The Simpsons Game video game for the Wii, Xbox, PS2, PS3, and, I can only assume the Sega Master System and Atari 2600 arrived in stores today. You knew I would own it before noon, didn’t you? Ha, laugh’s on you. I didn’t get around to buying it until after 1:00 PM. This is by no means intended to be a comprehensive review-that will come later-but I have seen enough to give a quick, if incomplete, answer to the question: Does the Simpsons Game improve upon Simpson Hit and Run, the first video game from the Simpsons that seemed to satisfy most gamers?
First the bad news. Part of what made Simpsons Hit and Run so much fun to play and made it such a must-have for dedicated Simpsons fans was that it incorporated so much of the mythology of the series into the game. The many levels of Hit and Run gave fans an opportunity to explore all the beloved locales of Springfield from the power plant to the Android’s Dungeon and everywhere in between. In addition, it seemed as though there were a million different references to even the most trivial minutiae related to the show. Playing Hit and Run was tantamount to becoming a character in the show. Add to that the fact that many of the missions were nearly impossible to accomplish-indeed, some were completely impossible to accomplish for me without utilizing cheats-and Hit and Run was a total success. Unfortunately, thus far the Simpsons Game does not include the immediately recognizable sights from the show, and there is a definite diminution of the allusive quality of Hit and Run.
The first thing you will notice about playing the Simpsons Game-on the PS2, anyway-is the look of the game. Eschewing the CGI 3-D feel for a 2-D look that more closely approximates the show, the game is a bit jarring visually at first. It takes some getting used to, but eventually you it happens. It also accomplishes the task of almost seamlessly integrating the actual gameplay with the 40 minutes of original animated interstitials. This is the first video game based on a cartoon that actually looks like the cartoon that I have played. Keep in mind, I’m not a big gamer.
The second thing you’ll notice is that the missions are not nearly as complex or, unfortunately, as interesting as in Hit and Run. At least not the three levels I’ve seen so far. (On a side note, fans of the show will notice that the music used in the Land of Chocolate is not the same as in the show. I assume this is due to copyright issues and frankly I’m ready to begin illegally downloading music and pirating it in response to how the weasels in the music industry are destroying entertainment. The single greatest scene in the Buffalo Bill sitcom was excised from the DVD due to copyright issues; ditto a musical sequence in an episode of Bosom Buddies season 2. The music industry is full of weasels: I urge everyone to illegally download at will!) For instance, there is an episode that takes place in a museum that, while fun and challenging, could have been made even more so by the inclusion of more references to the show and more secondary characters. The enemies in all the levels so far are clones that have no tie to the shows. Maybe that will change, I don’t know.
I don’t mean to say the Simpsons Game isn’t fun. It is. But don’t expect Hit and Run II. The writers clearly set out with the intention to move away from the Hit and Run and Simpsons Road Rage template and create something entirely new. That is evident from the new look. Something else that is new is the ability to play as multiple characters and, even better, to turn it into a two player game. The plot, as is well known by now, is that the Simpsons realize they are characters in a game with appropriate special powers. In lieu of references to the show, the game is loaded with references to the thirty year history of video games. Not being a big gamer myself, I probably missed many of them, though even I got the Frogger parody, complete with a three-eyed alligator.
As for the controversy surrounding the exclusion of the Grand Theft Scratchy parody, we may be witnessing a gigantic practical joke. Grand Theft Scratchy does appear in the game; in fact, it is a rather meaningful plot point. You’ll just have to play the game to figure out who this joke ultimately gets played on.
The answer to the question I originally posed, by the way, is a definitive maybe.