The Lion King
Imagine being born a prince – knowing that one day you will have to lead a great kingdom forwards through the times. The responsibility is enormous. Such is the position that our young lion cub, Simba, finds himself in Disney’s The Lion King. But he couldn’t really care less. Instead of building himself up to be a worthy successor to the throne, he yearns to roam carefree about the Pridelands day after day; he wants it all right now and he just can’t wait to be king. While he is blissfully unaware of the duties expected of such noble royalty, behind the scenes Simba’s spiteful uncle, Scar, decides that he’s had enough of being shadow to the great king, Mufasa. He concocts a dastardly scheme to overthrow his brother and as all evildoers do in the movies, he succeeds. And so Simba is now in a bit of a pickle. The real journey begins as he seeks to find out who he really is, and along the way he messes around with a bunch of crazy hyenas over a brief period spanning ten short, but utterly delightful levels.
Just hangin’ about.
It starts. Full of youthful energy, Simba goes off on a journey of a lifetime. He begins by getting to grips with his feline tendencies in the homely Pridelands and its neighbouring regions. He doesn’t yet have claws of fury, but he can get by the assorted beetles, lizards, hedgehogs, and creepy-crawlies easily enough through a combination of hissy, scratchy roars and good old-fashioned pouncing. Kids love to jump around the place too, and young Simba is no different. He’s an agile little beast and he can leap about as gracefully as the antelope that he loves to eat. There are plenty of platforms to test him, but his skills are enough to pass with flying colours. The environments he bounds around are just as brimming with said colours, imitating the animated film that we’ve all seen (if not, where have you been?!) as best as humble 16-bit hardware can provide.
After a light-hearted appetizer, Simba’s hunger for adventure leads him to the dilapidated Elephant Graveyard, where vultures rule the roost and where he has his first encounter with the comical hyenas. Unlike the film, there’s unfortunately nothing funny about them here; Shenzi, Banzai and Ed are nowhere to be found. All of the hyenas are generic clones of each other and they do nothing apart from licking their chops and jumping around like lunatics. Nevertheless, Simba is a mighty wimp, and with the bejesus in him already a mile away, he quickly scrams out of the place.
And then what do you know? He finds himself right in the middle of a wildebeest stampede! Fate is not kind to this young lion. This scene is one of the most memorable ones in the film, and as a parallel, it is also one of the most memorable in this game. Doing away with side-scrolling platforming temporarily, Simba is placed right in the middle of a pseudo-3D chase. Here, the wildebeest approach from the back of the screen whilst rocks appear from the front, with our panicked tyke stuck in between. It’s a rush to play through this short sequence, but it’s also a disappointment that the MIDI-ish tracks in place aren’t powerful enough to capture the same intensity shown on the silver screen. On the positive side though, my only qualm with the music lies here; everywhere else in the game, the downgraded remixes are still absolutely beautiful renditions of the wonderful works that Hans Zimmer and Elton John provided.
After the proverbial storm has settled, we are back to feel the love again, with more liony platforming amidst dazzling colours as we approach a beautiful tropical paradise. In the film, this is where Simba meets the hilarious, nonsensical duo: Timon the meerkat and Pumbaa the warthog. But in the game, the only time we see them is in two different mini-games that may be played in between the main levels: bug hunting as Timon and bug catching as Pumbaa. They aren’t terribly exciting, despite the buggy-ness that they allude to, and the potential that this comic pair had is sadly wasted here.
But back to the mane event. Just when life looks like it’s going somewhere good, some Hakuna Matata la-de-la takes place and presto change-o, Simba now dons some big hair and a kingly beard – talk about your Hair-A-Gain! And with his claws ready for some ripping, he finally scratches his head enough to come up with a brain dead scheme to reclaim his kingdom; in the movies, apparently anything is possible. He sets off back home to reclaim what is rightfully his, revelling at the notion of bringing plenty of hyena scum to incur his wrathful vengeance. Now, this doesn’t seem like a light-hearted platforming experience anymore…
And it isn’t. Adulthood can be synonymous with “boring”, and when Simba grows old, this seems to be the turn that the game also takes. The later half will see him pass through dense jungles and lava caves on the road to the borders of the Pridelands. He is no longer as athletic as he once was, and now most of time he’s all about cat-fighting with jaguars and hyenas (he was really traumatised when he was young; still no reason to beat up on animals that don’t attack unless you do, though). Be prepared to find yourself mashing on the one attack button a lot now. When he eventually makes it to his evil uncle Scar, an hour or so in real time would have passed on your side. The grand finale has got to be worth it, right? Unfortunately, it’s still the same: mash, mash, bash, bash, bitter cat fight struggle ensuing MEOW! I won’t spoil the ending for you lest you actually haven’t seen the film for yourself (who/what/where/when/why/how?!), but when all is said and done, the circle of life is complete – make what you will of it.
This looks fun.
While The Lion King movie is an enthralling ride from start to finish, The Lion King game declines as you progress further and further in. It tries to put in a lot of variety, but without much content to cement it all in place, the result turns out to be a mish-mash of ideas tossed around; first there’s some fun platforming, and then it looks like we’re going somewhere with the chase sequence, but then adult Simba disappoints us by providing a poor lion’s beat ’em up where only one button is required for victory. To its credit, it never does get boring, especially with the brilliant art and music (plus voice clips too) carried over from the film and tailor-suited for a capable fourth generation videogames console. So, short and sweet? Yes, but it should have been majestic and magnificent.