perjantai 20. toukokuuta 2011

REVIEW - The Lion King (1994)

GENRE(S): Platform
RELEASED: December 1994
DEVELOPER(S): Dark Technologies (GB), Westwood Studios (GEN, SNES), Syrox Developments (GG), Virgin Interactive (NES, SMS), EastPoint (PC)
PUBLISHER(S): Virgin Interactive, Sega (GG), Disney Software (PC)

The Lion King is the most critically acclaimed and highest-grossing hand drawn animated feature film of all time. Influenced by the Holy Bible and Shakespeare's Hamlet among others, The Lion King's a very musical, epic, funny, and tense movie that follows a stubborn and naive lion throughout his life, how he is exiled from his home when he's just a cub by his devious uncle, and how he returns as a mentally reinforced adult to take his rightful spot as the one true heir to his late father's kingdom. Just in time for Christmas 1994, Virgin Interactive made a multi-platform video game based on this great, great movie and ended up with a final product that was kind of praised by critics... but hated by gamers. The Lion King is like an epitaph of all the things that can go wrong with a platformer. Still, it's so strangely addictive that it's hard to name it one of the bottom-end Disney games.

Jungle fever makes you curse

Simba is King Mufasa's only child, and therefore the rightful heir to his throne. However, Simba does not understand what it truly means to be king. Mufasa's evil brother and Simba's uncle, Scar, takes advantage of Simba's naivete and murders his brother in cold blood, placing the blame on Simba. While everyone knows that Simba is not to blame for his father's death, the childish and stubborn cub leaves his home and goes into exile, learning important life lessons from his new friends, the carefree meerkat Timon and the crude warthog Pumbaa. Meanwhile, Scar takes the throne and effectively destroys everything that Simba's home of Pride Rock used to stand for. As an adult, Simba finally realizes it's time for him to return and fulfill his destiny as the one true lion king.

Oops, I overshot my target. Nothing new there.
As long as we're talking about the movie they call The Lion King, we're talking about something awesome. I'm getting goosebumps just writing about it, and I feel the sudden urge to watch it for the millionth time. The Lion King was the final breakthrough for Disney in the sense that it finally proved that Disney movies were not just for kids. First off, it's quite brutal, and secondly, it's the kind of movie that everyone of different age has a different view on. It's far from one-dimensional. I went to the cinema to watch The Lion King back in 1994, when I was ten years old, and I found it fascinating like a kid finds any animated movie, but when I watched it for the second time a little shy of five years later, I discovered a whole new movie out of that same piece of celluloid. It's an amazing piece of work. It's also a movie that once made me wish for a nanosecond that Jeremy Irons would play every villain in every movie ever made. The first version I watched was the Finnish dub; ever since I watched the original one, I've refrained from using Finnish titles of movies and TV shows, and watching anything in Finnish dub. The Lion King taught me more than just the circle of life.

Are you one of those people - both sexes can answer this, 'cause I know for a fact that this also concerns guys - who still cry every time they see Mufasa die? Do you sing "Hakuna Matata" in the shower for no apparent reason? Can you listen to Elton John with a straight face? If the answer to all these questions is "yes" or "maybe", then The Lion King is a game you'll probably find worth trying, you've come to the right place.

Do you like your platformers somewhat fair, the kind in which you can actually see everything that has the potential of harming you, in which you cannot just accidentally slip into a chasm after standing on the edge perfectly fine for several seconds, in which you can grab a makeshift rope hanging over a bottomless pit or a liquid hazard at a 100% certainty just by jumping at it, in which physical laws actually apply, in which there are no sudden deaths looming in that pit you must jump in but cannot see the bottom, in which the disposal of enemies isn't up to sheer trial and error combined with a fine dose of luck, in which there are second chances if you happen to jumble some detail up, and finally, in which there's more than just one continue by default? Well, I hope you bought Aladdin!

At least The Lion King is an audiovisual treat to the sensitive player. The graphics are sufficient, the game's really not up to par in its bland overall look but the animation of the sprites is phenomenal. The music's surprisingly good, the soundtrack's once again a mix of the movie's most famous songs and some exclusive filler stuff from Westwood's in-house talent, mostly in the style of jungle ambience - kind of like Donkey Kong Country, without any sorts of notable hooks. The sound effects are marvellous, and actual voice samples from the movie are reproduced magnificently. I don't remember hearing voice samples of such high quality in any other Western 16-bit game. Jeremy Irons and James Earl Jones - I salute thee.

The game's plotline is very faithful to the movie, it takes just about every key moment in the movie and expands it into a whole level. That means you'll be playing little over a half of the game as a cub, and the rest as an adult. You have two meters on the top of your HUD, your health meter on the right and your growl meter on the left. Getting hit by an enemy depletes both meters, and yes, there are many, many one-hit kills as well, to get that out of the way right now.

This Elephant Graveyard doesn't look that bad.
...................Fuck me.
Playing as Simba as a cub is a pure nightmare. His traction is very close to zero, and all he can do to enemies is "meow" at them. His growl is so God damn weak it does zilch to the enemies that really matter, so jumping on them is pretty much your only choice. First, you'll be introduced to the game's very plain and confusing standard level design. It's never clear where you can and cannot go. This problem becomes most essential during Simba's exile, as there are rocks falling on you all of the time it takes you to figure out which is the correct path to victory. Then comes the much bigger problem: the animals of the jungle that aren't enemies, but who you need to use to your advantage to make progress - the worst of them being hippos whose tails you need to use as makeshift ropes as they are standing in an oasis, drinking water. Doesn't sound too bad, no, but falling into the water equals death and it's even more difficult to grab any rope in this game than it ever was in The Jungle Book, and remember, there's just that one continue for you to have. Yep, my game was over here, for the first time, and I hadn't even gotten past the whole of the second level.

The Elephant Graveyard is absolute hell, in which you need to plan every jump in advance, but be extremely quick about your decisions and just try to cope with the fact that you NEVER KNOW WHAT LIES BEYOND! You have no fucking clue what's waiting for you behind each turn - be it a bottomless pit, a one-hit kill geyser running right beneath your ass as you're trying to simply get a grip of jumping between two walls in a simplified Super Metroid style, or a pair of hyenas that are difficult enough to dispose of when there's only one of them, just because you cannot foresee their actions, just like you cannot foresee anything that happens in this game. The next level's the wildebeest stampede which took Mufasa's life. We're still in the beginning???!!! Oh, lord in heaven or wherever the hell you are... anyway, the stampede is a reverse Mode 7 sequence in which you're running towards the screen. This kind of reminds me of the Battletoads jetbike sequence in Mode 7. There are obstacles coming at you from your front, and they flash on the screen for a few seconds before potential impact to give you a heads-up in a similar fashion. To my surprise, this level is one of the easiest in the game. After a couple of more standard levels as a cub, Simba FINALLY grows up. And maybe your hair will grow back eventually, too. Those few levels are of such infernal torment that it would take me the rest of the night to tell you everything that's wrong about them. I've told you most of the important, common stuff already, so let's let them be just as annoying pieces of shit they are.

The adult Simba is much easier to control, even his growl is worth something against enemies, and he can punch (or rather slash?) large enemies, meaning you no longer have to wait for the "opportune moment" (which is what, I wonder...) to jump on 'em. However, they take a million hits and the level design takes a turn to even more confusing as the game carries on. Well, as an adult you only have to do a few levels, and the game naturally culminates in the battle against Scar, which as an idea saves a lot of warm thoughts that were about to disappear just a while ago.

Now this is more like it.
This is my second, serious confession in just a short period of time: I seriously had to cheat to get ahead and eventually beat this, absolutely one of the most unfair and infernal games I've ever played. I've heard people say that it's near impossible to beat on the easiest difficulty level because it's so damn unfair in every possible sense - and we're talking about seasoned players, some of which are former employees in the field of video game journalism, which makes them _professional_ players to some extent. Seriously, what extreme fashion of a superhuman with intense psychic powers was this game made for? What do players need to prove? Apparently something, since the game has two moderate and playable levels out of a total of ten, and it doesn't matter by one shard of crap if you meet your demise in the first or the tenth level - there's just one single continue by default. It also doesn't matter if the cause of your demise was unfair, or mandatory according to the laws of trial and error. The game doesn't give a fuck about your feelings. Or your judgement. It's The Lion King, and it would've spread like wildfire even if it was a totally bad game - which it surprisingly isn't, once you FINALLY get some sort of a grip on it. That grip doesn't make it any more decent or even human in difficulty, though.

The Lion King is one of those weird games you're never going to beat if you're being totally honest to the game and yourself, but you still find yourself returning to it from time to time, to check if it really was that unfair and quirky to control. It's a fascinating game in its own twisted way, and its existence has a reason unlike The Jungle Book and especially Beauty and the Beast. Once again, if the Kingdom Hearts series did not exist, I'd probably turn to this game even more often, just to see those characters and punch in the cheat code to whoop Scar's hairy ass. Tonight's movie? The Lion King.

SOUND : 8.6


a.k.a. Disney's The Lion King

GameRankings: 80.00% (GB), 85.00% (GEN), 73.75% (SNES)

The NES version was the last game ever officially released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was released exclusively in Europe, in May 1995.

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