I Spent 3 years Trying To Beat The Lion King Game
But bounced on every Zelda game after an hour.
Alright, the backstory. So Christmas of 1988/89 my parents bought me an NES. It came with the Mario and Duck Hunt combo like so many did at the time. I played this sucker on a 12 inch CRT in my bedroom for several years. We rarely bought new games for it since I was a whopping five years old and couldn’t get past level two. I would rent new games at the movie store and quickly realize how hard they were and DNF them in minutes. Why was Tiny Toon Adventures so hard! Age appropriate difficulty for console games wasn’t really a thing back then. Anyway, all my friends and cousins had a Nintendo so I could try out games at their house and they would show me tricks and cheats and all that. It was fun, I remember my older cousins had a gold copy of Zelda that I wasn’t allowed to touch because it was “real gold” and I was five and didn’t know any better. All I knew was the game was impossibly difficult. You went to one area (the wrong area) and fought all the monsters only to have to backtrack and do it all again with a blinking half a heart. It wasn’t for me.
Years go by and my friends upgraded to the Super Nintendo or the Genesis. It was a big deal in 3rd grade which side of the console wars you were on. The Mario side or the Sonic side. Of course like any other kid I begged my parents for a Sega Genesis. The Nintendo was plenty as far as they were concerned and consoles were not cheap, plus they just dumped crazy money on a brand new Packard Bell computer for the house. The Gameboy became my next console instead, an arguably better choice for a child given how much cheaper and portable the games were.
Then in fifth grade the Lion King came out. It was the biggest deal ever, they had lion king everything including a video game which I first saw in my little copies of Disney Adventure magazine. You may have heard of this game as being one of the hardest things to play. That is 500% true, but like every other 10 year old that year I had no idea. There was no warning, I didn’t have game magazines or websites to tell me to save all my birthday money for a Playstation instead. No, I aped in on a brand new Sega Genesis - Lion King bundle. I finally had a console with 16 bit graphics like all my friends. I could also afford all the good games I had played at their houses because they were way cheaper by then. No more having to play Mortal Kombat at Clarks house while he used a modded controller and read off a list of Fatality codes. (I did get better but never could do the codes.)
I remember the day we bought it, we went to Circuit City in Tyler and got the last one they had for $130. Meanwhile the store was full of Atari Jaguars, Playstation’s, and all that mess. Nope, the blinders were on, I wanted that Genesis so I could play the Lion King. We got it home and I set it up all by myself on my little 12 inch CRT. It booted up with all the fanfare of the 16 bit Lion King music music blasting out if that mono speaker. First level took me an hour or two to complete. No big deal. Then, I reached level two.
Now, dear reader, level two in the Lion King game is I Just Can’t Wait to Be King. You start off by swinging from rhino tails and jumping off giraffe heads to get to a few big ass trees covered in blue and pink monkeys. This monkey puzzle was not easy, but after a few days I got the hang of it. At the end you are tossed by a monkey onto a pink ostrich who you now must use to jump and duck under tree branches to ANOTHER MUCH HARDER MONKEY PUZZLE. The problem here was there was a section of the ostrich bit that required you to double jump. I had no concept of this. I assumed I was just not ducking or jumping at the right time to get Simba to get between the branches and not go over both.
After a few months I was ready to give up on the game. I had Sonic and Mortal Kombat and a slew of Gameboy games I could play. But once a week or so I would speed run through to the double jump ostrich and fail 9 times in a row and go play something else. But it made me angry, two years went by, I got more games and had beaten Kirby’s Dreamland, Super Mario Land, and some wild Barbie game on my gameboy. These were kid games to me, so was the Lion King. It felt like an affront to my intelligence that I could not beat a game from a Disney movie. My cousin and I beat Mickey Mania together how could the Lion King be so impossible!
It is now the summer of 8th grade. We had moved to a new house. I had learned to record songs off the radio to my tape deck to play in my walkman. I was ready to drink Mountain Dew and wreck level two of the Lion King. A few hours of trying turned up fruitless, then after a delicious macaroni and cheese dinner I went back to my room to try again. I’m not sure if it was the angry button mashing that caused it but it finally happened. I jumped twice. I cleared the middle of the level and was tossed into the second monkey puzzle for the first time.
At this point I had logged hundreds of hours in this game, I could swing/jump/flip through anything without issue making the rest of the puzzle a cakewalk. After a few tries I made it though level two. I blew through the other levels in a few days. Only hitting a snag with the log jumping in Hakuna Matata because it’s one of those memorize where to go type bits. That took me a week or two to get through but at this point I was determined to, if anything, get to the other half of the damn game and play as adult Simba so I could fling Claudius, I mean Scar, so far off that cliff he ends up in Madagascar.
Let’s just say I needed the three years of muscle memory required to get through those adult Simba levels. He didn’t swing as fast, but he could swipe and maul and throw the hyenas that were once twice your size around like a cheap bean bag chair. Unlike the Aladdin game there were no cheat codes for the Lion King. There was no start - select - AABBAABBA to skip a level. You had to actually memorize the wildebeest patterns in the stampede level. You had to memorize the right caves to go into on the Return to Pride Rock level. You had to time your jumps exactly right while boulders fell on your last location 3 seconds ago or else the lava gets you armpit of hell full of bats for some reason level. All of that was nothing compared to level two.
Then you finally make it to the battle with Claudius and you take out four years of frustration on his fascist little lion Hitler face. The end. The King is Dead Long Live the King. The music plays. Credits roll and you celebrate with a mountain dew and a iced oatmeal cookie.
But what now? I spent all that time beating it once, so I had to do it again. And again. Then by high school I had a ritual where I’d come home from school, turn on my stereo and start the Lion King. I got it down to a twenty minute playthrough. It was just all muscle memory at that point. Id play through the game as a warmup before playing Final Fantasy X or Sonic Adventure 2 my senior year. If I could beat the Lion King I could play anything. These days I feel more like “I can beat the Lion King, I don’t need to be good at any other game.”
Then years go by and the Sega no longer boots. Ive tried, I think the power supply bits are shot. I bought a copy for the xbox last year at Christmas that came with Aladdin. Using the xbox controller makes it difficult because my muscle memory is for three buttons in a single row not reaching up for the third. You need to be able to roll your thumb across all three to flip the hyenas and the D pad doesn’t rock like the sega controller which makes rolling kid simba, a vital skill, much harder too. I got to the under hell bat level with it and died from jumping into lava and quit. I knew I could beat it. I had already done it, did I need to prove I could still do it? Yes and no. Will I tweet a screenshot of the end when I do with the words “Still got it!”? Probably.
So what spurred this mind dump of gaming nostalgia? Well, Cody is playing Elden Ring and we were pointing out that it seemed common amongst Japanese games to not only be relatively difficult but also not be over once you beat the main quest line. He had just finished discovering an area only to find out online that he had only explored 10% of the world. It reminded me of when playing Super Mario and the end is just you starting over only with harder mobs. Or like Zelda when you go the wrong way and backtracking means fighting the previous rooms mobs again. Obviously that’s not true of every Japanese game because Kirby and Dragon Warrior/Quest are much easier to play. That also doesn’t say that every American game is a cakewalk because THE LION KING exists.
TL/DR: As a kid I thought Zelda was too hard but beat the Lion King.