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!

Talking Movies: The Simpsons Movie

Talking Movies

Released: 27 July 2007
Director: David Silverman
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Budget: $75 million
Stars: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Harry Shearer, and Albert Brooks

The Plot:
When Homer Simpson (Castellaneta) pollutes the lake in Springfield, Russ Cargill (Brooks), head of the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) imprisons the town under a giant dome. Although the Simpson family narrowly escape, they ultimately abandon Homer due to his selfishness and he is left to find a way to redeem his folly to help save the town and reunite with his family.

The Background:
Soon after the first episode of The Simpsons (1988 to present) aired, their iconic yellow visages were seemingly everywhere as “Bartmania” swept the nation. Creator Matt Groening and the other showrunners first considered a feature-length adaptation early into the show’s run, but these plans were scuppered by the show’s popularity and ratings. Work began in earnest on the venture in 2003, when The Simpsons was entering its fifteenth season, with the creators bringing in some of their most successful writers to work on the script, which went through over one hundred revisions and eventually included cameos from almost every character in the show’s long history. Following a unique marketing campaign, The Simpsons Movie finally released to mixed to favourable reviews. While the show has had an impressive run and been incredible popular, many felt that felt that movie (despite being a massive box office success and earning almost $540 million) failed to live up to the expectations set by the show’s peak and its years in development.

The Review:
The Simpsons Movie opens in true fourth-wall breaking fashion with the family (and, seemingly, the rest of Springfield) attending a screening of an Itchy & Scratchy movie, during which Homer openly criticises the stupidity of audiences everywhere for their willingness to “[pay] to see something [they] get on TV for free”. In many ways, this sets the tone for the story that is to follow since The Simpsons Movie is, basically, like an extended episode of the series rather than a true, one-of-a-kind cinematic experience like, say, Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (Judge, 1996) or South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (Parker, 1999)m which took the concepts of their respective animated shows and expanded upon them using their new medium rather than simply repeating a lot of the same tropes and traditions from the show.

Despite Grandpa’s prophetic ramblings, the Simpson family have more immediate concerns.

The story begins proper when the Simpsons (and, again, apparently the rest of the town), attend church and Grandpa Abe Simpson (Castellaneta) has a sudden and prophetic turn that greatly disturbs Marge (Kavner). The rest of the family, however, is happy to ignore Grandpa’s warnings of a “twisted tale, a thousand eyes, trapped forever, [and] eeepa!” to concentrate on more pressing concerns such as Homer’s many chores and Lisa’s (Smith) attempts to warn the town about the benefits of recycling and repairing their damaged environment (especially after the heavily polluted lake resulted in the untimely deaths of Green Day). While Marge is unable to drop the subject and spends the first half of the film trying to figure out what Grandpa’s words could mean, Homer dares Bart (Cartwright) to skateboard through the town naked (resulting in an amusing sequence where the film does everything possible to hide Bart’s junk and then just shows us it). When Homer refuses to take responsibility for Bart’s indecency, Bart begins to grow frustrated with his Dad’s shabby parenting and gravitates towards the support and caring nature of their long-time neighbour, Ned Flanders (Shearer).

Homer’s obsession with Spider-Pig escalates his selfishness and stupidity to new levels.

Indeed, Homer only exacerbates Bart’s ill feelings towards him by adopting, and showing more care and concern for, a pig. Homer’s selfish and reckless ways are a pivotal catalyst in many of the film’s events as they not only drive Bart further away from him (and, at one  point, literally to drink) but also earn him the ire of his entire family (especially the environmentally-conscious Lisa) and the town when he disobeys Mayor “Diamond” Joe Quimby’s (Castellaneta) mandate that all pollution of Springfield Lake must immediately stop by dumping Spider-Pig’s faeces into the lake and incurring the wrath of the E.P.A.

Russ Cargill is determined to isolate and destroy Springfield to contain their pollution.

Their representative is, of course, Russ Cargill (who sounds so much like Hank Scorpio (Brooks) that it may as well have been the same character), a somewhat-unhinged government official who is absolutely determined to first isolate and then wipe out Springfield. Cunning and power-mad, Cargill easily manipulates the incompetent President Arnold Schwarzenegger (Shearer), imprisons Springfield within an inescapable dome, and then plots to destroy the entire town to avoid his actions being exposed to the world. His mission borders on obsession and it’s implied that he’s simply gone mad with power but his fixation on Springfield (which eventually leads to him being willing to shoot Homer in the face) isn’t really explained all that much beyond him simply wanting to prove that he’s the best at what he does.

For me, the movie slows down and falls off the rails a bit once the family are driven away to Alaska.

Honestly, for me, the best parts of the film are those that take place in Springfield; once the Simpsons are driven out of the dome and end up in Alaska, the film really loses its way and slows down a bit. Understandably, Homer’s actions cause a lot of friction and resentment in his family and his unwillingness to save their town from destruction provides Marge with yet another perfect excuse to leave Homer. It’s not the first time Homer and Marge have split up, broken up, or fallen out or the first time that the family have been driven from town by an angry mob and, honestly, these were tired tropes even then and the only real difference here is that they’re in Alaska so there’s a lot of snow about.

The Nitty-Gritty:
One major positive of The Simpsons Movie is the vast and immediately noticeable improvement in the animation quality; even little things like adding shadows to the characters makes them pop out more and appear more cinematic and there are far more elaborate and dynamic shots of the town and its citizens. Everything looks and feels much bigger and like more time, effort, and money has gone into making every scene as good as it possibly can be; it’s just a shame, then, that more of the film doesn’t actually take place in Springfield so we can really see the benefits of this. Indeed, while we get to see much of the town, a lot of key areas and locations are only briefly glimpsed and, similarly, some of the show’s more entertaining supporting characters are reduced to mere cameos or cut entirely.

Homer’s buffoonery and stupidity are unusually neglectful and selfish in the movie.

On the plus side, this does service the main focus of the plot, which is on the Simpson family; one thing that does separate The Simpsons Movie from most episodes of the show is its emphasis on drama and conflict within the family. This drives Marge not only to take the kids and leave Homer but also puts Homer on the path to self-discovery in the Alaskan wilderness; however, considering Homer’s actions are uncharacteristically selfish and his stupidity and self-serving ways and dialled up way past eleven this time around, it’s difficult to really root for him. This is troublesome for me as Homer is one of my favourite characters of the show; his bumbling ways are usually amusing and endearing but, here they’re just callous and foolhardy simply because the plot has to happen and the lessons he learns from the Medicine Woman (Tress MacNeille) are really ones he’s already learnt in the series and should already know.

Sight gags and physical comedy are a big part of The Simpsons Movie‘s humour.

Of course, being that it’s The Simpsons, The Simpsons Movie also features a bevvy of jokes and humour; some of these are simple gags, such as Homer literally being stuck between a rock and a hard place, Drederick Tatum (Hank Azaria) attempting to punch his way out of the dome, Homer’s middle finger salute to the angry mob, and the aforementioned mob heading away from the Simpsons’ house in their mission to lynch the family. Other humorous moments I enjoyed included Cletus Spuckler (ibid) proving that Quimby’s idiot-proof barrier works, Homer urging Spider-Pig to drive away from the polluted lake and being fooled by his reflection in the dome, Marge stopping amidst the burning of their house to do the dishes, and Lisa punching out Bart when he taunts her.

While a lot of the jokes are great, not all of them land and I could’ve lived without the gorge scene.

Similarly, there’s some very funny lines in the film, such as when Cargill’s men admonish Bart for scratching the chains of his manacles, the gag at the service station when Bart randomly scribbles over the family’s wanted posted and a group who look just like his doodles walks in, the entire sequence at the government spy centre, Cargill’s mental rant about tough guys and soft guys, and Marge’s sudden and unexpected cry of “Somebody throw the Goddamn bomb!” Unfortunately, not every gag and reference works that well; there’s a particularly outdated reference to Titanic (Cameron, 1997) at the Green Day concert, probably one too many anti-gay jokes and gags, and I really could have done without another visit to Springfield Gorge (though it was funny to see the crashed ambulance was still there). Likewise, while the Spider-Pig song was amusing the first few times, it (like the pig itself) quickly becomes grating and annoying.

Sadly, the film had little lasting impact on the series, which rigidly stuck to the status quo.

I think one thing that also disappoints about the film is that it could have been a really good opportunity to spice up the show after nearly twenty seasons (at the time) but introducing some actual changes and fallout from the movie. Instead, no real, lasting repercussions are ever really felt following the film’s conclusion; Colin (MacNeille) disappears despite how interesting it might have been to develop Lisa’s character with a boyfriend, Spider-Pig is reduced to mere cameos and a largely insignificant role despite how important he is to the film, and even Doctor Nick Riviera (Azaria), who appears to die, turns up alive and well in subsequent episodes. I get it, obviously; you don’t want to risk alienating long-term viewers with sudden unexplained changes but, surely long-time fans of the series saw the film and would understand any changes made to the show’s formula.

The Summary:
The Simpsons Movie was a long time in the making…maybe too long, judging by the quality of the story and the resulting film. It’s not an especially bad premise, to be fair, and results in some funny moments and gags but I can think of several episodes of the show that are funnier or could have been expanded, or combined, into an even more entertaining feature-length film. As a reflection on the film and their love/hate dynamic, it works; the film’s more dramatic elements are interesting and it’s clear that the filmmakers were trying to emphasis a few undeveloped aspects of the family, such as Bart’s relationship with Homer and Homer’s destructive ways, but, since the movie had no lasting repercussions on the show and their characterisations, it almost feels like a waste of time and potential. In the end, The Simpsons Movie is less of a celebration of everything that works about The Simpsons and more a blatant attempt to recapture some of the show’s earlier magic and failing just short of the mark. Rather than try and be a truly unique cinematic experience, the filmmakers played things way too safe and took what would have been a semi-interesting premise for an episode and blew it up to feature length rather than trying to craft something more unique and memorable and, while it’s amusing and entertaining enough, it ultimately fails to live up to its potential as a truly unforgettable experience.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Did you enjoy The Simpsons Movie? Do you think it was worth the long wait or were you, like me, somewhat disappointed with the end result, especially compared to feature-length versions of other animated shows? What did you think to Homer’s characterisation in the film, Bart’s sub-plot with Flanders, and Lisa’s sub-plot with Colin? Did you like Russ Cargill and the plot about the dome, and Homer’s voyage of self-discovery in Alaska? What were some of your favourite moments from the movie? Which member of the Simpson family, or the cast of the show, is your favourite? What are some of your favourite episodes and moments from the series? Perhaps you prefer a different animated series; if so, what is it? How are you celebrating Scotchtoberfest this month? Whatever your thoughts on The Simpsons Movie, or The Simpsons in general, drop a comment down below.

Game Corner: The Simpsons (PlayStation 3)

Released: 8 February 2012
Originally Released: 4 March 1991
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Original Developer: Konami
Also Available For: Arcade, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

The Background:
The Simpsons began life as a series of short cartoons created by Matt Groening for The Tracey Ullman Show, with Groening hastily naming each of the family members after himself and his own family and the characters coloured yellow by colourist Georgie Peluse simply because it was deemed amusing. In 1989, Groening was approached by a team of production companies to produce a series of half-hour episodes focusing on his dysfunctional family for the Fox Broadcasting Company. Groening jumped at the chance to produce an alternative to the “mainstream trash” that was currently airing and The Simpsons eventually premiered in late 1989. The show became a multimedia juggernaut after “Bartmania” gripped the nation; in addition to the long-running series, The Simpsons featured in every piece of merchandise imaginable, from action figures and comics to videogames.

I’ve played this game out in the wild before but it was great to see it re-released, however briefly.

While the majority of these early videogames are notoriously poor, one stood out for its high quality graphics and addictive beat-‘em-up gameplay and that was the arcade game produced by Konami. It was surprising how well the developers adapted the Simpsons concept to a sidescrolling beat-‘em-up however, while the game was somewhat restricted by the relatively short run of the show at the time, what really gave the game its prestige was its obscurity. I’ve been lucky enough to play this out in the wild over the years so, naturally, I jumped at the chance to get it when it was finally re-released on the PlayStation Network in 2012; sadly, the game has since been delisted, meaning there is no easily accessible way to play this classic beat-‘em-up title, but Whacking Day seems like a great excuse to revisit it nonetheless.

The Plot:
Whilst out shopping, the Simpsons accidentally bump into Waylon Smithers as he is stealing a giant diamond for his employer, the greedy and malicious Charles Montgomery Burns. When the diamond lands in Maggie’s mouth, Smithers kidnaps her and the Simpsons are forced to pursue him to rescue her.

The Simpsons is a 2D, sidescrolling beat-‘em-up in which up to four players travel from the left side of the screen to the right through a variety of familiar Simpsons locations while pummelling wave-upon-wave of goons and other assorted enemies. Unlike some four-player beat-‘em-ups, any player can select any character and you’ll even be able to pull off unique double team moves with each member of the Simpsons family. There are four characters to choose from (Bart, Homer, Marge, and Lisa) and, though each one controls exactly the same, it does seem as though each one has slightly different pros and cons and each one attacks in a slightly different way.

Gameplay is incredibly simple, utlising only two buttons and a variety of attack animations.

For example, Bart and Lisa are smaller and faster, making it easier to manoeuvre around the screen and to avoid enemy attacks, while Homer and Marge are much taller and slower. Bart glides along on his skateboard, which he also uses to attack enemies; Lisa skips around using a skipping rope (which she also uses to attack); Homer attacks with his fists (and seems to have the shortest range as a result); and Marge whacks enemies with her vacuum cleaner, giving her the longest reach but a slightly slower attack than, say, Bart or Lisa. Gameplay couldn’t be simpler: you just move to the right and attack enemies until you reach the end of the stage where you’ll battle a boss. There are no special moves or complicated button presses and combos to worry about here; X jumps and Square attacks and that’s pretty much it. You can perform jumping attacks and each character has a unique combo attack (Bart whirls around like a spinning top and Homer flails his fists in a frenzy, for example) that is performed by simply mashing X but you can’t grab or throw enemies and there’s no dash function but you can pick up and throw items and objects at enemies.

Gameplay is briefly broken up by some good, old-fashioned button mashing.

While 99% of the game is a mindless, monotonous beat-‘em-up, The Simpsons livens things up not just with its bright, cartoony graphics, quirky features, and sound bites but also through its level variety and a couple of Bonus Stages. The first of these has you mashing buttons to pump up a balloon and the second has you doing the same thing to slap your character back to consciousness. It’s not much, and the computer-controlled opponents are ridiculously hard to beat, but it helps to break things up a little bit. The quirkiness of the game helps with that, too. Since the game was made so early in The Simpsons’ lifespan, much of the show’s characterisations and format had yet to be properly established. As a result, Smithers is a maniacal villain and many of the obscure and fleeting inclusions from the show (such as the bear, Homer’s dreamland, Princess Kashmir, and Professor Werner von Brawn) are much more prominent over characters like Abe Simpson, Milhouse Van Houton, and Otto Mann (who all show up in brief cameos to drop off weapons or health items) and some (like Kent Brockman) are missing entirely in favour of numerous cameos by Groening’s rabbit, Binky. Still, similar to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Konami, 1989), cartoony slapstick and a vibrant aesthetic keep the game enjoyable to look at and play: characters will fly at the screen when smacked by doors, use speech bubbles to shout at you to wriggle the joystick when enemies grab them, and the game does a decent job of recreating certain locations from the show even if some are a little more obscure than others (such as Krustyland and Springfield Butte).

Graphics and Sound:
The Simpsons is a bright, vivid, and lively beat-‘em-up full of big, colourful sprites, cartoony effects, and a decent amount of detail packed into every animation and location. Each character has several frames of animation, even when standing idle; they’ll quickly grow impatient with you if you leave them too long and often speak using both sound bites and word balloons. Additionally, when attacking or being attacked, each character has many frames of animation that allows them to attack in a flurry, be sent tumbling backwards, or return to life in the guise of a superhero.

The game’s selection of Simpsons locations is a little questionable at times.

Considering, as I mentioned before, how early into the show’s run the game was produced, stage variety is commendable…if a bit wacky, at times. Stage one is, naturally, the streets of Springfield but, while you’ll pass by the Noiseland Arcade and the Rusty Barnacle, other prominent locations from the iconic Simpsons introduction and various episodes are missing. Similarly, Krustyland is quite different to how it appears in the show and appears to be more like an amusement part, Moe’s Tavern is greatly expanded into something more like a casino and a strip club, and Springfield Butte appears to only be included because a handful of early Simpsons episodes occasionally ventured into the wilderness outside of the town. Things get really surreal when you visit Dreamland on stage six, which features all kinds of weird background elements and brief inclusions of what I would consider to be more prominent Simpsons landmarks (like the school and the Simpsons’ home).

Motion comic-like cutscenes and in-game graphics recreate the look and feel of the show.

While many of the stages are quite short and relatively barren, the game packs in a bunch of cameos and little details here and there: Howie walks out of the arcade (and will smash you into the screen if you get too close); frogs hop around in the cemetery; and various supporting characters (from Sherri and Terri to the original design for Sideshow Bob and even obscure characters like Doctor Marvin Monroe) show up to drop off health or power-ups. The Simpsons does a great job of recreating the look and feel of the early episodes of the show and this is helped all the more with the game’s commendable recreation of the iconic Simpsons introduction (which includes a brief rundown on each playable character) and theme tune. The game’s plot, such as it is, is told through the use of both motion comic-like cutscenes and in-game graphics, with a few sound bites thrown in here and there. This allows for a surprising amount of non-playable characters (NPCs) to briefly appear onscreen at once and a few amusing little animated sequences to play out, such as your characters getting swept over a waterfall, Smithers blowing himself up, and Maggie placing her dummy into the unconscious mouth of Mr. Burns.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you embark on your journey, you’ll battle against a seemingly endless wave of men in suits whose sole mission in life is to pummel you to death. Some of these also throw their hats at you or wield brooms or other weapons; they’re also capable of grabbing you to drain your health and get progressively aggressive as the game goes on. You’ll also battle fatter enemies, who can attack in teacups or throw boulders at you, and enemies will drop from trees dressed as ghosts and toss bombs at you in the cemetery. There are also a handful of unique and quirky enemies to contend with, some of which act as mini bosses of sorts: in stage one, for example, you’ll have to fight past a fireman, Binky and fake Krusty the Clown’s regularly crop up in Krustyland, zombies burst out from the cemetery grounds, you’ll encounter Bigfoot a number of times at Springfield Butte, and Channel 6 even has you fighting ninjas and a laser-spewing robot!

The first two bosses ask little more from you that a bit of dodging and relentless attacking.

Easily the most surreal enemies are found in Dreamland; here, you’ll encounter anthropomorphic donuts and saxophones, Marge heads made of clouds, and nuclear technicians who continue to attack you even after you knock their heads off! As mentioned, most of the game’s stages end with a battle against a gigantic boss; these are generally pretty easy and all come down to a simple case of dodging and piling on the attacks. The first boss, Professor Werner von Brawn, fills most of the screen and attacks with punches and belly flops (but his trunks have a nasty tendency to fall down, leaving him vulnerable to your attacks) while the second boss is a gigantic Krusty balloon that tries to slap at you and rains bombs down onto the arena.  In each case, though, victory comes from simply utilising any weapons dropped off before the fight, using your jumping attacks, and relentlessly pounding away until they are defeated.

Later bosses mix up their attacks and get a bit of back-up to make things a little more challenging.

Stage three doesn’t actually have a proper boss battle but, at the end of Moe’s Tavern, you’ll have to fight a cracked-up DJ who punches at you and breathes fire! However, his tendency to stop and taunt makes him an easy fight, as is the giant fake bear that awaits you at the end of Springfield Butte. The hardest thing about this boss is that it surprises you by bursting out of a cave, which can cause you to get hit by logs, and boulders rain down into the area, which can be annoying. Similarly, the large Kabuki Warrior who awaits you at the end of the Channel 6 stage is made more cumbersome by his long reach (thanks to his spear) and the fact that he conjures a ninja or two to distract you during the fight.

The bowling ball is a multi-phase boss fight that can go on for some time.

Dreamland, however, ends with a particularly annoying and tough boss battle against a huge anthropomorphic bowling bowl that attacks in four different phases: in the first, it simple rolls and bounces around; in the second, it grows arms to bounce higher; the third sees it grow legs and shoot bowling pin missiles; and the fourth and final phase sees it grow one large, stretchy arm to swipe at you. It’s quite a laborious boss battle, especially considering that every boss before this was relatively short and simple, but is just a taste of things to come.

A tough battle against Smithers and Mr. Burns awaits you at the finale of the game.

When you reach the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, you’ll simply walk right through the stage and into Mr. Burns’ office for the final battle, which is preceded by a fight against Smithers. Smithers attacks with his cape and maniacally dashes around the office tossing bombs at you. Thankfully, you can throw some of these back at him and he goes down relatively quickly as long as you can get near him and avoid being chargrilled by his bombs and death animation. Defeat him, though, and Mr. Burns bursts through the wall in his mech suit for another four-phase boss fight. At first, Burns attacks with retractable pincer-like arms and spits out the odd nuclear bomb, then he rises up onto treadmill-like feet and starts shooting missiles at you. In his third phase, he switches to a hovercraft-like base and adds a spiked rod attack and, in the fourth phase, having had his exosuit smashed off throughout the fight, Burns simply resorts to bouncing around the screen and scattering bombs everywhere. This is definitely a fight made easier with another player or in Free Play mode as Burns is a damage sponge and can easily smack the life out of you in just a few hits.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As in any self-respecting beat-‘em-up, the Simpsons have a variety of options when it comes to restoring their health; NPCs will drop off burgers, hot dogs, donuts, pie, and roast chickens and you can also shake apples from trees, each of which will allow you to keep fighting a little longer. Some of these can also be found right before boss areas so, if you’re low on health, it’s worth picking them up.

A variety of weapons and health-restoring food is provided by some familiar NPCs.

Similarly, you’ll find and be gifted a variety of weapons throughout each stage; one of the most prominent is the slingshot, which allows you to fire a limited number of projectiles at your enemies, but you can also grab bowling balls, a hammer, bar stools, brooms, bottles, drink cups, and even Snowball II, Santa’s Little Helper, and the original design of the Space Mutants to launch at enemies.

Additional Features:
The Simpsons has twelve Trophies for you to earn, each of them actually requiring a bit of skill and effort on your part as they task you with reaching certain stages, acquiring a certain number of points in specific game modes, or teaming up with other plays on- or offline. The difficulty of these varies quite a bit; it’s not much to ask you to finish the game four times, once with each character, but finishing the game in thirty minutes or less or on the “Expert” difficulty with limited continues is a bit of a tall order. When playing this version of the game, you are presented with a variety of gameplay options. You can choose to play in “Free Play” mode (which gives you unlimited continues), “Survival” mode (which gives you one life an no continues), “Team Quarters” (where you share forty continues), and “Quarters” mode (which gives you ten continues).

The Japanese version of the game adds a couple of extra features here and there to spice things up.

You can then select between Easy, Normal, Hard, and Expert difficulty modes (with enemies increasing in number and difficulty the higher the setting), select any stage you like (though, as I finished this game a long time ago, this may need to be unlocked so I forget if it’s available right from the start), view characters and artwork in the gallery, apply different borders and screen settings, and have access to a sound test. You can also choose to play the Japanese version of the game, which differs somewhat from the worldwide release. For one thing, it adds the nuclear bomb item to certain stages, which allows you to clear the screen of enemies. It also allows you to use weapons in mid-air, ups the power of the slingshot, adds a “Vital Bonus” score at the end of every stage, allows you to increase your health beyond its limit, and adds a number of different enemy, item, and NPC placements within every stage which can help mix up subsequent playthroughs.

The Summary:
The Simpsons is not an especially deep or feature-laden arcade title; the lack of special moves, relative emptiness of the stages, the enemy variety, and the short length of the game all, arguably, make it somewhat inferior to other arcade beat-‘em-ups released around the same time. Yet, thanks to its colourful graphics, quirky animations, and simple pick-up-and-play formula, it’s a classic of its genre through and through and easily one of the most enjoyable beat-‘em-ups out there. Of course, much of its appeal comes from nostalgia and its rarity but none of that detracts from the fact that it’s a blast to play and never outstays its welcome. A sidescrolling beat-‘em-up may not necessarily be the first genre that springs to mind when you think of The Simpsons but it works really well here; even though the show was still in its early days, the game does a great job of capturing the spirit of The Simpsons and including a number of cameos and call-backs to the show. It’s a shame that The Simpsons wasn’t more commercial available through ports to home consoles and that this particular version has been delisted from online stores as it’s a great way to waste an hour or so and the additional features and options help to spice the experience up. It was a great little package for a long-forgotten game and I can only hope that, one day, it’ll reappear on the Xbox so I can experience it all over again.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of The Simpsons? Have you have played this game out in the wild or did you first experience it through emulation or the PlayStation and Xbox ports? Which of the playable characters was your favourite? How do you feel the game holds up today, especially compared to other beat-‘em-ups? Would you like the see the game re-released again or do you think it’s better left in obscurity? 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!