Game Corner: The Simpsons Game (Xbox 360)

Released: 30 October 2007
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Also Available For: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable

The Background:
The Simpsons was created by Matt Groening as a series of short cartoons created for The Tracey Ullman Show; jumping at the chance to produce an alternative to the “mainstream trash” that was currently airing, Groening’s yellow-skinned creations soon became a multimedia sensation as “Bartmania” swept the nation. The Simpsons featured in every piece of merchandise imaginable, from action figures and comics to videogames, though the franchise doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to videogame adaptations. For years, Konami’s 1991 arcade game was the stand out but Electronic Arts (EA) sought to change that by working closely with Groening and notable Simpsons writers on a new Simpsons videogame, which was written as a parody of popular videogame tropes and incorporated a cel-shaded graphical style to recreate the aesthetic of the show. The game received a mixed reception; some praised the game’s humour and appeal for die-hard Simpsons fans but others took issue with the game’s mundane combat and puzzles. While EA initially planned to produce a sequel, it was ultimately cancelled and The Simpsons eventually ended up moving to mobile gaming, but, since today is Whacking Day, I figured it would be a good excuse to revisit this title and see how it holds up today.

The Plot:
In a self-referential plot, the Simpsons family (Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie) discover that they are part of a videogame world when they acquire a game guide that grants them the superpowers necessary to not only star in what they hope will be a successful videogame for a change but also defend their town from attacks by aliens and explore videogame worlds in a quest to confront their creator, Matt Groening.

The Simpsons Game is a third-person action game in which players explore a relatively faithful three-dimensional recreation of Springfield, which acts as something of a hub world where you can access the game’s story-based missions as well as enter certain houses, view collectibles, change costumes, and find collectibles. At any one time, you’ll control two of the titular family members; you can switch between them using the directional pad (D-Pad) and swap them out for other combinations at a number of bus stops dotted around the city. If you have a friend, you can play in split-screen co-op but, for the most part, the computer does a decent enough job of following you around, attacking enemies, and pressing switches as needed (and if they don’t, you can just swap over to the other character using the D-Pad).

Homer puts his weight to good use while Marge nags others into doing her bidding.

The game’s basic controls are the same for every character with the exception of Maggie: X punches (press three times and hit Y for a pretty basic “Power Combo”), Y allows you to interact with the environment to pull levers, press buttons, and talk to non-playable characters (NPCs), and A sees your character jump (press again in mid-air for a double jump). You can also hold down the Left Trigger to target enemies or objects, bring up your current objectives with the ‘Back’ button, and will automatically cling to certain ledges when you jump or fall down near them. However, each Simpsons character has different Special Attacks performed by both pressing and holding the B button and use of certain intractable objects and the Left and Right Triggers. Homer can stun enemies with a burb, transform into a massive Homer Ball that lets him blast along at high speeds and slam into enemies and destructible objects by jumping and pressing X, use air canisters to become the light-weight Helium Homer and float about with A or blast ahead in a burst of gas for a short period of time, and later transform into a gelatinous form that lets him toss gummi projectiles. Marge uses her megaphone to recruit nearby NPCs, whom she can direct to attack enemies, destroy targets, or clean up the environment. She can also send Maggie into special vents; Maggie is controlled through a first-person perspective and simply crawls around until you find a button or object to fire her dummy at with Y.

While Bart fires pellets and glides, Lisa blasts enemies with her sax and the Hand of Buddha.

Bart comes armed with his slingshot, which fires a number of different projectiles that change depending on your environment; Bart’s ammo, like all of the character’s Special Attacks, is limited only by your Power Meter, which automatically refills over time and can be refilled by defeating enemies or collecting dropped power-ups like food or flowers. Bart can also turn into Bartman and glide for short periods by holding RT, ride air currents in the same way, climb up vines and certain surfaces, and grapple to special hooks to reach new areas sand solve puzzles. Lisa can stun nearby enemies with a blast of her saxophone or compel them to fight on her behalf. By interacting with Buddha Statues, she can also control the Hand of Buddha to lift and drop objects, freeze, flick, and electrocute enemies, all of which is essential for creating bridges, solving puzzles, and completing story-based objectives.

The game features a few puzzles but only a handful amount to more than switches and buttons.

The Simpsons Game is made up of sixteen missions, labelled “Episodes”, indicated by beams of light around Springfield. Springfield is quite large and full of things to distract yourself with, such as collectibles and recreations of iconic locations from the show, such as the school and Kwik-E-Mart, with your opportunities for exploration opening up as you progress and unlock more of the Simpsons’ abilities. While the game only features a map on one particular mission, the levels are so linear that you won’t really need one and you can utilise a fast travel system to quickly get around Springfield if you need to. The Simpsons are relatively durable; your character’s health will slowly refill if you avoid damage for a short time and you can revive your fallen partner by pressing Y near their downed body. A series of checkpoints and auto saves help to keep you going when you inevitably slip off a ledge thanks to the game’s janky camera, which can get a bit stuck and troubled when you’re not in a wide, open area. Combat is quite monotonous, for the most part as your character’s attack range is quite short and your fighting ability is basically limited to that one combo (though each character pulls it off a little differently). Combat is made more interesting by the different Special Attacks, allowing you to pick enemies off at a distance with Bart, have Marge direct her mob to overwhelm foes, or blast them away with the Hand of Buddha, and it’s generally kept to short, sharp bursts. The remainder of the game is made up of some awkward platforming (as mentioned, it’s pretty easy to slip off ledges and jumping across platforms can be a bit tricky as your jump doesn’t take you very far and they can be difficult to judge) and some pretty simply puzzles. These mainly consist of pulling a lever, standing on pressure pads (often with both characters), and pressing buttons as well as using your Special Abilities to reach one of these intractable objects.

Gameplay is given some variety by parodying other, more successful videogames.

Occasionally, you’ll have to battle against a time limit, fending off enemies and activating switches to reach new areas, and more often than not you’ll be using your Special Attacks to progress through levels; this amounts to shooting targets, moving stuff about with the Hand of Buddha, or having Marge direct a mob towards specific targets. Invariably, gameplay is broken up with a few sections that are clear references to classic videogames; these see you hopping from logs and crocodiles across a river, fending off waves of aliens, and keeping ice cream trucks safe in clear tributes to Frogger (Konami, 1981), Space Invaders (Taito, 1978), and Missile Command (Atari, Inc., 1980). You’ll also be platforming across conveyor belts, dodging wood cutting machinery, and be joined by a recognisable NPC in a couple of missions who’ll help you fend off killer dolphins and aliens. It isn’t really until the penultimate Episode of the game that you’ll see some proper variety in the gameplay, however: here, you play through four missions parodying more modern titles, such as Medal of Honor (DreamWorks Interactive, 1999) and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Rockstar North, 2004), gaining new abilities and outfits in the process. This sees you defending a town of fantasy creatures from a two-headed dragon and navigating through both a top-down and third-person dungeon in a parody of fantasy role-playing games (RPGs), collecting flags, defending a jeep from turrets and mines, and using C4 to scale a battleship, traversing a Japanese land of fire and ice that resembles both Ōkami (Clover Studio, 2006) and Pokémon (Game Freak/Various, 1996 to present), and battling through a rundown neighbourhood of pimps and hoes. Essentially, however, you’ll encounter the same puzzles and obstacles repeated over and over but in different environments and with slightly different enemies, which is just enough to keep things relatively interesting despite how troublesome the combat and platforming can be.

Graphics and Sound:
Thanks to incorporating a cel-shaded graphical style, The Simpsons Game holds up relatively well; Springfield is easily the game’s most impressive environment, being unquestionably the largest and most accurate videogame interpretation of the famous fictional town, but it is quite barren. Sure, NPCs wander around and spout lines at you and it’ll be invaded by aliens later in the game, but you can only enter a handful of the most recognisable buildings and houses and there aren’t any side quests to occupy your time beyond hunting down each character’s collectibles.

Many of the environments are decent recreations of memorable Simpsons episodes and locations.

Environments continue to shine in each of the game’s Episodes; these will load in new areas of the city that are self-contained levels separate from the overworld and are full of awesome call-backs to popular videogame franchises. These are most evident in the videogame factory, which contains parodies of Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog and enemies lampooning the Madden NFL (EA Tiburon/Various, 1988 to present) and Street Fighter (Capcom/Various, 1987 to present) franchises, and the aforementioned fantasy mission that parodies both EverQuest (Verant Interactive/989 Studios, 1999) and the Legend of Zelda (Nintendo EAD/Various, 1985 to present) franchise. You’ll also visit a number of recognisable locations from the Simpsons cartoon, such as the pier, the Land of Chocolate, Mayor “Diamond” Joe Quimby’s building and office, the Springfield Natural History Museum, and the game features a couple of Episodes based on specific “Treehouse of Horror” episodes.

The in-game cutscenes and 3D models pale in comparison to the top-notch 2D animation.

For the most part, the in-game graphics are perfectly suited to rendering these environments and the character models. Everything is very bright and light on detail, similar to the cartoon, playable characters all have idle animations and plenty to say, and the game does its best to recreate the aesthetic style of the show at every opportunity. Unfortunately, the game also features a number of traditionally animated cutscenes that stand out in stark contrast to the ugly cel-shaded, 3D models that can look distorted and disturbing when characters talk and interact using the in-game graphics. Why the developers didn’t simply use 2D animation for all the cutscenes is beyond me but ugly 3D models are expected when creating a videogame based on a traditionally 2D medium. The game somewhat makes up for this by featuring an abundance of voice acting from the entire Simpsons cast; while you’ll recognise a lot of jokes recycled from the cartoon and quickly grow tired of the same exclamations and catchphrases being spouted again and again, the game’s writing and humour is generally on-point for the show and I was mostly satisfied with the game’s overall presentation.

Enemies and Bosses:
You’ll battle against a wide variety of enemies in The Simpsons Game. Well, I use the term “variety” loosely because while you’ll face lumberjacks, thinly veiled parodies of Ryu, gun-toting Scratchys, aliens wielding boards with nails in them, and killer dolphins, they generally all fall into the same predictable categories. This means that battling sumo wrestlers who resemble Comic Book Guy is very similar to fending off Groening’s army of lawyers as, beyond a handful of unique attacks for some enemies, enemies can generally be categorised as melee attackers and ranged attackers. Typically, enemies will spawn in from a central point (a porto-potty or pimpmobile, for example) and you’ll need to destroy these spawning points to clear enemies out of the area and you’ll have to battle all of the game’s enemies when you reach the game’s final mission. Easily the most annoying enemies come before this, however, as Matt Groening spawns in an infinite number of Benders and Doctor Zoidbergs to hassle you as you try and bring him down.

The game’s larger bosses require a bit of team work to bring down.

Each Episode ends in either a boss battle or something akin to it; while fighting through the Springfield Natural History Museum, you’ll run across bullies Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearny and you’ll need to take each of the three out by shooting targets to drop them or chase them away and then glide and platform across planets in the planetarium to finish off Jimbo all while dodging blasts from their laser guns. You’ll also need to blast Homer through a renaissance fayre and smash up a recreation of the Statue of Liberty to win his eating contest and use the Hand of Buddha to rescue Lenny and Carl from a giant woodchipper as Lisa and Bart. When in the “Game Engine” Episode, you’ll have to platform your way through a factory of parodies to battle a satire of Donkey Kong; the giant ape tosses explosive barrels at you and sends an infinite number of minions your way who you’ll need to flick back at him with the Hand of Buddha when he steps forward on his stage. Perhaps the most well-known boss is Lard Lad, a gigantic doughnut mascot come to life who rampages through a construction site blasting at you with his eye lasers and who sends swarms of evil Krusty dolls your way. To take Lard Lad down, you must distract him with Homer so that Bart can get around behind him and blast at the three targets on his back and butt, which briefly opens up panels you can glide to in order to rip out his wires and send him crashing to the ground.

While some bosses require a bit of strategy, Mr. Burns folds faster than Superman on laundry day.

Rather than have to battle with recurring antagonist Sideshow Bob, Bart’s would-be-murderer is restricted to, and defeated in, a cutscene, leaving you to fend off aliens in that Space Invaders homage I mentioned above and alongside Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel when inside their mothership. You’ll also have to contend with Snorky, leader of the killer dolphins, who stands far out of reach in the Springfield aquarium; luckily, you can send him tumbling into the water beneath him with Bart’s slingshot and then drop an electrifying jellyfish into the water three times to defeat him as the Sea Captain helps you fend off his minions. In the EverQuest parody, you’ll have to battle a two-headed dragon baring Selma and Patty’s faces; the first time you encounter this, she’s flying around a village and setting fire to houses. You need to have Marge direct her mob to put out the fires and then have Homer bash into the dragon when she hovers between one of the village’s bridges and then have the mob attack her when she’s downed. After fighting through the dungeon, you’ll battle her again in a homage to single-screen arcade games like Mario Bros. (Nintendo R&D1, 1983) that sees you bashing into her using Helium Homer while fending off the Orc Moes she spawns with her eggs. In the Medal of Honor parody stage, you’ll get to punch out multiple versions of César and Ugolin, sailor-garbed versions of Waylon Smithers, and destroy turrets before finally facing off with Private Charles Montgomery Burns…which boils down to you simply landing your combo and knocking him out.

After a fun turn-based boss and an aggravating battle with Groening, it all boils down to a rhythm game.

Things get interesting when Homer and Lisa travel to a Japanese land and have to defeat and capture three Sparklemon to awaken Mister Sparkle by battling against three very familiar looking monsters controlled by Jimbo, Sherri and Terri, and Ralph Wiggum in traditional turn-based RPG battles that are reminiscent of both Pokémon and the Final Fantasy franchise (Square Enix/Various, 1987 to present). Although Homer and Lisa’s attack options are limited, each Sparklemon has a weakness to a specific attack so it doesn’t take much to defeat the three and, similarly, thanks to the Space Invaders-like mini game from earlier, it’s not too taxing to bring down Poochie in the “Grand Theft Scratchy” mission; simply use the Hand of Buddha to drop explosive barrels on his minions before they destroy the ice cream trucks and then have Marge direct her mob to destroy Poochie’s stage. By far the most annoying and frustrating boss is the penultimate battle against Matt Groening himself; first, you must wade through an army of high-priced lawyers to storm his grandiose mansion and then he spawns an endless swarm of Benders and Dr. Zoidbergs all while pits of molten gold sap your health and Groening tosses projectiles at you. To defeat him, you need to use Ball Homer to hit him when he’s exposed and you’ll need to have Bart glide and climb up to levers to get him into position. Finally, the grand dining table will angle up into a launching pad for you to blast up as Ball Homer to bring Groening down but the game doesn’t end there. With Springfield still under attack, the family heads to Heaven itself and has to battle every single enemy they’ve faced in the game’s previous missions and even William Shakespeare and Thomas Jefferson. While Shakespeare is easily defeated using Bart’s halos, Jefferson duplicates into smaller versions of himself when hit and can instantly kill you and your partners with his key attack, making him a troublesome foe. God himself is a complete cakewalk though; rather than require you to utilise the skills you’ve built up over the game, this final boss is a simple parody of music rhythm games like Guitar Hero (Harmonix, 2005) that has you pressing the D-Pad at the right moments to defeat him and is a bit of an anti-climatic final trial.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you defeat enemies, they’ll drop power, food, ammo, and other items to refill your health and Power Meter. You can also smash crates and other objects to help with this and, if you find all of the collectibles in each Episode, you’ll extend your health bar, which is a nice incentive to explore your environments. Although I didn’t play alongside a human partner, it doesn’t seem as though there are any co-op attacks you can use and the extent of your co-operation boils down to you fending off enemies or activating certain switches with your different Special Attacks.

Each character can grab a power-up to become temporarily stronger and invincible.

Each character acquires additional Special Attacks as you progress for the story but you’ll simply be gifted the remainder of them by Professor Frink after you rescue your low-pixel counterparts. Each character also has a power-up they can collect that will temporarily make them invincible and boost their attack power by transforming them further. Bart becomes Robo-Bart and shoots lasers from his eyes, Lisa and Marge become Clobber Girl and Cop Marge, respectively, which makes them super strong, and Homer eats a Guatemalan Insanity Pepper to become a burning version of Ball Homer.

Additional Features:
The Simpsons Game comes with forty-four Achievements for you to earn; unfortunately, virtually none of these are tied to anything more than completing the game’s Episodes and beating the various time challenges. You’ll get a 5G Achievement just for starting the game, and a 0G Achievement when you die ten times, but there aren’t any fun ones like visiting Moe’s Tavern as Homer or the school as Bart or anything like that.

Clichés, collectibles, and time challenges add to the game’s replay value.

Every single character has a number of collectibles to collect; these are strewn across the length and breadth of the Springfield overworld and hidden in each Episode and it’ll often require your Special Attacks and abilities to hunt them down. Collecting them all extends your health bar, as mentioned, but also unlocks trophies to display in the Simpson’s house, unlocks alternate attires, and will net you Achievements. You’ll also encounter videogame clichés, seemingly at random, which will add to your overall completion score but hunting down everything will definitely require a guide and a lot of patience. You can replay any mission from the main menu at any time to hunt down anything you’ve missed and you’ll also get to take on a number of time challenges for a series of 5G Achievements. These are a bit more than just finishing an Episode quickly, as well, and have you rescuing NPCs, fending off enemies, playing some of the mini games, or performing other tasks against a time limit which all helps to add a little variety to the game.

The Summary:
I remember being largely underwhelmed and frustrated when I first played The Simpsons Game on the PlayStation 3; a janky camera, dodgy controls, and lack of Trophies hurt my experience with the game but revisiting it for this playthrough on the Xbox 360 was a far more enjoyable affair. It’s a flawed game, for sure, but not quite as bad as most videogame adaptations tend to be; for one thing, it seems as though some time and effort was put into the game, particularly in its writing and presentation, and the parodies of popular and classic videogames made for some amusing moments. It’s fun exploring Springfield, interacting with recognisable Simpsons characters, and playing through new versions of classic episodes from the cartoon and the family’s different abilities are generally quite fun, if aggravating at times (though a lot of these issues can probably be solved by having a human partner to play alongside, which would cut down the back and forth and solve puzzles faster). Sadly, the ugly cel-shaded cutscenes let the game down somewhat, as does the repetitive and uninspired combat, puzzles, and platforming; it also feels like the developers played it a bit safe by doing a metatextual plot and Springfield is a little too barren at times. Still, it’s a decent enough title if you can find it at a decent price and probably the best Simpsons videogame for its attempt at variety and more fitting use of the license.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of The Simpsons Game? Which of the playable characters was your favourite? What did you think to the recreation of Springfield and recycling of elements from the show? How do you feel the game holds up today and what did you think to the way it parodied other videogames? What is your favourite Simpsons game? Do you have a favourite character, episode, or moment from the show? How are you celebrating Whacking Day today? Whatever your thoughts on the world’s most famous yellow family, feel free to leave a comment below and be sure to check back in for more Simpsons content!

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