November 26, 2007
Sitting here writing this review whilst wearing my Bart Simpson themed socks has made me realize what a phenomenon The Simpsons have become over the last 18 years. The very first Simpsons episode was aired in America during the year 1989, with the United Kingdoms first episode being aired on the 2nd September 1990. Since this date, TV audiences world wide have been entertained with over 405 episodes of this witty, comical, wildly popular series. A series as huge as The Simpsons, which is viewed by millions every year, would be the perfect programme to make a video game about right? Many have tried in the past, but failed to make a game that stands out as anything more than mediocre. The latest attempt at this feat is Electronic Arts, as they release The Simpsons game, for "Every platform ever invented, ever”. Were EA successful in finally making a Simpsons game that will last in the memory of gamers for years to come? Let’s find out….
Throughout the single player campaign, you will play as every member of the dysfunctional family, consisting of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie. The game begins with Homer skipping delightfully through “The Land of Chocolate”, where as the name implies, everything is made of chocolate. Eating to his heart's content, Homer soon discovers a white chocolate rabbit who dares him to follow him through the level, where he’ll have to use all his abilities to catch up with and have a taste of the delicious rabbit. This level acts as a fun tutorial where you’ll be made to practice jumping maneuvers, test your fighting skills against evil chocolate rabbits, and learn how the game mechanics work, such as pressing the Y button to activate objects. As the tutorial draws to an end, Homer begins to wake up on the sofa, uncontrollably drooling as he realises the Land of Chocolate was only a dream. Now that you’re comfortable with the games controls, the Simpsons Game can get under way. You’ll take control as Homer and Bart, venturing your way through the town of Springfield until you manage to locate a bright beam of light, standing tall as it rises into the sky. These beams of light indicate where you will need to travel to throughout Springfield in order to start your next mission.
As you enter the beam of light, a cutscene begins where Bart ventures into a local store to purchase the new video game, Grand Theft Scratchy, but as soon as he comes out the store gleeing with joy, Marge is on hand to shatter his dreams and take the game away to store in a safe place! An unhappy Bart strides the streets of Springfield in a depressed mood, when all of a sudden, “The Simpsons Game manual” falls out of the sky. This is the key moment in the game where Bart realises that himself and his fellow family members are living in the world of a video game, and have the ability to use awesome special powers. He has no hesitation to tell Homer who happens to be walking by, and they decide to test out their special powers in the nearby National History Museum. This is the location for the first main level of the game, where Bart and Homer venture through the Museum tracking down the bullies of Springfield who have taken the museum hostage and have evil intentions which they wish to pursue. During this mission, you’ll learn how to use the special powers which Bart acquires when he sports his “Bartman” costume. These include Bart’s ability to whip a slingshot from his pocket to accurately shoot at enemies, and also use the cape on his back to hover over any air vents throughout the game and soar to greater heights. Bart isn’t the only character in the game who has special powers; in future missions you learn the special powers of Homer, Marge and Lisa. These special powers include Homer’s power burp and the “Homer ball”, Marge’s ability to use a speakerphone and gather the residents of Springfield to make an angry mob, and Lisa’s ability to play her saxophone and stun the surrounding enemies or turn into “Clobber Girl”, who was first featured in one of the many special Halloween episodes of the Simpsons TV series. These abilities are a nice touch to the game as they allow the characters to venture through their missions and defeat their enemies, while keeping each character unique and fun to play with.
Throughout most of the 16 missions that the game consists off, you will play as two characters in a single mission. This is possible by changing the characters during the mission by simply pressing left or right on the D-Pad. This is an essential feature to complete the game, as you will have to use both characters to solve puzzles throughout levels and access new areas which the other character may not have the ability to. A perfect example of this is when both characters need to each be stood on a red pad on the floor to open a door ahead, or when you need to change to Bart in order to use his cape flying abilities and soar upwards to a ledge with the assistance of an air vent. These little puzzles are a nice addition to the game, and ensure that you use the powers of each character equally throughout the campaign. However, you will need to change characters at least 2 or 3 times per mission, and this can become tedious extremely quickly, especially when you seem to be completing the same tasks over and over again.
An example of this repetitive gameplay is during missions where you take control of Lisa Simpson. Lisa has a special ability which lets her move objects of a level around in order to create a new route for you to venture through or unblock certain areas, and this is done via finding a Buddha statue and pressing the Y button. This seems like a fun gameplay mechanic the first couple of times you attempt it, but can become very tiring everytime you have to access this special mode and try to figure out what to move where, and when. On occasions this can be pretty tricky to figure out, and may take quite a while. This is also the situation with other puzzles during the game, where you have to find routes to progress through the levels, find buttons to press etc… This makes The Simpsons Game certainly not a game a child can just pick up and enjoy, and I’d be willing to go as far as to say that only gamers who are fans of The Simpsons or are gamers with a lot of patience will be able to play through and enjoy this experience. If you are able to stand the repetitive gameplay for a second play through of the game, time trials are available to challenge you to complete levels in the quickest time possible. A target time is set, and if you beat the targets, an achievement is yours. This is cleverly named “Fast Times” and is worth a nice 50 gamerpoints. This is another incentive to play through the game a second time, and will be a must for gamers looking to gain the full 1000 achievement points that The Simpsons Game has to offer.
Graphically, The Simpsons game is beautifully done and this can often help to make up for the repetitive gameplay. The game looks near identical to the Simpsons cartoon, with each character looking very similar to their counterpart in the series. The town of Springfield, in which you can explore inbetween missions and search for collectibles, also resembles the famous town from the Simpsons episodes, and is filled with favourite Simpson characters such as Millhouse, Chief Wigum, Snake, Apu, and many more. Each character speaks to you as you run past them, and you will notice they are the same voices found in the TV series. This feature helps to immerse you into the Simpsons world, and makes the game that much more enjoyable.
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, there are items for you to collect throughout the missions and also during missions, spread throughout the expansive virtual Springfield. The items for you to collect are Homer’s Duff Bottle Caps, Marge's Try-n-Save Coupons, Lisa's Malibu Stacy Seals, and Bart's Krusty Kollectible Koupons. These can be in tricky places to find, and therefore there is a lot of time and patience required in order to collect all the items. However, for your troubles you will be rewarded with 50 gamerpoints for collecting all of each different type of collectible. For example, if you collect all of Homer’s Duff Bottle Caps, you will be rewarded with 50 gamerpoints. With this theory in mind, collecting all items throughout the game will earn you a sweet 200 gamerpoints, and therefore it seems EA relied heavily on achievements prolonging the gamer’s experience with The Simpsons Game.
Collectibles are not the only things that you will have to find throughout the game. Every episode contains a collection of “Video Game Clichés”. These clichés vary in how hard they are to find, with the easiest called “Double Jump” being awarded for simply performing a double jump. There are also tougher clichés such as “Invisible Barriers” which is awarded for trying to jump over a barrier in a certain level and may take some exploration if the gamer is not using a guide. Each cliché has an entertaining description in the game when you attain it. An example of this is the aforementioned “Invisible Barriers” cliché, where the description says “Sorry your precious game doesn’t go on forever”. Clichés with clever humour such as this one help to add to the campaign experience, and provide laughs along the way. Not only will the Clichés and dialogue from the characters cause you to uncontrollably giggle to yourself at times through the game, but also the level names themselves might tickle your taste buds. The Simpsons game tries to make fun out of the video game industry, with levels such as “Grand Theft Scratchy” taken from the hit video game Grand Theft Auto, and “Medal of Homer” taken from the world war 2 shooter series Medal of Honor. Just a little touch from EA that might provide a few laughs as you venture through the campaign.
Although the singleplayer campaign has beautiful visuals and will keep you laughing along the way, I’m not convinced that there is enough replay value in the game to warrant purchasing the title. The singleplayer experience can be completed within 6-8 hours, as each level takes approximately 30 minutes to beat. After completing this, all that’s left to do is find all the collectibles and game clichés. You are likely to have found a large amount of these throughout your first play through, and therefore it may not take a huge amount of time to find the rest of the items. However, The Simpsons game might be a good pick for those looking to buy a good co-op game to play with their buddies. There are not a huge amount of co-op games currently available on the market at the present time, so this may help to tip The Simpsons in favour with some gamers. Co-op gameplay is implemented extremely well, and is easy as Player 2 pressing the start button to join the game. Each level mainly focuses on a certain character, but the player controlling the other character avoids boredom by defeating enemies, and needing to be a part of solving puzzles such as both players standing on a pad to unlock a route throughout the level. Unfortunately though the co-op mode can not be played over Xbox Live, and therefore means you have to have friends in the same room to enjoy this experience. This is even more disappointing combined with the fact that the game contains no multiplayer. I’m not sure what could have been implemented, perhaps a Deathmatch style game type? But something via Xbox Live would have been nice, and prolong the game a few more hours, which in my opinion is needed.
Microsoft’s achievement system implemented in every game has been a huge success with most Xbox 360 gamers, and therefore I’m sure you’ll be wondering how fun the achievements are to earn, as well as whether they are easy to achieve or not. You will earn an achievement for completing every level, with the rewards ranging from 10 gamerpoints to 40 gamerpoints, and a satisfactory 100 gamerpoints going your way for completing the single player game. The two other main sources for achievements are completing all the target times for each level, and finding all collectables and clichés throughout the game. With a comical game must come a comical achievement, and this is of course present in The Simpsons game. Aptly described as “Easiest Achievement Ever”, you will earn 5 gamerpoints for pressing the start button to enter the game. A humorous achievement that I’m sure will make many laugh, just like the whole gaming experience is likely to.
Every character's dialogue in the game sounds exactly like that of the TV series, and therefore EA must be given props for making this happen. Hearing the characters' voices and the quirky lines they come out with helps to add entertainment throughout the game, and immerse you into the land that is Springfield. Apart from the dialogue, the sound is average throughout the game, with nothing new being tried or achieved.
Every level of The Simpsons Game appears beautiful to the eye, with little difference shown from the famous TV series. The cartoony graphics are extremely well done, and ensure every character looks incredibly similar to their counterpart in the show. The game is very bright and full of colour, which helps to recreate the world of The Simpsons. The colourful visuals are a nice change from most next generation games which although graphically look good, use many dull looking colours.
The singleplayer experience is likely to last you around 8 hours. After completing this, you then have the option to play local co-op with friends, find all the hidden collectables throughout the game, and try to beat the target times for each level. When all of this has been achieved, you are likely to have played the game for no more than 20 hours. With no multiplayer over Xbox Live, there will be little else to do at this point, leaving little replay value.
The game is delivered adequately to the gamer, with aesthetic menus to browse through and the co-op system being easy to join and enjoy. The whole theme of the menus remind you of The Simpsons, with their bright colours and the TV show's unforgettable tune playing to keep you entertained.
The achievements are set up so you play through everything that the Simpsons game has to offer, whilst providing some comical moments along the way. Without these achievements present, most gamers may not strive to find all the hidden collectables and clichés, and therefore the achievements do a good job of adding 5+ hours to the gameplay.
The Simpsons game is a fun experience to play through and represents the TV series very well indeed. However, there is not a huge amount of content in the game to keep you coming back for more, with a noticable absence of multiplayer over Xbox Live. Even the many comical moments you’ll find throughout the game doesn’t save this from becoming only a rental title instead of a full price purchase. Having said that, I recommend The Simpsons game as a must-rent game, which will keep you entertained through the short amount of time it takes to complete.