IGN Review of Simpsons Game
Metal Gear Solid, Madden Football, Lord of the Rings, The Sims, Christianity, Mario, Sonic, Grand Theft Auto, and the videogame industry as a whole are just a few of the things that are parodied in The Simpsons Game, where players assume the roles of all four members of the cartoon family that has been invading televisions since 1989. Fans were understandably concerned when they heard that the yellow-skinned, four-fingered quartet would be making its way not only into a full-length feature film but also into an EA-made videogame in the same year. While the movie didn't turn many heads with its humor, we're happy to report that the game certainly will, thanks to a sense of humor that can only be described as equal to Simpsons episodes of old. Heed the call, fans: this game has humor to spare.
The game brings the cartoon household knowingly into their own videogame when Bart stumbles upon a game manual that has seemingly dropped from the heavens. What's inside the manual? Why it's the guide on how to use the family's all-important powers against their captors, of course! Along the way they'll be pitted against villains from the show, EA higher ups (yes, you read that right), and their creator - in more ways than one. While the plot of the game is functional, the real star of The Simpsons Game is the hilarity that ensues.
Several of everyone's favorite Simpsons episodes are represented quite effectively. You'll see such favorites as The Land of Chocolate, Super Happy Fun Fun Homer, Lisa trying to stop lumberjacks from cutting down trees, and several others. The only thing really missing is a bona fide Treehouse of Horror tribute, though there are elements from the series of Halloween specials throughout the play experience. It would have been fine and dandy if the game simply reconstructed classic episodes and spit them out at gamers to play through but The Simpsons Game goes a step further and actually parodies tons of Hollywood and videogame properties as well.
Not only does it bring its own episodes back to life, poke fun at tons of EA properties, and make fun of videogames by mentioning the Xbox 720 and PS4, but there are also some awesome cameos in the game. The series creator Matt Groening plays a hilarious role as himself, Will Wright is perfectly portrayed and exhibits signs of humor for the very first time, and then there's God Himself who makes an appearance and manages to drop an F-Bomb along the way. Yes indeed, the humor element is easily the game's strongest point. Luckily the gameplay isn't half-bad either.
As you'd expect, The Simpsons Game can largely be summarized by calling it a platformer. You'll get to play as all four characters, though typically only two will be available in a level, and those two characters are predetermined by the game. You're able to switch between the two at any point during gameplay, unless you and a friend are partaking in some co-operative play, in which case things are pretty much set in stone, but we'll talk more about the co-op a bit later. It's obvious why they designed the levels to only incorporate two characters as many of the obstacles can only be passed by certain characters, though we would have preferred to have the Simpson family as a whole at our disposal.
Even though the act of playing through the levels doesn't add anything new to the platformer genre, The Simpsons Game actually takes a new approach to tried and true gameplay by poking fun at itself through the use of attainable video game cliches. It points out the fact that all videogames have crates, bosses with overly obvious weak points, and other things of that nature. There are 31 throughout the game and they're all equally funny.
In between jumping from platform to platform you will of course be pitted against enemies, the bulk of which you'll recognize from the series. Sideshow Bob, Jeff "Comic Book Guy" Albertson, and Mr. Burns are just a few of the characters to make the jump into the game. The Simpsons family has two basic attacks. There's a standard melee punch and there's a power-based attack which is governed by your power meter. Objects in the environment spit out power items, as do fallen foes, so you won't spend much of your time budgeting your power usage.
Some of the powered attacks are cooler than others though, and while the Simpsons family does gain new abilities throughout the game, it's clear that Homer was made to be the coolest of the foursome. He begins with the burp attack which can stun enemies, or kill them when charged up for a mega-burp, but then gains the Fat Homer transformation and Gummy Homer transformation later down the line. Both of the new Homer forms have their own set of attacks as well, making the Duff lover the most fun to toy around with by far. Other characters like Marge and Lisa only have one attack, and while their abilities do progress through the game, they only become stronger rather than changing into something totally different and fresh. Luckily other characters -- as well as Homer -- can pick up power up items throughout the levels that make them invincible and grant them certain powers for a certain time.
The mechanic of switching between characters could have also been more thought out. While having to tap a direction on the D-pad in single-player gameplay is fine when you have just two characters, but when the entire Simpsons squad is playable you're still relegated to using a directional to cycle through the characters rather than assigning each direction to a specific family member. It's a small gripe, but it is a nuisance nonetheless.
Another strongpoint for the game's main campaign is the level design. Each is uniquely themed and is excellently self-contained, similar to that of the Simpsons episode that it's modeled after. Not only that, but each of them has original dialogue that has been recorded by the stars of the show as well as by the supporting cast. As anyone knows, it just wouldn't be the same without the real cast members voicing the stars of the show so it's great to see that EA spent the extra dough to nab both the creators and the talent to authenticate the overall experience.
For as many good things as the single-player game does, it is not without its serious flaws on Wii. The greatest flaw within the core gameplay is easily the camera mechanic, which is exacerbated by the fact it's assigned to the d-pad on Nintendo's system. The game is held back in terms of camera movements because of the non-precise movement that the d-pad allows for. It can be nauseating trying to focus on an enemy or align for a jump as the camera haphazardly swings about. The camera is still contained by environmental pieces which certainly doesn't help things.
There are also when it comes to motion-sensitive controls. These govern the special abilities that the quartet of Simpsons possesses. Sometimes you'll try to access Homer's burp and it simply won't happen. It doesn't interfere nearly as badly the controller lag in the PS2 rendition, but it's still frustrating when you encounter unneeded deaths. Things have also been simplified a bit on Wii, due in part because of the more complex control mechanics. Rather than giving each Simpson a set of two attacks, they've instead been relegated to one. Bart can only use his slingshot unless he's in a confined situation, in which case the game automatically reverts to melee attacks. It works, but it feels like you're in less control when compared to the other versions of the game.
While the single-player experience isn't quite as good on Wii as it is on the other systems that house The Simpsons Game, it still functions well and gets its point of humor across. The game moves better than on PS2 with more enemies populating the environments, but again, the inclusion of motion-sensitive controls doesn't quite overshadow the fact that they don't always perform the way you'd like.
Like the other versions of the title, you can't take the game online, which is a big no-no in this day and age. As it is, you'll be forced to deal with the vertical split-screen, but that's not even our biggest gripe. Our biggest complaint has to do with the inherent level design within the game. Because each is geared towards a specific character and their abilities your buddy will be left with nothing to do a bit too often. Sometimes Bart will have to use his Bartman gliding ability to reach a ledge, his grapple to jump from platform to platform, then use his slingshot to shoot a target which will open up a door for Homer. The only issue with that is that while Bart is off gallivanting towards the target that will let the tandem progress, Homer is left to stand around with nothing to do other than take down a bunch of baddies. Fun for one person does not make for a good cooperative play experience.
That wouldn't be as much of a complaint if only every single level weren't geared towards specific characters. It's obvious that co-op was added out of sheer necessity rather than as a focal point for the game as it should have been.
The entire storyline, and I'm not sure I've said how hilarious it is enough thus far but it really is sidesplitting at points, will run around eight hours which brings us to our final gripe with the gameplay; there just isn't enough of it. There are plenty of collectibles for each character to snag throughout each level as well as the pseudo-sandbox (there isn't much else to do beyond talking to random citizens) of Springfield, and you do have the ability to expand your power meter by collecting them, but it's likely that only the true Simpson devotees will find enjoyment in the inane amount of item hunting.
Aesthetically the game will please fans of the series overall as there are plenty of new full-motion videos that articulate the storyline with the same authenticity that you see every Sunday night. There are tons of great cutscenes that show every Simpsons character in recent memory (less the overly tall guy and his tiny car) as well as other Matt Groening characters that you likely won't see coming.
The in-game cinematics are a little less appealing, featuring a visual style that is more reminiscent of fan art than the actual TV broadcast. The gameplay on the Wii obviously can't compare to its next-gen big brother, and you'll notice plenty of shortcomings when comparing the two. There are slightly varied character animations on Wii to tune things to look more like the motions that you make with the controller. The number of enemies on-screen is obviously less than what you'll see on 360, but that's a good thing given the touchy controls.
Thankfully the characters in The Simpsons Game still move just as they should and feature animations that many will recognize. My personal favorite takes place when Homer is left idle for a certain amount of time. He simply nods off to sleep and begins snoring, and it is absolutely priceless. Mr. Simpson is left standing up straight, mouth agape, snoring. I don't know why, but it gets me every single time.
Even if the visuals on Wii won't knock your proverbial socks off, the aural offering is among the best we've heard in a long while from any game. The music holds true to what you'd expect from The Simpsons and the hilarious quips simply do not stop coming. They don't all hit as hard as they intend, but the ones that do will have you rolling on the ground in no time at all. EA should be commended once again for going the extra mile by having the creators create a script that is both faithful to the series and leaps and bounds ahead of where The Simpsons has been in recent years in terms of laughs.
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