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July 13, 2011 / jwaxo

The Lion King (Good Adaptations)

“‘Oooh, ahhh,’ that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.”

It’s really like clockwork when any movie comes out, nowadays. At least, any movie that isn’t a drama or primarily a comedy. Soon after the trailer is released and interest is generated, a video game adaptation is announced, which will be released soon after the movie. It’s most common with comic book movies (which makes this an Inception-like series of deepening holes) but is kind of common with action movies, and is especially evident in anything Disney has had a hand in.

That’s what brings us to today’s game of discussion, of course. But first let’s take a moment to reflect on adaptations in general.

I’m sure everyone has had that moment when they hear that a favorite book/comic/video game/TV show is going to be adapted to a movie, and then the realization that it probably won’t be as good as the favorite item in question due to poor handling of the source material. It seems to be a fact of the trade: adaptations to the big screen tend to lose something in the making. Whether it’s the attention to detail that books have, the ability to provide seamless narration and image-association that comics have, the interactivity of video games, or just the length of time that TV shows have, it’s nearly impossible to cram any of those into something that’s two hours max. There are notable successes, both with fanbases and with general audiences.

The exact opposite works just as well. Ever read a movie novelization? There are very good examples of movies-turned-books, of course, but many of them are boring and bland, trying to stretch out a movie that probably isn’t worth more than fifty pages into a three-hundred-page tome, or worse, leaving it at a very “tell it like it is” fifty page book.

Terry Brooks’ adaptation of Star Wars: Episode I is a very notable exception. Of course, it wouldn’t be that hard to make an exception in that case.

Movies turned into TV shows also have always fared the same way, at least in my mind. There’s the new announcement that there’s going to be a Napoleon Dynamite cartoon, something I’m not sure will be able to be stretched out to an entire season, let alone the seven or eight that America loves to bash us over the heads with. The comic book route is one that has about a fifty-fifty chance: either it adapts to something that is entertaining just by storyboard alone, or you make a poor cash-in for kids that like pretty pictures.

But video game movie adaptations. Those are normally cash-ins of the worst kind.

Perhaps you’ve heard of E.T.? The horrible Atari game is legendary in any kind of discussion about bad adaptations; millions of copies of it were shoved into an Atari landfill when they wouldn’t sell, a story that has often been referenced as the cause of the video game crash of the late 80’s. There are more horrible games tied in with movies than I can name: The Goonies, Friday the 13th, most Spider-Man movie-games, Enter the Matrix, Fight Club, and on and on and on. But this article isn’t about those.

No, sir. This is about the good ones.

December. 1995. The Lion King had come out over a year and a half prior and I was still in love with it. Heck, I still am. Have you seen that movie lately? It’s awesome. The music is awesome. The characters are awesome. The character development is awesome. The graphics and animation are seamlessly put together, never distracting from one another and often leaving one breathless. It’s a study in awesome techniques Disney has been passing down for generations.

This drawing is in no way representative of my free time. I only look at video games with this amount of concentration.

And so when I found a copy of the Sega adaptation in my stocking (which was quite an awesome stocking-stuffer) I was about pleased as punch. And so, as I had on several other holidays, I plugged that game in the first chance I got.

What a hard game. Let’s not get that wrong. It is a very, legendarily difficult game. I’m still pretty sure that I never beat it, that fight on top of Pride Rock with Scar just too epic for my sweating seven-year-old hands to manage to pull off. And the “Just Can’t Wait to Be King” stage? Talk about a level requiring memorization and muscle memory. Stupid ostriches and giraffes, always trying to kill you when you just want them to sing with you!

But those were different days, when games were expected to be hard. It was a hard game, all right. But it was beatable. And it was fun while doing it. And it even told the story of Simba in an all right manner: you’d travel around gorgeously rendered levels, hopping on animals, eating bugs, and just trying to get to the next point you’re needed, in a way that almost followed the plot. Small animated cutscenes were there to tie each chapter together, but nothing that tried too hard or too poorly. It sits firmly in my memory as a game that didn’t just stand up as a decent adaptation, but a pretty darn fun game, as well.

There’s not too many games in the world like that. Normally you trade one for the other, don’t you?

Coming soon–Raised on Video Games: the Game! Play as one of four characters! Use words and tablets!

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