Lion King (SNES) review
"I have oft been mistaken for a lion. Who could blame the perpetrators though? It's perfectly understandable! With my flowing mane of golden hair, my animal-like voraciousness and my liking for the subtle tenderness of gazelle meat, I’m more lion than man. These characteristics would normally be enough to convince most people that a game such as The Lion King is right up my alley. For a virile, powerful man-killer like myself this little cartridge should be an absolute pushover! How wrong you all..."
I have oft been mistaken for a lion. Who could blame the perpetrators though? It's perfectly understandable! With my flowing mane of golden hair, my animal-like voraciousness and my liking for the subtle tenderness of gazelle meat, I’m more lion than man. These characteristics would normally be enough to convince most people that a game such as The Lion King is right up my alley. For a virile, powerful man-killer like myself this little cartridge should be an absolute pushover! How wrong you all are! How dare you all jump to such an erroneous conclusion?
But, good reader, let not my sudden display of humility dissuade you all from your reverence of myself. I am not alone in my failure to fully handle The Lion King and all of its in-game obstacles! This is a difficult game, one that will drain all of the pride from your rocks and leave you a hollow shell of the gamer you once were! It is undoubtedly a product of sheer class, and one of Disney’s greatest gaming achievements; but it is constantly held back by its yen to make its later levels resemble hell as closely as possible.
The intention of this release was to follow the story of The Lion King movie from start to finish, albeit in a platforming style. To give the average Joe the chance to undergo Simba’s rite-of-passage for himself and give the nefarious Scar a few of his own. This goal is achieved to some extent, but one can’t help but come away with this game with a disturbingly sour taste in one’s mouth and the urge to perpetrate a few random acts of destruction.
It all starts out innocuously enough though. A baby Simba is our first protagonist, his mission to cavort and frolic around the pridelands whilst looking as cute as he possibly can. Who would have thought that the seemingly innocent lizards and stinkbugs that patrol level one would be replaced by terrifying panthers and lethal drops of lava by the end of the game? Each of the fifteen or so levels in the game is meant to represent a particular scene from the movie. Whether it’s the frenetic action of a stampede bearing down on baby Simba, or grown-up Simba making the precarious ascension to the top of Pride Rock, this game has it covered. Some of the scenes cross over better than others – the song “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” translating into a horrific montage of wiry monkeys and pink hippos – but generally the movie is done justice.
There are some enterprising ideas thrown up during the course of this game. Platform leaping does carry much of the burden, but this is complemented by a superb array of action scenes and enemy disposal. A mere four hit points are given to Simba; an unsubstantial sum when one considers the breadth and ferocity of the antagonists. A typical Lion King level will call on speed, cunning and massive bursts of testosterone (sorry ladies!) to complete.
So you've completed a few and arrived at the mid-point of the game. Hakuna Matata and its lumbering sub-boss have been resigned to the scrap heap, and you’re feeling on top of things. Sure, Simba’s been in the obituaries a few times, but it’s nothing you haven’t been able to handle. I bet you’re sitting there with the most incredulous look on your face!
“It’s not hard, King Broccoli!”
Just you wait, sonny Jim. Now that Simba has grown into a Broccoli-esque adult lion there’s no need for anyone to go easy on you. Gone are the dawdling vultures, insects and easily replenished life bars. Now comes the interesting bit. Should you choose to undertake the Lion King challenge, you’ll have to deal with countless scenic obstacles, copious amounts of fearsome foes and a final boss that takes one hell of a battering. Sometimes all three at the same time!
Despite this, The Lion King proves to be a rewarding voyage. An addictive and often enchanting journey that almost promises to never end. You see the real trick of this game is to sporadically introduce a level that verges on being spectacular, one that lessens the blow of the long-term drudgery of the others. Another important factor is the influence of the much beloved movie. This history creates a sense of empathy for the main character that is stronger than in the vast majority of games out there. You want Simba to kick some arse, you want him to take his place in the circle of life, you don't want to see him reduced to lifelessness by a pack of pebble throwing monkeys!
There is an awful lot going in the players favour here. It's easy to be impressed by the speed and agility of the controllable characters, the generosity with lives and continues, and the game's ability to cajole the player into “one last try”. Even if there is no orgasmic climax for you at the top of Pride Rock, the journey is always going to be pretty sweet. Made sweeter in fact by the design elements!
What these elements are made of are crisp, vibrant colours and sounds that capture the Disney “feel”. We see these through the sleek, well-animated characters and the relatively detailed and occasionally luscious backgrounds. From the tropical paradises, to the seventh realm of the netherworld, little is left to the imagination. The aural component features an emotional and surprisingly recognizable soundtrack. Many of the songs from the movie feature here, taking their place alongside the numerous sound effects. Overall these elements do little but add to the already substantial charm that this game has.
It’s not going to be easy, but then again it’s not meant to be. I was brought up with the concept of video games being a real slog, something to tackle with the sleeves rolled up. You might not ever finish this game, I might not ever finish this game, but that doesn’t mean we have to stop trying. As long as games like The Lion King exist - games that tempt us with potential glory yet thwart us with constant challenges - there is reason enough to fire up the console on a cold winter’s night. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and run headlong into a nest of hyenas “one last time”.
Community review by kingbroccoli (April 25, 2004)
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