In our Game Over, Man! series, we explore the history of video games that are based on movies, one game at a time. In part 13, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1994’s The Lion King for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis…
Year of Release – 1994
Developer – Westwood Studios
Publisher – Virgin Interactive Entertainment
Platforms – Sega Mega Drive, SNES, NES, GameBoy, Amiga, PC, Game Gear, Master System
The early to mid-1990s era of Disney movies is massively popular to this day, with live-action remakes and merchandise for titles such as Aladdin and Beauty & The Beast making the company an absolutely obscene amount of money. One of the most successful movies from this period, The Lion King, is arguably the most successful out of the bunch with an iconic soundtrack, unbelievable cast and even a musical based on it.
Along with pretty much every other Disney property at the time, The Lion King saw a tie-in video game released on consoles, and is fondly remembered by gamers the world over. So, as the movie’s remake approaches (nearly 25 years after the original!), this week’s GAME OVER, MAN! entry takes a look at the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis version of the game to see how it holds up today…
Players start the game as a young Simba, exploring the winding maze of platforms of the Pridelands with aplomb. At this point, Simba is armed with nothing but a roar attack that temporarily immobilizes foes, allowing him to jump on them with greater ease. With enemies ranging from small lizards and bugs that explode mere seconds after jumping on them, there’s nothing in the Pridelands that poses too much of a threat, and the level is seemingly manageable for players of any ability.
In terms of powerups, Simba can collect various bugs dotted along the way, each of which have different effects such as restoring Simba’s health and replenishing his roar meter. These collectables play a factor in the post-level minigames that are hosted by Timon and Pumbaa, but we’ll get to that shortly.
Even the boss of this area, one of Scar’s evil hyenas, is easy to overcome, utilising the standard first-boss tactic of “avoid attacks until the enemy is out of stamina!”. With the first level out of the way, you’d think that this experience would continue, only incrementally tougher?
Yes and no.
Following a fun, if not slightly wonky, minigame that sees everyone’s favourite meerkat and warthog duo drop and catch the bug powerups that you’d collected in the previous level, players are transported to the next level; “Can’t Wait To Be King!”.
Before I go any further, I’d just like to say how great this game both looks and sounds. The initial sunset-lit rocks and greenery of the Pridelands is nice to look at, but it’s when we reach the second level that everything starts to click into place in this aspect. The brightly coloured backgrounds, fantastically animated enemies and wonderful 16-bit renditions of the music from the movie are some of the best of the era, and do a brilliant job of bringing the joyful bounce of the movie to a digitally interactive medium.
While this stage is where the game’s visuals start to really shine through, it is also the point where players may feel that the preceding stage has lulled them into a false sense of security. The game’s difficulty curve is one of the most ridiculous I have seen in a long time, as players must now expertly time jumps to grab onto the swinging tails of hippos, figure out a confusing tangle of monkeys that throw Simba around the screen and pray that landing on a giraffe’s head won’t result in being dropped into the lake below.
In addition to this, there’s a segment that sees Simba ride the back of an ostrich, requiring lightning fast reflexes to determine whether he should duck under protruding tree branches, jump over small rhinos or double jump over taller branches. As the game gives you just a couple of seconds between each obstacle to figure out what the hell is going on, it’s safe to assume that players will lose lives here. A lot. Hearing the MIDI version of the level’s namesake tune on a loop as you struggle is a hellish experience, and the “fun” vibe starts to melt away very quickly.
Should players make it past the jaunty-tuned nightmare of “Can’t Wait To Be King”, they reach the Elephant Graveyard which, much like the movie’s setting, is an unforgiving place that offers no respite whatsoever.
Littered with awkward ledges to swing from (that you’ll miss 99% of the time), annoying hyena enemies and segments of the floor that are comprised of the razor sharp bones of dead elephants, successfully maneuvering around these obstacles is insanely challenging, and with checkpoints that are few and far between (this is an issue for the majority of the other levels too), players are more than likely going to become food for the vultures that swoop around the stage.
“Stampede!” changes the style of gameplay up completely, and sees Simba now running towards the screen away from a rampaging stampede of wildebeest. Just when you think you have a handle on working out the patterns of where to position yourself when the herd approaches, random rocks show up on the floor, making it even trickier.
Thankfully, upon completion of this stage, the game spares us from reliving the famously traumatic scene with his father Mufasa. Instead, we get a short animation of the evil Scar looking over his newly adopted kingdom, instructing a hyena to kill Simba. There aren’t many cutscenes in the game, but they’re effectively simple, and the snippets of movie dialogue work well at immersing players into the movie’s story. Well, apart from the many times players will see Timon utter the words “…it starts” whenever players continue after the inevitable game overs they’ll accrue.
Once players navigate their way through the thorny nightmare of “Simba’s Exile”, players escape into “Hakuna Matata”. The vibrant colours and upbeat soundtrack has now returned, but players mustn’t get too comfortable, as Simba must now face a whole new set of challenging obstacles; waterslides.
Player must now decide which way to go on a series of watery platforms, and makes for a disorientating experience. Getting lost and confused here is remarkably easy, with some annoying monkeys constantly throwing rocks at you at various points of the stage. These pale in comparison to one certain segment of the level though, as Simba finds himself having to traverse falling logs as they plummet from the top of a waterfall.
Usually, a simple section like this one wouldn’t pose too much of a problem, but as The Lion King‘s platforming is tighter than a duck’s ass, timing jumps and actually landing on the logs is migraine-inducingly tough. I died more times here than at any other point in the game, and will curse it until the end of time.
Should you be able to get past this famously unfair section (I literally couldn’t without outside help!) and survive the face-off with the gorilla, you’ll come to the end of your time as the cub version of Simba.
Adult Simba introduces a new slash attack into proceedings, and sees the return of the darker, moody levels as you make your way back towards the Pridelands to take back what is rightfully yours.
The grittier atmosphere of these stages is a perfect fit with the game’s unforgiving difficulty, and having the ability to swipe at opponents instead of jumping around in the hope of maybe landing on top of an enemy is a welcome concept.
The first of these stages, “Simba’s Destiny” is based on a scene that didn’t actually make it into the final cut of the movie, and was apparently only kept in the game as a result of Virgin Interactive fighting to keep it in the game. “Be Prepared” is a volcanic nightmare of a level, with a specific section requiring Simba to balance on platforms floating on a river of molten lava, and “Simba’s Return” has the most baffling level progression system in the whole game, as Simba must enter hyena dens to reach other parts of the level at random (the game is very particular about letting Simba do this though).
Finally, in “(Return to) Pride Rock”, players will face off against the big boss of the game, Scar. Split up into three sections, and held together with increasingly frustrating platforms and ledges to traverse (plus some lightning strikes that set the platforms ablaze and a fiery bottomless pit waiting for you if you mistime a jump), this is a massive pain in the neck to play through.
Perhaps the worst part of the level is the final showdown itself. With no life gauge for Scar, it’s tricky to determine if you are actually doing any damage at all to him. After at least half an hour of swiping at him, it seemed like I was getting nowhere. What was I missing? There isn’t anything on the stage in terms of items to use against him, there was no timer or hints helping me out either?. After a quick search online for the manual, I found that there was a whole new attack move that the game NEVER TOLD ME ABOUT. Unpausing the game and painstakingly getting Scar to the edge of the cliff so I could throw him off felt neither rewarding or even good, I was just glad that I didn’t have to see Scar’s pained, panting face over and over again.
Your reward for (eventually) defeating Scar? A single screen of Simba posing at the top of Pride Rock before the credits roll. Considering how bloody difficult everything up until this point is, it’s a bit of an underwhelming sight to say the least. Defeating the game feels like a personal victory, but persevering through poor game mechanics and unfair level design does not make for a fun experience at all, rendering the victory slightly hollow.
The Lion King on the Sega Mega Drive is an absolute treat to watch and listen to. It’s a colourful, beautifully put together adaptation of the movie with impressive character sprites and catchy MIDI renditions of the film’s iconic soundtrack. Along with 1993’s Aladdin on the same system, The Lion King is arguably one of the best looking Disney games from the era, and certainly one of the best looking titles on the Sega Mega Drive as a whole.
However, the game’s teeth-grinding difficulty and often patchy platforming really lets the game down somewhat. I’m all for a challenge in games, but the level of precision required to make the simplest of jumps from platform to platform is insanely unfair, quickly draining pretty much all the fun from the experience. Apparently, Disney instructed the developers of the game to purposely make the game this difficult so that players couldn’t complete it in a rental period, effectively forcing them to buy the game at full price, and it really shows!
If you are a fan of the movie, or even Disney films in general, then I wholeheartedly recommend the game on a purely aesthetic level; just don’t expect anything that resembles a smooth, easy ride once the first level is over.
Have you played The Lion King on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis?
Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!