The Simpsons Game
Is this the ultimate Simpsons or licensed tosh?
Xbox 360, All others
EA Redwood Shores
By Adam Doree
Some of my earliest gaming memories were with licensed Simpsons games. Some were good, and some were not so good. Most were pretty damn tough as well, at least for my undeveloped gaming 'skills'. But they all had the special flavour of the Simpsons; there was something so appealing about games like Bart Vs. The Space Mutants, Escape from Camp Deadly for the Game Boy, and also that brilliant arcade fighting game. For me that special appeal was definitely in the all-new Simpsons game released on all formats this week. And, if you were disappointed with The Simpsons Movie, then The Simpsons Game could go a long way in making up for it. It's a very entertaining, if occasionally broken videogame.
The appeal of getting to wander around the Simpsons' household in full cartoon-o-vision, wander around Springfield with all the characters you know and love roaming around the streets, and let's face it, drink some of that wonderful Duff (we just can't get enough) down at Moe's, is arguably worth the price of admission all by itself (although you can't actually drink beer in the game). But the considerable scale of this 3D platform game, with an overwhelming number of varied and interestingly themed environments to play through, the way it all comes together through the story and cut scenes, and its unpretentious, accessible gameplay, make this a fairly solid game that is worthy of the license. I can't think of a better recent tie-in than this.
The plot revolves around Marge's attempts to have a violent game called Grand Theft Scratchy banned, but this is just the tip of the iceberg; the game is absolutely full of parody, of videogames in general and many specific industry references, franchises and even specific characters and creators. Its sense of humour is aimed at gamers with lots of in-jokes and self-referential irony. EA is happy to mock itself and all of its brands throughout the game, cameos are in there in the same vein as the show, and voiced as appropriate - only the combined might of EA and FOX could get away with an entertainment collaboration that pushes the boundaries this far. It's clever and will make you smile, and it's something of a spectacle that will feel fresh and edgy to all gamers.
After all, parody is what the show does best - it all makes sense. EA's Redwood Shores designers have obviously worked extremely closely with the Greoning camp in order to make an amusing experience that is a fantastic, videogame-themed extended episode of the show in its own right. There are cut-scenes rendered in both the impressive game engine, and also plenty of cartoon-style cut-scenes that are basically like watching the show in HD.
The humour is all over the place, actually, and a fundamental part of the game. Hilariously, you even get an Achievement for pressing Start to begin the game, while you also earn 'clichés' throughout the levels too - the double-jump, the invisible wall, wooden crates - there are about thirty clichés to find, and they are added to your cliché bank.
You play as the four characters from the Simpsons family (with Maggie going along for the ride with Marge's sections), and the game's missions are designed for a specific combination of two characters. Co-operative play between the two characters, which you switch control over using the d-pad, makes for some nice basic puzzle solving in order to progress. Bart for example has a Batman-style grapple hook and can glide in his Bartman outfit; Homer has a super-bloated form that allows him to roll around and boost; when playing as Lisa, players can manipulate objects from an overhead perspective to build paths and kill the game's many varied enemies; and finally Marge can rally support from NPCs to fight a cause and attack, as well as send Maggie off on crawling missions in tight spaces. All the abilities are limited to a gage which can be refuelled with power-ups - in Homer's case, he gobbles up donuts to get his energy.
While Springfield itself acts as the world map, from which all the missions are accessed, mission levels are themed based on where the story is at, and ranges from a Homer dream world made of chocolate, an ancient history museum, and levels that parody specific games - Medal of Homer, Katamari Damacy, DDR - there's even a level based on the game's game engine! In Springfield itself, handy bus stops to take you quickly from one part of the map to another - useful as none of the characters get around fast, and Springfield is fairly big.
The level design is decent, with plenty of obvious hints about what you're supposed to be doing, and the puzzle solving is fun (although nowhere near as complex as in, ooh let's use Portal as an example). Control for the most part is OK, but a dodgy camera system and control context switching occasionally makes some simple tasks extremely frustrating - trying to wall jump with Bart at one (non-essential) point in Springfield is an exercise in frustration, and more generally, moving the camera around to get the best view of the action can be a bit choresome. But it's not really a game that requires pinpoint accuracy a la Mario 64. The control is good enough for what it needs to be, and the fun is in the puzzly nature of the levels and the presentation.
The length of the game was also a pleasant surprise, as I expected it to be much shorter - it will take maybe 8-12 hours to get through, and of course, that's without all the collectibles and achievements. Although gameplay does start to get a touch repetitive, the mix of characters and ways they solve levels together, along with the exceptional presentation and the amusing story mean that it doesn't get boring; it's varied enough to warrant playing through the whole thing and saving Springfield from the invading Space Mutants. Ignore the percentage of progress on the game save screen though - it's misleading because it takes into account collectibles and other time trail modes or something; when I completed the game it said 55% complete but I couldn't be bothered with the other modes or collectibles to be honest. I just viewed this as a really enjoyable 10 hour singleplayer game and that's it.
In many ways, this is the Simpsons game I could only have dreamed about back when the first Simpsons games came out at the dawn of the franchise so many years ago. This is a fantastic tie-in and essential for anyone who's been a Simpsons fan at any time over the years (who hasn't?), and a worthwhile amusement for all gamers. It kind of puts the entertainment factor of the movie to shame a bit, if you ask me. Highly recommended purchase or rental, and will make a nice Christmas gift for pretty much anyone with a console.