Lion King (SNES) review
"If you were to claim The Lion King was the best Disney movie ever made, people would probably smile and nod, finding that assertion respectable and believable. Yet if you were to claim it was one of the best movies ever made, some might look at you like you were crazy. Well, I don't think I'm that nuts, but I do claim this movie to be one of the best. The atmosphere, the style, the depth, the characters, the story, and the music all come together to present a fantastic cinematic masterpiece, ..."
If you were to claim The Lion King was the best Disney movie ever made, people would probably smile and nod, finding that assertion respectable and believable. Yet if you were to claim it was one of the best movies ever made, some might look at you like you were crazy. Well, I don't think I'm that nuts, but I do claim this movie to be one of the best. The atmosphere, the style, the depth, the characters, the story, and the music all come together to present a fantastic cinematic masterpiece, an experience far beyond what any other Disney film has brought me. Naturally, then, this would be the one Disney videogame I would be drawn to, as I wondered whether such an excellent film could be translated into the SNES. Sadly, I don't think they succeeded.
It's quite unfortunate too, because it wasn't due to lack of effort. Unlike so many other licensed games that we all love to hate, The Lion King seemed to have relatively high production values, and the presentation of the game is practically perfect in every way. You are initially greeted by the famous scene of Simba being lifted by Rafiki on Pride Rock, gorgeously redone in SNES graphics. Likewise, the game itself is a graphical masterpiece, with Simba looking and animating perfectly. The way he runs, jumps, and roars will remind you of the movie, as every detail is taken care of. Just as importantly, the backgrounds are lush and colorful, perfectly bringing the Savannah Disney portrayed in the movie into your little cartridge. The graphics feel like they fit right in with the movie, and that is what is important. There's no doubt about it, the game's a beauty.
But what's even better is the music. Everything has been brought over into this game, and hearing the African chants in Circle of Life nearly brought a tear to my eye. All the classics are here, from Be Prepared to Hakuna Matata, and it all sounds pretty darn good. And to think they didn't stop there. One of the best things about the movie is the ambient music; the instrumental pieces providing the backdrop are some of the best I've ever heard. And, to my surprise and delight, they are present in this cartridge as well. To hear pieces like This Land or King of Pride Rock in a videogame was shocking yet touching, and made me want to love the game so much more. Sure, it's not the best quality, but that doesn't matter. It's present, it fits, and it made me actually want to keep playing just to see what the music in the next stage would be.
Coupled with this perfect atmosphere was, at the very least, the illusion of a great game. When I first started playing, the game initially appeared to be a lot of fun. We started out with Simba prancing peacefully through the pridelands, playfully pouncing on puny bugs and lizards. He's fairly quick and agile, with a wide variety of moves and plenty of maneuverability. Enemies are quickly disposed of by pouncing on them, or you can roar to stun them at first. Jumping seems natural, and it won't be long before you're wiping out the bugs with ease. Level design is nothing short of excellent, with lots of both horizontal and vertical jumps. And it's always obvious where to go, with a fairly linear design (with branches for powerups and other goodies, of course) and well placed platforms. Romping around with Simba was fun; everything seemed to come together well. About the only problem you can find is that Simba controls feel a bit off, as the slightest tap of the D-Pad sends the cub off running. But it's hard to deny we have an excellent start.
If only it could stay that way. By the end of this level, you will face your first hyena. These guys are invincible except for a few brief moments, so you'll have to dodge them until then. The only problem is that there's limited space to maneuver, and with the dodgy controls it's tough to do anyways. The question isn't whether you can kill him without getting hit, it's whether or not you got enough powerups beforehand to survive. Bleh. Just wait until you start to see two of these guys at the same time, still without any room to run around. Of course, when you're adult Simba, you can merely swipe your claws at them, but that's just another problem. Sure, they're much easier, but it turns into a beat-em up like game. No longer are you relying on platforming skills, but merely on pressing a button as fast as possible. Wiping out hyenas is no fun, yet it's such a large portion of the game.
Unfortunately, those are the least of your problems. Imagine, if you will, a waterfall with logs falling down. Imagine having to jump from log to log to climb this waterfall. But these logs are all falling as well, and all at different rates. And, of course, your jump must be exact, or you will go right through the log and fall to your doom. And you have to get up four or five screens of this. That's far too frustrating. Or imagine precision jumping off the back of a running ostrich. You must jump at the exact moment, or you hit an obstacle and die. While we're at it, why not consider Indiana Jones style outrunning a giant boulder, except that there's no room for error. Or how about swinging your way on tiny branches over a precarious cliff, where once again difficult controls and odd collision detection make it far too easy to miss your mark and fall. Or bats that charge at you and then stay right on you, so that you get hit multiple times before you can kill them? How about erupting volcano-things, where you must dodge falling rocks (despite the fact that you have absolutely no time to react)? This is a Disney game, presumably aimed at children. And it's this difficult?
It's sad to say, but this obscene difficulty really hurts the game. I want to see the entire game; I want to experience it all. Yet dying countless times in the same few places really hurts that ambition, and I find it hard to keep going. Is the gorgeous atmosphere really worth the effort when you spend all your time biting the proverbial dust? Will you even get to make it to the adult Simba levels with all the deaths you'll experience? I don't know, but pushing your way through the game should not be as painful as this is. This should be a relaxing, highly enjoyable game. And it would be if it wasn't for all of the ridiculously impossible parts.
We just never see a return to the fun of that first level. Lots of jumping is replaced by enemy combat, running, and those stupid swinging on tiny branches. Tons of quick and easy enemies are replaced by a few hyenas and vultures, which quite simply aren't as much fun to dispose of. A misplaced jump (all too often, sadly) now results in instant death rather than setting you back a few feet. The game just turns too serious, too much into a straight action game rather than an enjoyable platformer. It's still pretty fun, but just not as good as it could be.
One thing of note is that the game is rather varied in its levels. Of course, the first place you see is a pure platforming stage, with lots of jumps and simple enemies to kill. Yet you are soon whisked away to Simba's fantasy land, where puzzles and precision jumping are present and enemies are nonexistent. A little while later and you're in the middle of a wildebeest stampede. Here, the screen switches to "second person" perspective, with Simba running towards the camera and wildebeests stampeding all around. Such variety is both a blessing and a curse. It does allow one to better experience the different scenes in the movie (the "Can't Wait to Be King" sequence shouldn't have enemies in it, so a typical platformer stage would be rather strange), and one cannot deny the separate stages all fit the movie quite well. On the other hand, many of the specialty levels (like the stampede) have their own little problems, and don't feel as polished as they could be. So although it stylizes and keeps the game interesting, the different levels aren't exactly great. It was a good idea, probably the best thing they could do, but I just wish they could have improved it slightly.
Sadly, The Lion King doesn't quite find its place on the path unwinding. It does great justice to the movie in terms of style, of course, and one can tell that a lot of heart went into this game. Likewise, it seems to have all the elements of a good platformer. Level design is generally excellent, the variety of moves is ok, and at times Simba controls well. Unfortunately, the frustrating difficulty of the game kills the enjoyment, and the excellent experience that should have existed became almost a chore. I wanted to love this game; I wanted to see it all. But, sadly, it doesn't quite reach the heights I was hoping for. I'll stick with the movie.
Community review by mariner (August 16, 2005)
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