Over the years there has been one consistency in the video game business; games based on The Simpsons are generally not very good. Whether we see America’s favorite family skateboarding, wrestling, or trying to stop the invasion of space mutants the end result is equally disappointing. It’s a sad truth that fans of the series have had to live with so when EA announced they were working on a brand new chapter a collective groan fell over the entire Simpsons nation. With The Simpsons Game the guys and gals at EA have crafted an experience that is true to the license thanks in part to the fact that the entire game focuses on mocking everything it is built around as well as the entire state of the industry. With excellent writing and genuinely funny scenarios The Simpsons Game works on so many levels that fans would do well not to miss this experience.
What makes Simpsons work is certainly not its conventions, in fact as a straight action platformer the game has several problems. No, the reason this game works so well is because it caters to fans of the series so well by reproducing the humor you would come to expect from the show. Instead of attempting to make a flawless game the devs seem content with constructing a mediocre experience and then pointing it out every chance they get. This also factors into one of the game’s more amusing collection aspects called Video Game Clichés. Over the course of the game there are 31 of these little nuances scattered about the levels such as AI running into walls or invisible barriers, and while the game pokes fun of them it’s also ironic that it is entirely guilty of them.
The core game is broken down into a series of levels that each feel like their own mini-episode. There are of course many nods to the series and just about every character is present in some form or fashion. It really is worth noting that the attention to detail and fan service in The Simpsons Game is unparalleled in certain areas. The town of Springfield plays the role of the overworld hub and from here you can visit famous landmarks such as Moe’s Tavern as well as take on missions and of course spend countless hours collecting trivial items to further increase your family’s health bar.
Each mission has a set theme and for the most part requires you to use two specific characters. For instance one of the earlier levels involves Homer and Bart as they wreak havoc in the local museum. Each character has their own abilities much like any other game in the genre and each level forces you to use them quite a bit. Bart can hover and use his grappling hook, Homer can roll into a giant ball and inflate himself with helium, Lisa can turn enemies against one another with her saxophone and move objects using meditation and Marge can control large mobs of people with her bullhorn and use Maggie to traverse crawl spaces.
Outside of each of these abilities the game is composed mostly of traditional button mashing action. All family members can wail away with a simple melee combo on enemies without much concern as the penalty for dying is minimal. This is one area where the game can grow tedious. Mowing down tons of familiar characters may sound like fun at first, but after a while you begin to question just how many more are there, and that is not a good sign. Thankfully the game rarely forces you to defeat them all before moving on with the level, however be aware that if they can follow you they will; these are some persistent game characters.
In addition to the single-player trek EA has also allowed for some co-op action, but it isn’t quite what you would hope for. While you and a buddy can hop into a local game via a vertical split screen, a total lack of online is severely disappointing. It is abundantly clear that the devs had co-op in mind when designing the game, but alas either didn’t have time or felt it wasn’t a key feature and never fully realized it. The two-player action is also not without its issues. The biggest travesty of course is that it is only two players, even when all four family members are available in-game. The second issue is that there are many times throughout each level where only one character can progress the story. This leaves player two to stand and twiddle their thumbs while player one does all the work. More often than not I found myself wanting to fly solo as opposed to taking turns playing which is how the bulk of the co-op here works.
Disappointing co-op aside the rest of the game is exactly what it needs to be and nothing more. The core experience lasts between 6-8 hours and if you want to go back and collect everything (and of course nab all the highly obtainable Achievements in the Xbox 360 version) there is certainly plenty to see and do. In addition to collecting all of the scattered items for each character there are also the aforementioned clichés to find as well as a set of time trial missions for each stage both for story mode and even bonus missions. There is certainly not a lack of things to see and do, however most of it will be unappealing to those of you that are not die-hard fans of The Simpsons.
Probably the most impressive aspect to the game for me though is the presentation. First off the original cast and crew has recorded a ton of brand new footage specifically for the game, all of which is presented in glorious HD. I am sure you have heard us talk about how hard it is to be genuinely funny when telling a story in a video game, but The Simpsons Game is laugh out loud funny more than most ten games that attempt it. This of course has to do with the excellent writing and of course the fact that the entire cast from the TV show is on hand to lend their voices.
Visually the graphics sport a cel-shaded look that matches the personality and style of the show perfectly. Idle animations are hilarious and the levels are so detailed that you will want to go back again and again just trying to find all the quirky references such as nods to the Madden series, Street Fighter, and of course Mario and Sonic. It is very evident that the team making this game are huge fans of the series because the amount of fan-service poured on here is astounding.
All is not without disappointment though as there are some dents in this game’s finishing. For starters the manual camera is terrible. It has been a long time since I fought with a camera so much in a game. To add insult to injury, when the camera is automatic it is often worse due to poor angles. There are also plenty of hiccups in the frame rate and to be honest the animations could benefit from some work, but on a whole this game delivers so much in the other areas that it is easy to forgive its few shortcomings.
The Simpsons Game is an amazing fan-service production wrapped around a mediocre platformer. If you are a fan of the series you can add a full point to this score and take comfort in knowing that this is most certainly a must own. Rarely do we come across a game that somehow manages to still be entertaining despite how predictable and trite the game design is. As a stand alone platformer this game would be nothing, but when you add in incredibly hilarious writing, tons of gaming clichés and incredible level design you have a game that is a must own for Simpsons fans and a definite must-play for anyone who enjoys a good laugh.