The Simpsons Game
The Simpsons are just about the most famous TV family on the face of the planet. We all have seen at least one of the crazy adventures of Bart, Homer, Lisa, Marge, Maggie and the others. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that EA realized the amazing potential of a video game based on the yellowy characters from Springfield.
At first sight, The Simpsons Game seems to be just another borderline platforming game with the sole purpose of bringing in lots of cash real quickly.
To a certain extent, that’s true, but the game also has some unique touches that prove that the developers really wanted to make something decent. First of all, the different levels are linked to each other by means of cartoon-style cutscenes like in the series, that are also voiced by the original cast. It all adds to a feeling of authenticity.
The cutscenes also blend in well with the in-game cell-shaded graphics. Though the different characters are a bit blocky (some extra polygons wouldn’t have hurt), they look ‘real’ and move realistically.
Still, it’s primarily the levels that make a lasting impression. They are all well designed, whether you’re hopping around in a chocolate dream world, a historic museum or even a World War II aircraft carrier. Between missions, you can freely explore Springfield in true GTA fashion. You can visit countless well-known Simpsons locations (Moe’s tavern, the houses of the Simpsons and the Flanders, the Kwik-E-Mart,…) or you can try to find all 300 collectibles, scattered around the city.
The gameplay itself is a lot less interesting. You play each mission with two characters (Bart, Lisa, Homer or Marge), who all have their own special powers -next to some elementary fighting combos-.
For example, Bart can shoot his catapult or transform into Bartman, which permits him to float through the air. Homer can turn into Homerball, a big ball of lard that can simply roll over enemies. The game forces you to combine the different skills in order to solve the (easy) puzzles. Switching between the different Simpsons and using their traits is fun, but it’s hardly something original. The levels are strictly linear and contain many elements that we have seen countless times before in other games, such as flipping switches or jumping between platforms.
What sets The Simpsons Game apart is the way it handles those game clichés. When you do standard things, like break crates, do a double jump, stand on pressure switches…,
Comic Book Guy will remind you of that fact, while clearly expressing his contempt. If you find all the clichés in a level, you’ll get a reward. But these aren’t the only thing that demonstrate the game’s tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. Just like the series, The Simpsons Game is in fact one big spoof. It -often in a subtle way- makes fun of other games (Grand Theft Auto, Medal of Honor, EverQuest, Shadow of the Colossus, Okami,…), films (The Matrix, Around the World in 80 Days, Invasion of the Body Snatchers,….) or even Electronic Arts itself! One level is set in one of EA’s game factories, where they mechanically churn out one sequel after another. References to popular culture are rife in the game; my compliments to the few that can notice them all.
Next to the unremarkable gameplay, The Simpsons Game has another serious downside: its camera. It feels surprisingly clunky to keep it behind your character and sometimes the camera suddenly and inexplicably changes viewpoint.
As you all know, that can be frustrating, especially if you miss jumps because of it and have to restart from the last checkpoint. I don’t know whether the bad camera was a conscious decision of EA, but it definitely wasn’t a good one. With a length of around eight hours, The Simpsons Game also isn’t very long, though you can stretch it somewhat by collecting everything. The option to let a second player drop in at any time is a nice addition, however. In co-op, each player controls one character in stead of two.
The Simpsons Game deserves credit for the way it dares to make fun of other games and the games industry in general. However, by focusing on the satirical aspect, the actual gameplay has suffered quite a bit. Because of the simple combat, often annoying camera and run-off-he-mill puzzling and platforming sequences, The Simpsons Game just isn’t as good as it could have been. Nevertheless, it’s a game everyone should at least rent, because the unique atmosphere and great sense of thumour are things that shouldn’t be missed.