Film

It’s Time We Talk About The Impossibly Difficult ‘Lion King’ PC Game From The ’90s

The monkey puzzle and floating logs in the waterfall still give me nightmares.

Lion King PC game hard monkey puzzle

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When we think about PC games from the ’90s we immediately think of bangers like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego? But one game no one seems to mention is the unbelievably difficult Lion King game.

Released in 1994, in the same year as the film, the Lion King game allowed players to control Simba as he navigated the Pride Lands and defeated enemies.

Starting as a cub with a replenishable roar metre used to stun enemies, Young Simba would slowly grow with each passing level until he reached adulthood. Once an adult, Simba gained new defensive moves like scratching, mauling, and throwing, which were all essential abilities needed to defeat Scar, the final boss.

That is, of course, if you were ever able to even get to that point. You see, the Lion King game was hard. Real fucking hard.

Unlike modern PC games, in Lion King, once you died that was it. There was no option to continue once your lives ran out. Game over truly meant game over. The game creators really had NO mercy for the poor 5-year-olds just trying to enjoy a cheeky game of Lion King on their giant, bulky desktop computers.

Despite the game having a health metre that could be refilled by eating bugs, and a few extra lives that were displayed in the bottom-left of the screen, it was far too easy for Simba to die.

This is because unlike similar side-scrolling platform games from the same era, like Super Mario World, there were no “items” in Lion King that would protect Simba. As both a cub and adult lion, there were never certain bugs that would make the character grow, or mushrooms that helped Simba with jumping, nor were there flowers that gave the fire-breathing abilities Mario had.

All you had was your shitty, and way too sensitive, health metre that would deplete if you stepped on an enemy the wrong way or fell off a rock that was just a little too high. And once you used all your lives, you’d be hurled right back to the start of the game, just to be met with the opening credits and the dreaded “it starts” line from Timon.

No second chances. No buying back lives. Just negative ‘Start New Game’ vibes.

In fact, beyond the general elements of the game making it brutally difficult, one of Lion King’s hardest stages was literally only the SECOND level of the entire game.

After defeating chameleons, porcupines, rhinoceros beetles, and a hyena as the “boss character” in the relatively simple ‘The Pridelands’ level, players are met with the unbelievably tough ‘Can’t Wait To Be King’ stage of the game — aka the universally dreaded Level 2.

You know Level 2 is super hard because game makers didn’t even put any enemies in the level. Instead, Young Simba has to go through an annoying monkey puzzle that’s solved via roaring, try not to fall off tilting giraffe heads, avoid lion-killing tree branches while riding an ostrich and strategically swing off hippo tails to make it to the end of the level.

But the monkey puzzle, which makes up a huge chunk of the level, is so unbelievably confusing. Blue monkeys throw you wherever they want, then you need to scream at the pink monkeys to get them to move. But none of it matters anyway, because the monkeys throw you from tree to tree like seven times so you don’t even remember what you need to change.

It’s actually fucked and I’d argue it’s one of the most impossible levels in gaming history. Ever. I literally tried to pass the level in order to write this article, and I still couldn’t do it despite it being 26 years since the game came out.

Also very bad is ‘Hakuna Matata’, the sixth level of the game that is based in the waterfall from the Lion King film. Beyond having to deal with spitting frogs and constant jumping spiders, normally static platforms are exchanged for falling logs scattered throughout the seemingly never-ending waterfall. It sucks.

Plus, one slip of the foot and Simba is hurled all the way down the mountain, and the player is forced to painstakingly climb up the waterfall all over again. The final boss for this round is annoying too, with a coconut-throwing, jumping gorilla making you lose a minimum of two lives every time you reach this point of the game.

Sadly, even bonus levels were ridiculously difficult. In Timon and Pumba’s Bug Toss game, for example, the entire bonus would just abruptly end when you missed a bug. The problem? The bugs fall unbelievably fast, and I dare say faster than Pumba can even turn around to catch them.

Lion King actually only ever had 10 Levels, but because it was just so damn hard to play, it felt like it took a lifetime to finish. And despite most of us playing the game as children, Lion King wasn’t a game that was just hard because we were young and inexperienced.

It’s globally recognised as one of the most difficult games ever and was acknowledged with Disney’s re-release of the game, which introduced new save states following decades of complaints.

But the cruel nature of what was meant to be a kid’s game was no mistake. In fact, Disney made the Lion King game implausibly difficult to ensure that people couldn’t complete the game in a single Blockbuster rental period resulting in more repeat rentals.

Louis Castle, the co-founder of Westwood Studio who was the developer responsible for making the game so hard, finally shared Westwood’s reasoning during an episode of Double Fine Productions’ ‘Dev Play’.

Castle explained that Westwood Studio added the monkey puzzle at the last-minute at Disney’s request because “the rental market was that if people got a certain distance in the game, metrics from Disney said they wouldn’t buy the game”.

“At the time, Blockbuster had a rental program that had just come out, and Disney had a rule across all of its products where you couldn’t get past a certain percentage of a game in a certain period of time,” Castle continued.

“So the only level, in the early levels, where we had the ability — in the eleventh hour, literally — to make it longer and more complicated was the monkey puzzle [at the end of Level 2].”

“Apologies to everyone who pulled their hair out over it —  including myself.”

In conclusion, fuck this game. It was unnecessarily cruel just because Disney wanted a few more bucks. But even with capitalism ruining our fun as children, it sure is satisfying when you finally pass those demonic monkeys as an adult.

I mean, I wouldn’t know because I still can’t beat it. But I assume it would be satisfying. Hopefully, I find out one day soon. Please. I beg.

For anyone who wants to relive the pain that is the Lion King game, you can pull your hair out by playing the online version of it here.


Michelle Rennex is a senior writer at Junkee. She is still trying to beat the monkey stage in the ‘Lion King’ game and tweets at @michellerennex.