The console versions of The Lion King are considered by most people I know as classic platformers, or at the very least, 16-bit games that they are nostalgic about, and I'm not entirely sure why. Granted, the movie undeniably invokes remembrances of joy from those of us who were young in the 90's, but the games just aren't all that great. Today I played the Genesis version of the game, just because it was there and I was bored, but when it came around time to write, I decided to play the Game Gear version by the forgettable Syrox Developments, because it seemed like an appropriate time to compare the portable version, which I've never played, with the Genesis version that I remember from my childhood.
Playing the Genesis version, I made it to the Elephant Graveyard level before I started dying enough to not want to play the game. You know the part, where you need to jump back and forth from the small handholds, all the while attempting to outrun the rising green water that kills you instantly. I was not able to climb fast enough. I know a lot people complain about the second level, where monkeys toss you around and you ride an ostrich, but I didn't have too much trouble with it. It's not too bad as long as you take it slow and growl at the proper monkeys, and after that it pretty much plays itself.
I don't think I really appreciated the controls and the physics of the console version until I played the Game Gear one. On the console, there is a sense of momentum and you build up speed as you move, which carries over into jumps, and movement generally makes sense. On Game Gear, there is none of that. Jumping on enemies does not cause Simba to rebound, and swinging from handholds is difficult because it is difficult to just grip them in the first place.
Pressing a button flings Simba off in that direction quickly, and it is difficult to keep on all those small platforms. The whole game feels like an ice level. It makes one of the more annoying parts of the the Genesis version even worse, as it is possible to walk through many things that appear to be walls. The ledges of the game are really just a series of line that you can stand on, and not actual structures with sides holding them up.
The choice of things that have been carried over into the portable version is confusing. It retains much of the same look and design, and the levels are clearly modeled after the ideas of the console version. The actual particulars of the level designs are carried over, which should be a relief because often portable versions of console games don't account for the difference in screen resolution and how much can be on screen, but the level designs they went with don't work well, either. On multiple occasions, starting in the first level even, the player is forced to make dramatic leaps of faith in order to get to the next platform, a hallmark of unwisely ported levels.
What was ported over as faithfully as possible were the graphics. While the sprites may not be as big and clear as the game's big brothers', they maintain much of the animation frames and, most importantly, the valuable Disney character and charm. And here is where I believe the secret to The Lion King's success lies, in the charms of the characters. I suppose the creative platforming elements and the variety they brought didn't hurt either. Sure the games can be difficult and annoying, but somehow they will make you smile in spite of it, at least for a little while.