Now this is how you use a licensed property. The Simpsons Game is hands down the best use of a license this side of E.T. using Reese’s Pieces, as EA has pulled from two decades of humor and parody to create what amounts to an interactive episode of The Simpsons and, quite possibly, the funniest Simpsons content to hit a TV in years. The great irony of this achievement is that The Simpsons cartoons were built on parody, a heritage that comes through loud and clear in the game’s dialogue, content and missions. But by parodying the video game industry and a whole host of gameplay cliches, The Simpsons Game re-hashes the very elements it mocks, rendering the experience clumsy and at times tedious.
The premise of The Simpsons Game is classically wacky: Bart happens upon a game manual for The Simpsons Game and quickly realizes that he and his family have been granted game-like super powers. Bart can turn into Bartman, Homer can belch toxic fumes and turn into Homerball, Lisa can stun enemies with her sax and use a yoga-inspired levitation/hand of God, and Marge can summon pedestrians to do her bidding by yelling at them with a megaphone. Eventually, the family realizes that it is, in fact, in a videogame, which puts them on a course to re-live their licensed past, meet their maker and ask the licensors to stop putting out bad products based on their family.
During the course of this bizarre but entertaining plot, players can wander through a host of locations from the Simpsons cartoons, including a fully realized version of Springfield and many in-town locations. To do so, they can choose to have in their party two members of the Simpsons family at any one time, with new missions unlocking once players select at least one of the required characters for that mission.
These missions, like the game as a whole, poke crazy fun at the game industry, game cliches and, amazingly, even EA. The brunt of the gameplay is best described as “action platformer,” with members of the Simpsons family jumping on ledges, pulling levers, activating switches and shooting various projectiles at creative enemies (demonic dolphins, anyone?). If this sounds basic enough, that’s because it is. And because it’s supposed to be. You see, The Simpsons Game is one big parody, both in its content and gameplay. Levels range from Medal of Homer and Shadow of the Colossal Donut to Neverquest and Grand Theft Scratchy, and sprinkled throughout are cliche cards that point out just how many cliches the developers used when creating the game.
But by pointing out the cliches and mocking the gameplay elements within each level, the developers simply point out just how trite and tedious their own game can be. Yes, we realize escort missions suck. But we still have to do one? Yes, we understand only certain characters can gather specific icons. But you really expect us to switch our party members just to gather a few more coupons? And yes, we see how you didn’t endow any of the Simpsons with the ability to swim. But now we have to activate switches and levers (another cliche) just to make it through a linear level? By parodying gameplay elements in addition to concepts and franchises, The Simpsons Game in an odd way is responsible for its own undoing.
Considering the awesome humor and tongue-in-cheek scenarios, these gameplay issues are even more bittersweet. Aside from the cliched gameplay and frustrating camera, in fact, The Simpsons Game is one of the funniest games we’ve played. Add in the split-screen co-op, and the game had serious potential. But even there the cliches kill the fun, as the non-essential player is often left twiddling his or her thumbs while the other player pulls the necessary levers to move ahead.
In terms of the graphics, audio, plot and script, The Simpsons Game is the best Simpsons property this side of the actual series. In fact, the Simpsons vibe and quality are so high that this feels a lot like a lost episode. But an episode this is not, and as a videogame, The Simpsons Game brings about its own demise. The scenarios and cliches are truly hilarious, but the game’s reliance on those elements for its own gameplay eats away at the fun faster than Homer downs a glazed raised.
– Jonas Allen