There's part of the old 90's Lion King platformer that brings the entire game to a standstill. Anybody who played The Lion King for Sega Genesis or SNES already knows what I'm talking about: the monkey level. It's an exercise in frustration, bewilderment, and trial-and-error puzzle solving that has seared itself into the minds of millions of gaming veterans.
Now, Disney wants to remake the game, alongside another of their 16-bit platforming classics, Aladdin. This raises the question: should Disney keep the teeth-clenchingly-difficult puzzle as-is, or should they dial down the difficulty to a level that won't send new players straight to YouTube to find a walkthrough?
For those who never cut their teeth on the old classic, here's how the puzzle works: there's a giraffe in Simba's way, and some trees full of monkeys that will toss Simba around if he jumps into their arms. Each monkey will toss Simba in a different, not-always-obvious direction, often into another monkey's waiting arms. Simba can change the directions that certain monkeys throw him by roaring at them.
The goal is to find a way to get the monkeys to throw Simba over the giraffe.
Sound simple? First off, you're lying, because of course that doesn't sound simple. Second, it's even more difficult than it sounds. There are dozens of monkeys, most of which are off-screen at any given time, and no good way to get a lay of the land or reliably know which way the monkeys will toss you without leaping in and seeing what happens.
Add to that a tricky platforming section with deadly consequences if you fail, and you've got the recipe for a migraine-inducing evening.
There are good reasons to think Disney should tone down the difficulty of this puzzle. Famously, the hardest section of the puzzle was added at Disney's request shortly before the game was released.
Back in the day, game companies worried that people renting the game would get through too much of the game before returning it to the store, meaning they'd be less likely to purchase the game afterwards. The most difficult section of the monkey puzzle was developer Westwood's solution to that problem, and it prevented most renters from even beating the second level.
In an interview with Game Informer, Westwood co-founder Louis Castle said that the developers didn't like having to add the puzzle, and he wishes that the team had the time to find a more elegant solution to Disney's demand.
Since the difficult puzzle wasn't part of the developer's original plan, it would make perfect sense to tone it down. It's not like the rest of the game is easy - there's no shortage of grueling battles and brain-scratching puzzles in the later levels, so the game would still harken back to the days of classic platformers when beating a game was an accomplishment rather than an expected result.
But there's a problem: the puzzle is iconic. It's such a well-known roadblock that fans of the original game could feel cheated by its removal. Many people even have the solution to the puzzle memorized, which can be a major point of pride for those who spent hours with the original game. It's also worth noting that a remake would be in widescreen, allowing players to see a larger part of the puzzle at once - that advantage alone might make the puzzle simpler, since it would make the player's position easier to track.
It remains to be seen whether or not Disney plans to keep the puzzle in all its frustrating glory, and there will likely be complaints either way. But regardless of the path the remake takes, the original monkey level will maintain its place among other classic gaming frustrations, such as the jet ski segment in Battletoads or the goat puzzle in Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars.