Fans of the Simpsons have their opinions of what their favorite period of the show was; their favourite episode, character, and when exactly they stopped watching. It’s fair to say there’s a lot of debate and differing opinions, but what is a lot less debatable is the standard of The Simpsons video games, which have ranged from quite good to a raging tire fire.
In this retrospective, we’ll take a look at the biggest and most influential Simpsons video games to be developed. We’ll determine whether the good ones hold up, or if they are simple nostalgic trips that don’t match up. So let’s take a look at some the “excellent”, and not so excellent games dedicated to the Simpsons.
The Simpsons Arcade Game (1991)
Developer: Konami Publisher: Konami
In 1991, Konami rolled out a side scrolling beat ‘em up based on the Simpsons, which centred around the kidnapping of Maggie, and has the Simpsons family tackle hordes of hired goons. The game allowed four players to control either Bart, Homer, Marge and Lisa, and is reminiscent of similar titles like Double Dragon, Final Fight and Streets of Rage, with the usual health pickups, lives and weapons to be found.
The arcade game itself proved extremely popular. It was released on the Commodore 64 that same year, and then 20 years later, it was released on the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network in 2012. It’s a simplistic but fun beat ‘em up which is ideal for co-op or for a throwback for nostalgic arcade gamers, and for Simpsons fans, it’s interesting to see a game that takes inspiration for the earliest moments of the franchise.
There are a total of 8 levels in the game, with a wide array of enemies to batter. Each character also have their own personalised attacks, such as Bart using his skateboard while attacking. It was also quite innovative for the time, allowing two characters to team up and perform special attacks.
As such, The SImpsons Arcade Game is regarded as one of the better Simpsons properites out there. It takes the tried and tested arcade beat ‘em up formula and uses it to its full advantage. Of course, it plants plenty of Simpsons references in there to give the game a suitable amount of fan service.
The Simpsons Wrestling (2001)
Developer: Big Ape Productions Publisher: Electronic Arts in Europe, Activision in North America
Ah, The Simpsons Wrestling. Personally, I love the idea of combining The Simpsons and professional wrestling, two of my favourite things. The concept itself is interesting enough to intrigue people, plus with sixteen playable wrestlers, each with different movesets and skills, you would think this would at least have a degree of gameplay cohesion to it.
Alas, the game itself is renowned for its glitchy movement, barely controllable characters, confusing controls and its less than stellar graphics. The game was released in 2001, so although this wasn’t exactly a year of high-end graphics, there were games like Along in the Dark: The New Nightmare that certainly displayed the capacity of the PS1.
It’s not that there aren’t some funny ideas in the gameplay, such as Mr. Burns using Smithers to fight instead of himself, or Marge using Maggie to stun her opponents. The developers created abilities relevant to the characters, showing that some care did go into this game.
Unfortunately, this PlayStation 1 game was let down by the repetitive and unresponsive button mashing. It’s an example of a great concept gone wrong, though arguably it’s not the worst use of the Simpsons license. We’ll get to that.
The Simpsons: Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror (2001)
Developer: Software Creations Publisher: THQ
Next up is a trip to the classic Game Boy Colour with arcade platformer The Simpsons: Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror, released on the handheld on March 26, 2001, making it the last game released on the Game Boy. The main draw of the game was that all of the seven levels are directly inspired by some of the bigger episodes of the Treehouse Of Horror series, taken from the first installment in 1990 to Treehouse of Horror VIII in 1997.
You get to play as Bart, Marge, Maggie and Lisa, as well as several variations of Homer, in seven different levels including levels based on Principal Skinner cooking and eating children at Springfield Elementary, one of the Simpsons clan turning into a fly and Mr. Burns being a vampire. There’s no real story per se as all of the levels are standalone, though each level increases in difficulty as you get further into the game.
The different levels also require the player to use different tactics. Some of the characters, like Bart and Marge, can use weapons against the various threats, while others like Maggie and Lisa need to avoid confrontations and use timely diversions to get past enemies.
Despite the gameplay variety, the game could prove to be a little bit too challenging at times, and could be quite annoying in long sessions. There’s only so much 8-bit chiptune you can stomach. As such it isn’t as highly rated as some of the other games on this list.
The Simpsons: Road Rage (2001)
Developer: Radical Entertainment Publisher: Electronic Arts
The spiritual predecessor to Hit & Run, Road Rage was released on PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube and Game Boy Advance, stretching across 2001 and 2002. If The Simpsons: Hit & Run was considered a GTA clone, then The Simpsons: Road Rage was the ultimate Crazy Taxi clone. Sega, the creators of Crazy Taxi, even sued both Radical Entertainment and EA due to the extreme similarities of the two games.
Road Rage was pretty much everything Crazy Taxi was but centred around The Simpsons universe, as you picked up a passenger in your car and drove them from point A to point B in as little time as possible. When compared to Hit and Run, which is more of a sandbox, Road Rage felt more like an arcadey, pick up and play title.
The story to the game sees Mr Burns replacing public transport with radioactive buses, so the citizens of Springfield turned to taxi driving in order to raise the funds to buy Mr Burns. It’s more of a context plot than anything else, giving you an excuse to earn more money to unlock new characters, locations and more.
Aside from a bit of repetition in gameplay, this was the most popular Simpsons game on the market at the time. As it was easy to play and full of references to the show, Road Rage was the go-to game for any Simpsons fan.
The Simpsons Skateboarding (2002)
Developer: The Code Monkeys Publisher: Electronic Arts
Somehow coming after the release of The Simpsons Wrestling, The Simpsons Skateboarding was released in 2002, a year that saw the release of classics such as Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Hitman 2: SIlent Assassin and The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. This, however, is best forgotten.
Though it isn’t devoid of redeemable features, with multiple modes and the option for co-op gameplay. The choice of unlockable characters was odd though, because who doesn’t want to play as Nelson, the most lovable of all characters.
But unlike other skateboarding games, a la Pro Skater, where the focus is on the performance and variety of tricks and making sure there are easily performed for high combos, Simpsons Skateboarding fails in this regard. Awkward landings and unresponsive controls plague the game, making it feel like a chore to play.
That, alongside an extremely limited amount of moves and tricks to perform, coupled with graphics that were horrible for even the time period, and The Simpsons Skateboarding really doesn’t live up to the limited potential that it could’ve had.
The Simpsons: Hit & Run (2003)
Developer: Radical Entertainment Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games
Now we’ve reached the crown jewel. The Simpsons: Hit & Run was released in 2003, two years after the release of Grand Theft Auto III on Playstation 2. The significance of this is due to Hit & Run’s status as a “GTA” clone, as the game indeed shares many similar features to Rockstar’s trailblazing series, including large levels to roam around in, basic combat mechanics (minus the tanks and sub-machineguns) and a wanted level.
Despite coming from an unoriginal inspiration, you can tell that a lot of love and passion for the subject matter went into Grand Theft Auto: Springfield. All of the original cast voice their respective characters, with the writers at the time helping out with the story and dialogue.
The story chronicles a series of strange events happening in Springfield that concern surveillance vans, wasp cameras and a weird brand cola. As the Simpson family (and Apu, for some reason) you investigate what’s going on over the course of an increasingly odd week.
There are a total of seven levels, albeit in the same three locations at different times in different states, with Homer and Bart also being playable twice. You will encounter almost all of the ensemble cast, some of which have their own vehicles that you can use on your missions, making for a total of 48 unique cars. You’ll also hear some of their catchphrases a little too much as you play.
The gameplay tended to fluctuate in both enjoyability and difficulty. One mission may be a fun race around the streets of downtown Springfield, the next you could be picking up 25 bits of roadkill for Cleatus, while being chased by the police and with only a minute-thirty to do it. Hit & Run? More like Hit & Miss.
Outside of the main missions, there are side missions to acquire unlockable cars, either through races, character missions or buying them with coins you find everywhere. Unfortunately, there isn’t too much mission variety, with pretty much every mission featuring one or more of the “race here”, “collect this” or “outrun this” objectives. Despite this, it still remains a solid and enjoyable game to play through, and easily stands as the best Simpsons game yet.
The Simpsons Game (2007)
Developer: EA Redwood Shores Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released in 2007, The Simpsons Game coincided with the release of The Simpsons Movie, although the two are completely separate entities. On paper, The Simpsons Game had the potential to be one of the best Simpsons games ever made. Like Hit & Run, it featured the full cast voice-over and boasted 40 minutes of original scenes from the show’s animators, furthering its potential.
Considering Hit & Run was the last Simpsons game to come out before this, there was an appeal for the game to adopt that sandbox approach, but the game followed more of an action-platformer approach, liberally borrowing tropes from other video game genres as and when the level called for it.
The game has four playable characters, Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa, all of whom have special abilities and powers. With sixteen levels, each level includes a rotating pair of the main four characters, so you can mix each character’s powers.
The story was penned by the then current series writers, with 2007 being the year Season 19 came out; a series described as “passable” by Robert Canning of IGN. The game itself had some clever writing and poked fun at video game culture, including special guests such as Will Wright, the creator of The Sims. Gameplay, however, can often be extremely slow when compared to the faster pace of Hit & Run. It did have co-op though, so there’s that.
Despite the bigger budget from EA, the original animation and voice talents, and the shiner graphics, Hit & Run is still more well regarded than The Simpsons Game. That being said, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be found in The Simpsons Game, and combined with its source material, this entry in the franchise is a tad underrated.
It could be argued that most of this money came from the good ol’ freemium microtransactions, where the least amount of Donuts (the expendable currency) you can buy is 12 for £2, and the maximum you can buy is £150 for 5000 donuts. With Bart worth about 30 donuts, you’d have to pay around £4-£6 for one of the main characters in the show.
The game itself is the archetype of free to play games. Technically you can play it without paying without a single penny, but the lengthy missions and reasonably low rewards make trying to play for free a bit of a slog.
In terms of positives, the characters and graphics look really good, capturing the show’s aesthetics well, and the gameplay is simple with a ton of longevity. City building games are highly addictive, and there is enjoyment in creating your own little Simpsons universe, even if the shadow of “play to win” is large and looming.
Like any licenced franchise, there are peaks and plateaus, but it seems as though The Simpsons had it the roughest. Still, even in titles like The Simpsons Wrestling, you can still see a love for the source material and a desire to showcase some of the historic show’s best moments. What do you think? What was your favourite game of the series? Let us know in the comments.
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