This article was originally published at Aussie-Nintendo.com
I am unfortunately one of those gamers that will put up with a bad game if it is a licence I like; sometimes even right to the end. Some notable examples would be the poorly made Evil Dead games, my determination to try the 24 game and the self-harm I inflict with every new Spider-Man title. Usually it doesn’t matter what film/comic/cartoon licence a game is based on, if the gameplay is bad then the game is bad. No matter how long I am willing to put up with it, I will rate the game badly if it deserves it. This is something I like to stand by when I write reviews and The Simpsons game is the first time I’m going to step back from my standard, as the presentation saves it completely.
The Simpsons Game is basically one great big episode with interactive bits. It features all the voice cast and forty minutes of fully animated video broken up between and during each of the seventeen levels. The entire plot is set around the family finding out they are in a game and this enables them to travel not just through Springfield but through quite a few themed levels based off classic video games. Games stretching back to the very earliest days of interactive media are parodied, ridiculed and celebrated. There are even collectables based around videogame clichés by the Comic Book guy who points out everything from mysteriously locked doors to impassable terrain, elemental enemies and bottomless pits. Gaming juggernauts such as Zelda, Mario, GTA and Madden are all made fun of. If you’ve been a fan of the videogames and the Simpsons for a long time, there is a lot to enjoy here. I won’t spoil anything either.
During the course of the game you play as Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and there are even some small parts controlling Maggie. Each character has special moves related to their personality. Homer can eat food and turn into a fat ball or a giant gummi-bear man. Lisa can use her Buddhist powers to levitate objects, Bart becomes Bartman and Marge can call together angry mobs to fight enemies or destroy buildings. The levels are designed around using certain skills so you are unable to play as the same family member each time. There are usually just two per level switching between combinations such as Homer and Bart or Lisa and Marge. What is even better is this can be done co-operatively with a friend. The game is definitely fun to both play and watch but the gameplay is the weakest area overall and the main source of the problem is the camera.
The camera system used in this game seems like it was taken directly from the Sonic Adventure titles. Like in Sonic Adventure, the camera pans sharply and awkwardly and if you aren’t in a fairly open area then you will find it difficult to get the angle you want and you will often fall down a hole or fail a level as a result. This will be immediately clear to anyone playing the game as the first section of the game has you jumping on platforms in a confined area with a disobedient camera aiding Homer’s repeated tumbles into a chocolate river. This is the most obvious example but many goals in each level require some level of accuracy, such as hitting a switch or sending a bloated Homer Simpson flying over a ramp and if the camera is off then you have to do it again. This alone completely ruins what is otherwise fun about the game making many moments unnecessarily frustrating.
The other major problem with the game is the overall length and difficulty. There are only seventeen levels in the game and each takes around fifteen to twenty minutes on a first play through. They are mostly fun and imaginative levels but they are all over far too quickly and far too easily. The poor camera is the only thing really adding to the challenge and that certainly isn’t a positive for the game. Another gripe is the way it is extended. The one cliché I never collected was the one about collectables in platformers and I suspect there isn’t one. About the only way to extend the game outside of playing with a friend is to go on a tedious hunt in each level to collect all the character specific items. These add very little in the game and are mostly in places that are hard enough to reach without awkward controls.
The Wii version also features “Wii Moments” which are mini-games based on motion controls.. All the games use the gestures and motions poorly and are good examples of the lazy effort many third parties have put into Wii games so far. An eating game with Homer involves flicking either the Nunchuk or the remote to pick eat food. It is incredibly unresponsive and confusing and the game itself doesn’t have a reward that makes the mini-game worth the players time. Another is a game involving Bart flying towards a battleship and flying through smoke rings. This uses the remote and while fine movements work well, any large movements throw Bart right off target. Luckily these games are all optional to play and ultimately just hurt this version.
The graphics overall are quite good. The game uses cel-shading which fits well for the odd 2D/3D look in game. There are a lot of jagged-edges and the characters look really funny when they talk in in-game cutscenes. These would be the two biggest gripes though as the levels are all colourful, lively and often plucked right from the cartoon series. The Wii version also doesn’t look hugely different to the PS3/360 versions which is a rare and welcome occurrence.
If the presentation were not so good, I would find the Simpsons game extremely hard to recommend. The camera is shocking, the “Wii Moments” make me want to cry and it isn’t long or difficult but it is fun while it lasts and most of all, it is funny. Not even the patchy history of Simpson’s videogames is left alone and while this game hasn’t come close to the mould, it is more fun than most of the others.