The Simpsons Review (Xbox360)

Poking fun at yourself before anyone else can do it is a tactic invented by the long running cartoon series, so immediately anything negative to say about The Simpson’s game has already been spoofed right there in the gameplay. You gotta respect that.

The cameo appearances are endless and particularly enjoyable. Even the animated Lard Lad doughnut from the Treehouse of Horror plays a significant part

In all honesty, what is there to say about The Simpsons you don’t already know? And, if you don’t like The Simpsons then you’re opinion doesn’t even matter, so there’s essentially no such thing as a reliable critic when it comes to Matt Groening’s second finest creation.

In good Simpsons fashion, the developers have decided not to try and work some kind of relevant, series-synchronous plot into this latest outing for America’s first family. It didn’t really work in the film, so it’d be unlikely to happen in a game, either.

Instead, the writing team have decided to lampoon the entire videogame scene and thereby sidestep any pedantic, obsessive fan-type questions as to the legitimacy of the character’s actions. While this stands out a mile as a workaround, rather than a solution to any plot problems, it’s ultimately a better idea than reducing matters to a strained collection of cobbled together scenes from the show.

To add a little extra credibility where it’s really needed, however, EA has drafted in most every half-conscious talent from the TV program to do their bit in realising a digital equivalent of the show, and in that respect The Simpsons game is a resounding success. The game can and will aggravate, bore, inspire cynicism and give you thumb ache, but it’ll also make you genuinely laugh – and that’s perhaps the single most unexplored realm of the videogame industry, so hat’s off to Homer on that one.

Every background character from Chief Wigum to Comic Book Guy and Duffman play, in turn, a significant role in the platforming antics of Homer, Bart, Lisa, Marge and Maggie, with original voice actors all turning in for work. Coupled with some original animation to fill in the gaps and provide cut scenes (the box tells us there’s 40 minutes of brand new Simpsons animation in the game, but when it’s in 10 second snippets, it’s hard to prove this true or false) the illusion is more complete than any other Simpsons game to date.

Controlling two of the family at once by switching between them (or by a “drop in – drop out” two player system) and utilising their individual talents to solve puzzles, players are required to take the family through 16 levels of deliberate videogame clichés. The Simpsons, you see, have realised they’re inside a videogame and decided to put their new found digital powers to whatever use they feel like. For example, Bart dons his Bartman Cape (that is so 1991) and floats to places other yellow characters can’t reach while Homer unleashes the destructive power of belching and transforms into a spherical, gelatinous versions of himself, known as Homerball, to thwart enemies.

Each level requires the co-operative talents of whichever two Simpsonites are involved to find the way from entrance to exit, while NPCs continuously hound our beloved family in mild, button mashing combat. Essentially this is a better looking, more talkative version of every other platformer since games went 3D, and in all fairness, doesn’t try to be anything else.

The visuals have received some criticism, but as you can see here, this really is The Simpsons brought to interactive life. What more could we want?
Nacho, nacho man! I wanna be, a nacho man! Worst. Videogame cliché. Ever

But (of my big blue pants), the constant self-deprecation of the storyline does begin to convince gamers that what it says about videogames is true – including this one. The clichés, excuses and liberties with character capabilities ring more true in The Simpsons game than in many others, and there are a great many playability flaws that neither Bart nor Homer ever get around to quipping about. The camera is awful and constantly trying to look directly at the front of the character (meaning you play half of the game feeling like you’re running backwards) and many of the challenges boil down to well timed jumps.

For the last ten years at least, The Simpsons has been a cartoon for adults, so there’s no reason the difficulty levels and required problem solving need to have suffered quite such rampant dumbing down. Random elements crop up in different puzzles that suggest a new gameplay tactic is coming into use, only to disappear altogether and leaving the player scouring background objects hoping to find another puzzle piece or collectable in a similar place – wasting time and thumb miles in the process.

Unfortunately, this bipolar personality does nothing to keep players engrossed. Switching from amusement at non-interactive elements to infuriation at level hopping tedium during gameplay wears thin a little too quickly. Battling against the uncontrollable camera view during the precision jumps becomes a chore, and the blatant telegraphing of puzzle elements removes much of the game’s challenges.

Having said that, you simply can’t beat listening to Duffman’s “Oh yeah!” voiceovers and the sheer weight of in jokes from both the videogame world and The Simpsons show are almost worth battling through the game for. Seeing Mario running breathlessly in a hamster wheel is simply too delicious a satire to not laugh at, and the character’s jokes are certainly worthy of series 12-15 of the TV show. And, putting aside the fact that it’s in 3D (someone call Professor Frink to explain about this “third” dimensions thing), this simple looks “very Simpsons”. The cell shading is just the right tone of yellow, and enough of a pencilled in outline really makes the cartoon come to life exactly as we imagine them.

Everybody do the Bartman! Some of the references are stretched way too thin, even for a deliberate piss take like The Simpson’s game
The puzzles are generally as cerebral as using two characters to operate a dinosaur bone see saw. Even Ralph Wigum could figure these out without getting too much of a nose bleed

Ardent fans of the show probably ought to pick this game up for the wise cracks and references as much as anything else. Casual gamers who like inoffensive, easily attainable challenges wrapped up in pop-culture escapism (you know who you are), or parents looking for a stocking filler that’ll do for both boys and girls, would also do well to have a go at The Simpsons. It’s better than the film, but nowhere near as good as series 4-10 of the TV show. And Futurama pisses on them all.

Top Game Moment: The bits between the gameplay are fan-Simpson-tastic. Shame about the rest, really.

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