Friday, 17 August 2012

Game Review - The Lion King (Sega Genesis)

Title:  The Lion King
Release Date: 1994
Developer: Virgin Interactive
Platform: Sega Genesis (US) Mega Drive (UK/Europe)
Genre: Platformer

Movie tie-in games have always been around, even in the days of the Atari 2600.  But I'm not here to talk about that, no, I'm here to talk about what is quite possibly one of the best movie tie-ins ever made.

I first came across this game as a part of the Disney Ultimate Video Game bundle for Windows 98.  It came with Aladdin and The Jungle Book, also side-scrolling platformers but I found The Lion King to be the best in terms of execution and gameplay.

The Lion King game cuts the movie into ten handy levels.  The first six feature Simba as a cub and the remaining four feature him as an adult (just in case you didn't figure that out already.)  It follows the plot of the film while managing to miss out a few important characters which gives the overall impression that Simba is all alone except for his father and uncle.  Timon and Pumbaa only appear in bonus levels while there is no sign of Nala whatsoever.

The game itself plays well, easy controls and colourful level design really make a nice, solid game that anyone can pick up and play.  The only real problem are the difficulty jumps.  As with most games, the first level is just for players to get used to the controls and eases them into a false sense of security.  Unlike most games, the second level is one that can often make players quit and give up because of the insane difficulty in making the jumps across the first lot of giraffes.  One false step or mis-timed jump will send Simba into the water, meaning you have to start the level over again.  The other major problem area is the level 'Be Prepared'.  Lakes of lava are bad enough but having Simba (all grown up this time) float along them on fallen rocks presents the challenge of again, timing your jumps right.  Other than those levels, the difficulty is never too hard (the only difference between difficulties is the number of lives you start with) so overall the game can be played by anyone.

Let's take a closer look at the levels shall we?

Level 1 - The Pridelands

Easy - 8 lives  Normal - 4 lives Hard - 2 lives

The beginning of the game.  As a cub, Simba doesn't really have any attacks other than the mario-standard 'jump on enemies' and a roll attack that's only really useful against the porcupine enemies in this and the 'Simba's Exile' level.  The game isn't out to throw you any surprises and so this level is pretty straightforward, there are platforms to jump on, and generally it allows you to get used to the controls and moves without any immediate danger.

A nice little touch are the very detailed sprites drawn by the original animators from Disney, something which certainly doesn't hurt the game at all.  There are also a few extra animations.  Holding the up button for instance, makes Simba sit and look up:

While leaving the game for a few minutes makes butterflies move across the screen for Simba to play with:

These images don't really capture the full charm of the animation, so here's a video:

The idle animations certainly add to the game's charm and give the feel that Simba is a real character with depth instead of just another block of pixels that moves.

The enemies in this level are fairly standard but unlike the Game Gear version of the game, they are varied and include beetles, chameleons, porcupines and a hyena.

He's not nearly as fierce as he looks.
Once you've beaten this level, you're treated to a very short cinematic with a sound clip of Mufasa's 'Everything the light touches is our kingdom' line.

Why can't more games have art this good?

Level 2:  Can't Wait To Be King

Yes, a level based on the Disney acid sequence of the same name
After the easy run that is the first level, here is where many players first encountered the concept of 'rage quitting'.  That is, the game suddenly ramped the difficulty up, causing young kids (me included) to quit the game in frustration.  In fact, until I rediscovered this game, I had only seen levels after this by using a level select code.  (DWARF for the pc version.  Right, A, A, B, Start for the Genesis version)

This level also had a rather odd colour scheme that occurred as soon as you step off the tree, something which fits in with the sequence from the film but doesn't really add anything to the game:

There are no enemies in this level, well, unless you count your own reflexes and timing as 'enemies'.  Although, the more you play (and lose) this level, the better you get so I suppose it isn't all bad, just a bit frustrating sometimes.

'Roar at Monkeys'
The progression through level 2 is challenging and pure platforming.  It's all jumping.  Admittedly, for a level based on a song there wasn't really much they could do and they managed to create a simple (in concept) filler level that didn't progress the story much but certainly added in some practice for future levels.

Remember that bit in the song where Simba and Nala were riding ostriches?  Well they've taken that little sequence and made an obstacle course of it.  There is a slight little glitch with these bits, the double jumps have very specific timing, and sometimes when you think you've cleared it Simba will clip the top of the trees and die.  

Level 3: The Elephant Graveyard

This level opens with a fight against two hyenas, actually, this game adds way more hyenas than there were at this point in the film.  A move which makes more sense but still makes you wonder why you have to fight so many as a cub.  The lack of Nala as a character isn't noticed, mostly because Simba as a character can do everything needed alone.  If Nala had been added at all, it would have been best in cutscenes but due to the limitations of the system they had to cut the game down to the bare bones.

The main enemies here are vultures who, if you're not fast and pounce them beforehand, fly up and circle you before diving down to attack.  This does stand out as a case of simply putting enemies in for the sake of it.  Vultures never appeared in the movie (although in earlier drafts they did) so even though they are African creatures, they serve no other purpose than to impede Simba's progress.

Careless jumps made me lose two lives.
This level also requires some button mashing at a certain point.  Just after the first checkpoint there are two geysers that you have to outrun by climbing up the cliff.  My advice is to hit jump as fast as you can before pressing up as soon as you reach the top.

The checkpoints are the Rafiki style drawings of Simba.

The rest of the level is straightforward, just jump from platform to platform until you reach the end where there's another boss battle.  Surprise, surprise, it's the hyenas again.  Three this time, just like in the film.

But as Simba runs triumphantly out of the graveyard, we get to see Scar watching (yes, this is our first glimpse of the final boss.  And no, I don't count that as a spoiler, this game is eighteen years old people! Not to mention the film ends the same way.)

Scar really went all in with the 'evil uncle' thing didn't he?

Level 4: The Stampede

Run Simba, run!
Another obstacle course level.  Basically, avoid the wildebeest and avoid the randomly placed rocks.  Although, if you're going to hit anything, make it a rock.  The wildebeest will take 75% of your health while the rocks will only take 25%.  Lesser of two evils.

They had to change the viewpoint here so the controls have also slightly changed.  Well, up and down aren't used in this level and neither is the roar button.  You only need to dodge left and right and jump.

Shortly after this, the middle wildebeest hit me.
The wildebeest charge you at different speeds, generally staying in front of the slow ones will make is easier for you.  I know it looks like sticking to the far left or far right of the screen would allow you to miss them all but it really doesn't work.  It's easier to just dodge.

The rocks will flash on screen before they actually appear, giving you some warning and some time to either jump over them or go around them.  As seen here:

Once you finish the level, you're treated to another short cinematic.  No, not Mufasa's death.  Although that is an important plot point and without it the game seems to imply that Mufasa has vanished into thin air.  No, the cinematic is Scar telling his hyena minions to go after Simba.

"Kill him."
Level 5: Simba's Exile

This level has the same enemies as level 1 but it really isn't an easy level.  For some unknown reason (sadistic glee, maniacal laughter, general evilness) they've placed a hazard of falling rocks in this level.  Now, the health system means that Simba can take three rocks, which are more like small boulders, to the head before collapsing.  Now I'm no expert but I'm pretty sure a lion cub couldn't survive a blow to the head from one boulder, let alone three.  Also in this level are two boulder chase scenes (I think they're practice for the ones with Adult Simba.)  The boulder chases are just added for dramatic effect and possibly to make the game, well, more like a game.  No movie tie-ins are perfect are they?

Along with the falling rocks, this level tests your ability to swing safely from one hand (paw) hold to another, something that is useful for the final level:

Simba looks appropriately terrified. 
And then you reach the end of the level.  Congrats if you managed to not die, as you can see from the above screenshots I am running out of lives pretty quickly.  The next level is bound to make that worse.  Anyway, at the end we are treated (they're really spoiling us now) to another cutscene!  This time with the hyenas threatening Simba if he ever comes back:

"If ya ever come back, we'll kill ya!"

Level 6: Hakuna Matata

Don't be fooled, this level is full of worries.

"It means no worries!"

Waterslides, the pre-disneyland version.

I'm joking, mostly.  On the surface this level is simple and for the most part it's easier than level two.  But behind the colourful graphics and cheery music (a nice 16-bit version of Hakuna Matata) this level is hiding either trick difficulty or (if you're like me and have trouble timing jumps) hell.

Those two lives? Not gonna last.
Can someone point me to the part of the movie where Simba climbs a waterfall?  And I don't count the deleted 'Warthog Rhapsody' scene so that's out.  

I'll admit it, I can never get past this bit, so I usually use my level select cheat to skip it.  Up until this point the level is simple and a break from the hazards of levels 4 and 5 but then the designers added in this waterfall and a gorilla for you to fight.  Once again, dramatic effect.  But really how can a tiny little cub like Simba beat a full grown gorilla?  

You would expect to meet Timon and Pumbaa in this level from the title yes? But you don't.  They're relegated to bonus levels (I'll get to them soon) and although this makes Simba appear to have a nice holiday while the Pridelands go to hell in a handbasket, it doesn't really detract from gameplay.  They're not needed really so I think the developers made a good choice in leaving them out of it.

Level 7: Simba's Destiny

Yes I used the code.  No I don't care.
Ah, the first glimpse of a fully grown Simba.  Like the Pridelands level, this is really just to get you used to Simba's new moves.  Okay, move.  He can now maul his enemies but he's lost the ability to roll.  Not really a big loss although it would be funny to see.

The idle animations have also changed.  A lion does not spend time chasing butterflies, so all Simba does now is look around impatiently while you're off making a cup of tea or coffee.

Claw swipe.  The only move you'll ever need.
As you can see, the game has added another enemy for Simba to jump over or you know, kill.  Believe it or not, those are cheetahs.  Grey ones and with hardly any spots but still cheetahs.  Now I know the movie wouldn't make a good game unless enemies were added to present a challenge, but they could have done a bit more to make them fit in with the look of the game and the feel of each level.  Or is that asking too much of the Genesis?

"Stop throwing rocks at me!"
Apparently Simba isn't well liked in the jungle.  Not if you go by this game at least.  Apart from the cheetahs, there are monkeys who like to throw small annoying rocks at you.  They don't add anything and really they're more irritating than you'd expect.

 The end of this level does give a nod towards Mufasa's death as he appears as a giant cloud head to basically say "Simba, Scar's buggered everything up so go home and get rid of him."  Okay so he doesn't actually say that, he actually says "You must take your place in the circle of life."

"But also Scar's an ass.  Get rid of him would you?"

Level 8: Be Prepared

This seems to just be a filler level.  They've basically taken aspects of the song 'Be Prepared'  and dumped Simba in it.  All of which gives the impression there's a volcano between the jungle and the Pridelands.

The cheetahs are back and Simba has to dodge drops of lava (which don't immediately kill him, somehow.  I swear he's like the lion version of Superman.)  There's another move Adult Simba can use, and that's throwing his enemies.  It doesn't always happen but if an enemy has low health you can generally use it to quickly kill them.

Level 9: Simba's Return

Another filler, I think they were out of ideas by this point because all you have to do is go in and out of caves and fight hyenas.  It's nothing too hard and although the graphics are as beautiful as ever, it really does feel like a drag to get through.
     "Man what a dump, doesn't Scar have cleaners?"

"Hello? Anyone there?"

"No? Okay then, what's behind cave number 2?"
Level 10: Return to Pride Rock

This is it.  And I have to say that for a final boss, Scar is appropriately tricky to beat.  

"What? You changed the interior!"
The whole level does actually follow the fight as it happens in the movie (score one for the developers.)  There are three short fights with Scar linked by chasing him over flaming pits and clambering up the rocks.

"Simba, what are you doing here?"

"Alright! You win, just don't throw me over the edge."
"I said don't throw meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!"

"I'm the king now!"
That is it.  Congratualtions on beating the game.  And now some screenshots of the bonus levels and death screens (of which I saw a lot):

I hope you've enjoyed this review and that it's given you some sort of help if you ever got stuck, see you next time!

    Graphics:     8/10
    Story:          9/10
    Gameplay:   7/10                            

1 comment:

  1. This is an amazingly comprehensive review. The use of screenshots from the Lion King Sega make it easily readable. Reflecting on my own review of the game I definitely could've used more visuals. Great work!