Much like any game based on a film or TV property, any game based on The Simpsons doesn't necessarily need to be good to sell. This has been good for publishers, as 90% of the games based on The Simpsons over the years have been very average cash-ins. In fact, of the more than twenty Simpsons games released, the highlight is still probabaly Konami's 1991 beat 'em up. Things are different this time though, or so we've been told, with The Simpsons Game, which is the second Simpsons game published by EA, the first being the dreadful Simpsons Skateboarding. So is The Simpsons Game one you'll want to pick up, or will it join the long, or will it follow the property's tradition?
The Simpsons Game isn't based on the movie which was released earlier this year, and features it's own, warped storyline. While waiting to pick up the latest controversial M rated game at Sequelstop, Bart runs into Marge, who is less than impressed. Angrily she takes the game off him and hides it in Homer's underwear drawer. While coming home from the retailer without his game, a manual for The Simpsons Game falls from the heavens, which shows special moves the whole Simpsons family can perform. Keen to try out his special moves, Bart finds Homer as he is about to break into the natural history museum, and the adventure begins. It's a clever storyline because it's self-aware - the Simpsons know they're in a video game, and this allows for some original and outrageous scenarios.
The Simpsons Game is a third person action platforming game. In each level you'll assume the role of two members of The Simpsons family, and at any stage you can change which character you are in control of by using the directional pad. It's seamless and makes sense, as some areas can only be completed by a specific Simpsons character. The characters generally have two attacks; a standard attack and a more powerful attack which can only be executed when you have filled the power meter, which is quite easy to fill by doing just about everything, including defeating enemies and destroying objects. Every character has a unique special attack, Homer's for example is the ability to burp on enemies. There are also power-ups scattered throughout the levels which give each character special moves.
Throughout The Simpsons Game you'll come across a variety of video game cliches. If you pull off a move (like say a double jump) that is a video games standard then comic book guy will pop up commending your work. In total there are 31 cliches to 'unlock' in The Simpsons Game. Although identifying the cliches is admirable, just because the game actually identifies these cliches doesn't necessarily make them any more tolerable. However, Simpsons fans will be happy just to see some of the character appearances in the game. We found it quite enjoyable just walking around Springfield and finding the characters to talk to, as there are plenty of your favourites and even good old Gil makes an appearance.
The humour in the game is also to be commended, it's quite is quite simply one of the funniest games released in a long time. There have been plenty of games that have tried to be funny but ultimately failed but The Simpsons Game is genuinely amusing. From the voice work ("Look it's a yellow whale" says the sea captain) to the well-done parodies, to the subtle references to classic episodes, it's a very funny game that will keep those who still enjoy the TV in hysterics.
But while well presented, the game has it's fair share of flaws. The camera can quite simply eat my shorts. While it can be manually adjusted at most points, there are times when you cannot move it at all, such as when you're in the Simpsons home, and this becomes awfully frustrating. There are also times when the camera can get stuck behind things, blocking your view. The controls can also be a problem; a few times during the game you'll need to execute some seemingly simple jumps, but with the fiddly controls these soon turn into a lesson in frustration. The combat gets repetitive as well, as kicking and punching five or so of the same looking security guards will have a few players raising their eyebrows.
The co-op multiplayer mode is a tacked on inclusion, and sounds a lot more appealing than it actually is. The levels are designed for specific characters, so if you take control of Homer you may have to wait around for your partner to pull off specific tasks to progress. The multiplayer is probably only really going to help those who play with younger children, as players can get quite bored waiting for the other player to activate a specific switch or pull off a character specific move.
Luckily, The Simpsons Game looks brilliant. The first time you turn on the game and see a cut scene you'll be ready to run out to the family room and show any Simpsons-loving family members just how beautiful the game looks. The cel-shaded style suits the game really well and the cut scenes look very impressive. It also helps that the level design is solid too, so when you step into chocolate land it looks very similar to the Homer's dreamy chocolate land from the television show. Springfield itself looks good, and plenty of detail has been put into the Simpson family and all of the other supplementary characters.
EA has gone to the effort of securing the voice actors from the television show, which is much appreciated and adds authenticity to the proceedings. The dialogue lives up to the production, and is genuinely humorous, but while there are pleanty of lines it can still become repetitive.
The humour in The Simpsons Game has even carried over to the achievements, with 5 points awarded by simply pressing start at the main menu. The achievements are rewarded quite frequently, for usual things such as collecting a specific number of tokens or completing a level. The game itself can be completed in about six to eight hours, and unless you're a bit of an obsessive compulsive there is very little reason to come back to the game.
The Simpsons Game isn't without its flaws but most Simpsons fans will be very impressed by EA's latest effort. With appealing visuals, voice-work and overall slick presentation it's clear that this game wasn't a slapdash effort designed just to cash in on the license. The combat can be repetitive, the camera is a pain and the controls are a bit fiddly, but if you've got the patience then The Simpsons Game is a title that's worth checking out.