The Simpsons Games: History & Retrospective
October 30th 2017. This date marked an entire decade since The Simpsons last saw a video game released on home consoles. It’s strange to think that despite being the longest running weekly episodic show in TV history, (currently airing its 29th Season), over a third of the show’s life has passed it by without a single new video game. (We don’t count freemium where I come from!).
I’m old enough to remember when The Simpsons games were highly prolific in the industry and I sure spent a good portion of my youth anticipating the next entry. Throughout its life, a total of 27 Simpsons video games have been released. This includes 19 games made for home and handheld consoles, spanning from the NES, all the way to the Playstation 3.
I’ve always been fascinated by the negative, or at least mixed reception that so many of The Simpsons games have accumulated through the years. Particularly the early games. I have fond childhood memories of even the most widely despised Simpsons game: The Simpsons Wrestling (hell, it was on the shortlist of possibilities for my GAME OF THE YEAR article for 2001). So I think it’s time to check them out, and let’s see how well they hold up! Put on your nostalgia goggles and let’s go!
Bart vs. The Space Mutants:
Bart vs. The Space Mutants, the first Simpsons game, was a single-player 2D platformer developed by Imagineering and published by Acclaim. It released in February of 1991 starting with the NES. It later made its way to the SEGA Genesis, Master System, Amiga and a plethora of other systems.
The story borrows heavily from John Carpenter’s They Live. It starts with Bart finding a pair of X-Ray specs that allow him to see through the human disguises that a race of aliens have adopted. Sadly Kang and Kodos are nowhere to be seen, (though interestingly the Treehouse of Horror episode ‘Citizen Kang’ has a similar plot). Instead this game features an alien race of ‘space mutants’, though they don’t resemble the space mutants found in the show, either! Despite this discrepancy, there are a number of references, locations and characters derived from the show. This includes a rather juicy prank call of Moe’s Tavern in the first level, as well as appearances of the other family members as assists the boss battles.
The game has five levels that see Bart travel to environments such as a Carnival, a Museum (unthinkable!) and a Mall. In each level you must find or destroy a certain number of objects (such as hats, or balloons) in order to progress. The objects change each level and are typically carefully hidden. They often require you to use specific items (such as cherry bombs) in gruellingly specific locations in order to progress. Each level finishes with a debilitating boss battle.
Difficult barely begins to describe this game. The controls require extreme precision, and if you mess up once… It’s instant death. Forget Ghosts N Goblins! Without exaggerating, this is the hardest game I’ve ever played.
At the very least, it’s still an attractive game (on the Genesis). And it certainly takes the cake, or rather the jumbo squishee for being one of the more distinctive Simpsons games.
The Simpsons (Arcade):
Konami followed up on Bart vs. The Space Mutants by releasing the eponymous ‘The Simpsons’ to Arcades in March of 1991 (just one month after the Space Mutants game). Though it did not see a home-console release until 2012. ’The Simpsons’ is a traditional 2D Beat-Em-Up in the same vein as Konami’s other licensed beat-em-ups of the time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men. Up to 4 players can partake in this magnificent mayhem!
The game’s story sees Homer, Marge, Lisa and Bart (the former three in their first playable appearances), as they strive to rescue Maggie after she is kidnapped by Mr. Burns and Mr. Smithers following a jewellery store heist gone wrong.
The Simpsons must fight their way through 7 levels on the way to the Nuclear Power Plant to confront Mr Burns. The environments contain a number of in-show locations such as Moe’s Tavern, Krustyland and Channel 6 News. Each level is brimming with gags, references and in-show jokes that are sure to go over the head of the casual fan. Each level concludes with an epic and satisfying boss battle. Interestingly, with the exception of Mr. Burns and Mr. Smithers, only two of the game’s bosses actually appear in the show. They are the level one boss, Professor Werner Von Brawn, and the level four boss “Tall Drunk”.
Regardless, this game features a host of other cameos and references to the first 2 Seasons of the show that all fans are sure to enjoy. This ranges from cameos and obscure references like Blinky, the three eyed fish and Kwyjibo, to more prominent expanded cast members such as Barney, Patty, Selma, Bleeding Gums Murphy and Otto. Even the Rabbits from Matt Greoning’s Life In Hell comic strips feature! Part of the overwhelming appeal of this game is how it is routed in the crudest era of the Simpsons. It’s particularly evident with the colour palettes of characters like Principle Skinner, Nelson and Mr Smithers. Even Bart is featured in his ‘promotional’ blue t-shirt, as opposed to the more iconic orange.
The Simpsons Arcade also marked the first Simpsons game to utilise most of the official voice actors. Though most fans will be surprised that series regulars Harry Shearer and Hank Azaria do not provide any voice work. Mr. Burns particularly sounds off!
This was the earliest love letter to The Simpsons fans, and it holds up remarkably to this day. Not only is this still the greatest Simpsons game, with the greatest soundtrack in the entire Simpsons library. It’s also a contender for the greatest Beat-Em-Up of the early Arcade era, perhaps ever.
Bart Simpson’s Escape From Camp Deadly:
Acclaim took The Simpsons back to Bart for its first foray into the handheld market, released in November 1991 with Bart Simpson’s Escape From Camp Deadly for the Game Boy.
Escape From Camp Deadly is an action-platformer. The basic premise is to run, jump, climb and shoot spitballs. Each level has a different objective to complete in order to continue. It is essentially a sequel to Bart vs. The Space Mutants. Though it drops the interesting story for a more mundane camp setting run by Mr Burn’s equally crooked nephew, IronFist Burns.
Bart is heckled by bullies and camp counsellors along the way, but it feels like a missed opportunity to negate the use characters from the show to fill these roles. At the very least Lisa is more prevalent. Her role is more akin to that of an assist, giving Bart the tools he needs in order to progress.
Thankfully, the controls are much tighter than the previous game, but the platforming isn’t anything to write home about. Its lack of I wouldn’t recommend it.
The Simpsons: Bart vs. The World
Bart vs. The World is more or less a direct follow up by Acclaim to the Space Mutants game. It is the last Simpsons game of 1991 and the second Simpsons game for the NES. Though this was also released for several other systems, including the Amiga, and the SEGA Master System.
The game starts with Bart winning a Round-The-World scavenger hunt from the Krusty The Clown Show (a contest rigged by Mr Burns). I don’t know what it is about Acclaim and their desire to introduce random family members of Mr Burns, but each of this game’s four levels features an excruciating boss battle against a random Burns clan member. They include: Fu Manchu Burns, Ramses Burns, Eric von Burns and…. The Abominable Snow Burns. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather play a game that features Lord Thistlewick Flanders as a boss.
The controls have the same restricted feel that plagued Bart vs. The Space Mutants, seemingly regressing from Escape From Camp Deadly. Though it does retain the climbing and shooting feature present in the Game Boy game.
The game shifts from the Springfield locale to more ‘real-world’ environments, such as a castle, a cavern and a pirate ship. This change is not welcome, however, as the environments come across as bland, stagnant and boring. A clash with the style of The Simpsons world. As a consequence, Bart vs. The World feels like a bootleg or rom-hack, it sorely lacks any of the charm found in Bart vs. The Space Mutants.
One thing these early Acclaim games all have in common is awesome box art that surpasses the game itself.
Bart vs. The Juggernauts:
Bart vs. The Juggernauts is a puzzle-platform game released by Acclaim in 1992. It features a host of mini-games set to the theme of the TV show ‘American Gladiators’.
Acclaim strayed from their typical, and fast-becoming-stagnant formula for this game, and it paid off pretty big. Of the seven different mini-games featured in this game, most of them are actually very fun, and offer a healthy mix of variety. One of particular interest is the sumo-match contest against Barney in Moe’s Tavern (just don’t mention Pitt The Elder and you should be fine). Kent Brockman and Dr. Marvin Monroe feature as the game’s commentators and provide some chuckles with their over-analysis of Bart’s performance after every round.
The sprite work in this one is a huge step up from the prior Game Boy game, though the soundtrack is more than a little grating.
The Simpsons: Bartman Meets Radioactive Man:
Oh dear. Bartman Meets Radioactive Man was the third of Acclaim’s NES side-scrolling 2D-Plaftomers. It released in December of 1992. Sadly, they didn’t learn an awful lot from the prior NES games and decided it was easier to slap a super-hero theme on the game in place of a more consistent control scheme.
The story starts with Bart reading comic books in his Treehouse, where he is shocked to find Fallout Boy emerge from the book and implore Bart to help him save Radioactive Man. After entering the book, Bart, under the superhero guise of Bartman needs to defeat super-villains: Dr. Crab, Lava Man and the Swamp Hag and foil the plot of the dastardly Brain-O.
While the awkward jumps persist from the previous entries, the life point system is thankfully more forgiving. This game allows 5 hits before death, and they are replenish able. While not bad, Bartman Meets Radioactive man falls short of its potential, a consistent theme found in the majority of Acclaim’s Simpsons games.
That concludes part one of this Simpsons retrospective, stay tuned for part 2! Coming soon to a Kwik-E-Mart near you!