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 their 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 is good.
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 flaws. The greatest flaw within the core gameplay is easily the camera mechanic. Just as with other third-person games of the past, the camera in The Simpsons can be awkward to maneuver. For whatever reason it's constrained by pieces of the environment, thus making it incredibly difficult to orient yourself when cornered by a horde of enemies.
Despite the camera's failings, the single-player experience delivers solid fun and plenty of hilarious moments that run the gamut of Simpsons lore. But The Simpsons Game feels like it should be played cooperatively, something that the developers obviously thought of, but sadly didn't fully realize. While you and a buddy -- just one, not three like you'd think for the levels that feature all four characters -- can jump in and play through each level, there are some serious issues with co-op play that shouldn't exist.
First of all, 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 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 itself continues on that theme with characters and environments that actually don't benefit from an HD signal beyond the inherent added pop to the colors that high-definition brings. In fact, this may be the first game in history that looks worse in HD than it does in standard definition. Okay, maybe not worse overall, but the game does hold truer to its source material in standard-definition. The enhanced sharpness simply brings out too many rough edges and some cases of slowdown when compared to its low-def rendition.
Thankfully the characters in The Simpsons Game 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 we are lukewarm toward the overall look of the game, the aural offering is among the best we've seen 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.
©2007-10-29, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved