulder crushes your little lion knuckles and is grounds for instant death.

Hakuna Matata
Ah, but now we’re back to bright sunlight and happy thoughts. The music reminds us all of the goofy pair of sidekicks: the flatulent warthog and egomaniacle mercat. You get to zip down water slides and burst bloated bull frogs. Have you ever tried to climb up a waterfall? 2 & 1/2 hours later (as long as you avoid the “No Swimming” zone) you breach the top. The level boss is an orangutan eating a banana who will take time out of his busy day to backhand you if you get too close. If all else fails, this is another level where you can sing along to the background music. “It means no worries, for the rest of your days.” Keep that in mind when you start your fourth continue.

Simba’s Destiny
This is great. Simba’s grown up now, he’s got a mane, a 14 foot vertical leap, the voice of Ferris Bueller, and claws that he can actually use. Hitting has never felt so good. All those times parents said “No hitting!” were wrong. Using your words doesn’t work against bullies, nor jaguars. So you jump around monkeys shooting spit-balls and take a few swipes at jungle cats. This level is a breeze.

Seriously... Claws are awesome.
Seriously… Claws are awesome.

Be Prepared
To start, I have beaten this game. Only once or twice, but I have reached the inevitable conclusion. However, I probably spent more of my childhood on this level than in school. Which may explain why things are the way they are. Fire and lava flow freely throughout, with drips of melted rock and vicious bats dropping from the ceiling. But the hardest part is figuring out what to do, where to go. Much like the unending upwards battle to the top of a waterfall, or the pink monkeys who change direction with a roar, there’s no indication that stalactites can be broken from the roof to create plugs and platforms. I spent days wandering back and forth going “what am I missing?” Getting burned and killed, over and over, only to run out lives, run out of continues, start the whole thing over, only to get stuck again. It turns out: leap and swipe in random places and eventually stuff will fall down. Good stuff, not lava and burning death. Then there’s platforms and lava waves and other terrifying feats, but after this, my memory of the game  gets a little fuzzy. Actually, when I played it again the other day, this was as far as I got. Partly because it’s so difficult, and partly because I’m a grown up and had other stuff to do. Like drink beer, gamble, join the army, & vote.

 

The Lion King
Westwood Studios, Inc.; Virgin Interactive; Dark Technologies
1994

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