|The Simpsons Game (2007)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Available for: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2
Woo-hoo, it’s finally here: a “Simpsons” game actually worth praising. It’s been a long time coming for fans of the animated series. After more than a decade of playing horrible titles based on the popular license, Electronic Arts has taken control of the situation with a “Simpsons” game that, while not entirely original, still delivers one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences of the year.
True, EA may be responsible for several of the bad movie license adaptations, but here’s where they get things right: despite the fact that a “Simpsons” film was released only three months prior, the game has absolutely nothing to do with the movie’s plot. This means that not only did EA have plenty of time to polish the game, but that fans will get the chance to experience a whole other storyline featuring the Simpsons clan. And here’s the kicker: the original story was created by the show’s writers, voiced by the real cast, and is damn well long enough to be its own movie. It also features more video game in-jokes than you can shake a fist at, making “The Simpsons Game” not just for hardcore fans and gamers, but, well, anyone with a soul.
The story is simple: Marge has just punished Bart for purchasing the M-rated “Grand Theft Scratchy,” and while walking through an alley on his way home, he happens upon a “Simpsons Game” instructional manual that literally falls out of the sky. Upon research, Bart discovers that he and the rest of his family are characters in their very own video game, complete with super powers and the urge to right wrong. When an alien attack on Springfield results in the family’s accidental transport into the game engine, however, the Simpsons set off on a journey to find the one man who can stop it all.
Playing as two characters at a time (you can switch between them at will), the four family members all have different abilities. Homer can stun enemies with an atomic burp, assume the form of a Homer Ball, and even turn into a gelatin-flinging Gummy Homer. Bart’s abilities are less exciting: he carries around his usual slingshot, and becomes Bartman in order to glide across buildings and race down zip lines. These are the two that you’ll end up using the most, but the ladies also have powers as well. Lisa’s saxophone stuns enemies much like Homer’s burp, and she also gains control of a God-like hand (to move pieces of the environment and flick, freeze and shock enemies) by standing in front of Bleeding Gums Murphy Buddha statues. Marge’s abilities are more simplistic: she has the power of persuasion and uses a megaphone to gather mob crowds (think “Pikmin”) to do her bidding. She also has Maggie on hand to use in tight spaces.
Though the game’s 3-D platformer / beat-‘em-up style of play isn’t going to impress anyone, it never gets old, thanks in part to some well-placed in-game humor and hilarious cutscenes that help move the story along. Fans of the series will enjoy the same level of comedy you get by watching the show each week, while the video game industry is positively hammered with self-referential jokes ranging from the ability to cheat (using strategy guides and walkthroughs) to clichés that pop up throughout (like the double jump and explosive barrels, as noticed by Comic Book Guy). And then there are the numerous spoofs of popular games like “EverQuest” (“NeverQuest,” an episode that also includes “Gauntlet” and “Joust”), “Medal of Honor” (“Medal of Homer”), “Shadow of the Colossus” (“Shadow of the Colossal Donut”), cameos by reject versions of Mario, DK, Sonic and Ryu, and much, much more.The single greatest moment is none of the above, however. Nor is it fighting creator Matt Groening, battling Shakespeare and Ben Franklin at the gates of heaven, or even accepting God’s challenge to duel him at a game of Dance Dance Revelation. It’s hearing “The Sims” creator Will Wright yell out “I’m Will Wright, bitch,” before floating off on his “Sims”-themed floating disc. You can’t ask for much more than a video game with a sense of humor, and “The Simpsons Game” delivers that in spades.