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The Simpsons

Tearing up Springfield, one cliché at a time.
Ever since Bart Vs. The Space Mutants, I’ve dreaded playing games based on North America’s favorite animated family, The Simpsons. It took a lot of years before a decent game came out in the form of Hit and Run, but even that suffered some issues. Then news of this new Simpson’s platformer surfaced, and it looked excellent. Video games are a world that deserves to be parodied, and who better to do it than Bart, Marge, Homer and Lisa? The promotional campaign for this title alone was enough to get this fan (not rabid mind you) to take notice. Seeing Patty and Selma as a two headed dragon and a sequence which utilizes a young Abe and Monty Burns as the Fighting Hellfish!? I’m so in for this.

As the game progresses you gain control of the members of the Simpson family, and as Bart discovers early in the title, they realize they are trapped in a videogame and with that comes special powers. Bart has the Bartman costume which lets him glide and float with his cape in addition to his zipline ability; he also never leaves home without his trusty slingshot. Homer can turn into a giant ball of flab, or a Gummi version of himself complete with Gummi Grenades. The two less interesting characters are Marge and Lisa. Marge can use her power of persuasion to command a mob of people to do her bidding, be it fighting a crooked cop or rebuilding a slum. She also carried Maggie on her back, allowing her to be used for very small sections of the game which rely on crawling through air ducts or other such small locales. Lisa uses the dreaded saxophone as her weapon of choice, but also can employ a Hand of Buddha mode which moves the game into a top down mode where you manipulate the hand to grab and move various obstacles around the level. Aside from the special character specific moves, each has the same basic attack and the same combo for each is your best bet X, X, Y.

The game tries to disguise itself like a sandbox title by opening up Springfield to you between levels. However, all there really is to do when not in a level is jump around the town looking for one of the collectables that are laid out for your particular character. Yes, this means that each of the four family members have numerous items to find in each level, as well as the hub world. Think that’s cliché? In a move to cover up just how filled to the brim with gaming clichés this game has, the developers have added a clever tweak to distract you, and actually make you want to search them out. Each time you expose an overused videogame scenario, the Comic Book Guy pops up to make a snide remark about the cliché you’ve exposed. Yes, I know the game is parody but shouldn’t a parody also try to advance the genre they’re making fun of? So rather than add new things to become clichés, let’s just use all the ones we can think of, then reward the gamer for finding the massive saw blades, or for falling into a chasm.
Please, this trickery may work on some but I smell some lazy game creation.

As we saw during the ad campaign, level design was quite varied and creative featuring levels that covered WWII, the world of online MMORPGs, and even a mansion that is littered with piles of cash and gold. Each level plays slightly different as well, and each also requires a specific character. It would be tough to complete a level that’s packed with steaming vents only to not have Bart and his cape to take advantage of them. The game does inform you of the correct character for each level, but oddly it only required one to be in your active team of two, and the secondary character is switched by the game as needed.

The biggest positive to this game is by far the level of humor integrated into the title. This game is a riot to play, if only to hear the comments on passing characters as you wander Springfield. And it’s not only the videogame industry which is a target in this game, as I heard remarks that called out the creationism vs. Evolution angle, as well as a couple of blatant digs on Republicans and the current president of the USA. A fellow reviewer on the site said that this game was “one of the best episodes” of the Simpsons yet, and while the animated cut scenes definitely were entertaining, and when looked at in conjunction with the game I will agree it’s a great thing, but not one of the best.

Speaking of animation, the game is full of classic Simpsons animation; and by classic I mean cartoon, not CGI. There’s nothing recycled about the footage found in here, and most of it is quite entertaining. Even the rendered cut scenes are entertaining while watching, but the visual level is so much poorer when using the in game engine to tell a joke. However, cut scenes aside this game looks excellent; it looks like you are playing a 3D version of the TV show. I really have nothing bad to say about how the game looks, but damn could some additional effort not have been put into the camera? Time after time I’d want to adjust the camera to get a better handle on a location or even to line up my next move but was unable to adjust a particular direction, or even at all. It only got to the point of being near unplayable a couple of times, but even once is inexcusable for games these days, especially one with a high profile license like this one. Also worth noting is the excellent voice work and audio in the title. The well known score is included here and remixed many ways, including an excellent mashup with the Frogger theme in one of the game parodies in the game. The voice acting as mentioned is spectacular. All characters have perfectly recorded voices, including the bit pieces like Smithers and Sideshow Bob.

In addition to the single player mode, a 2nd player can join in the game at any time and pick up the role of the secondary character. While in free roam mode you can use any character you’d like, similar to the single player campaign you’ll need to use the level specific character when entering new locations.

Just barely over one third of the achievement points for The Simpsons can be unlocked just by simply playing through the game. I personally am not once to collect all items in a game, so a large portion of the points are locked to me. Also, as you progress through the game you unlock a time challenge mode, each of which has a tough to beat par time and if you beat that you not only gain international fame thanks to the ranking system, but you’ll also get achievement points.

While playing through the game was actually quite enjoyable thanks to the humor aspect, the gameplay itself is very uninspired and quite frankly a little dull. Why oh why does the Medal of Homer level not feature massive gunplay rather than the flag collecting that is does? Oh, that’s right – to make fun of the French. Even new features like Lisa’s Hand of Buddha could’ve been interesting, but it was a one trick pony, even when new methods of attack are introduced. And the Pikmin inspired Marge sequences are slightly entertaining, but there absolutely is no challenge to them. Despite my unlocking of the Pwned achievement, the Simpsons is not a difficult game by any standard and can easily be completed in a single day. While perfectionists will likely take longer than the roughly 7 hour game thanks to massive numbers of collectable items, it’s still a game that can easily be completed in a rental.