Review by Arkrex
"Best. Review. Ever."
Homer is your stereotypical male obese slob. Yet he is married to the lovely blue-haired femme, Marge, with whom he shares the burden of parenting two hyperactive kids, Bart and Lisa. (The dog doesn't count...) They are the Simpsons and if you haven't heard of them before, you really ought to get a life, seriously.
Hot off the heels (or not) of the recently released feature film comes another Simpsons video game. It isn't based on the movie, though, which is a good thing as there are only so many times you can laugh at a Spider-Pig. The creator of the show, Matt Groening himself, played a big part in the mass production of this multi-platform set of games. Thus, unlike some excruciatingly painful cash-ins of the past (Simpsons Wrestling rears its ugly head), The Simpsons Game was met with bated breath. The DS version in question is unique to all the others; it is a wholly 2D platformer that bears more similarities to the old 16-bit games rather than the recent 3D flops (barring Hit & Run which was surprisingly fun despite the Grand Theft Auto overtones).
The story isn't as well developed as the bigger console versions, but all you need to know is that Springfield is being threatened by everything from extraterrestrial life-forms to crazed video game developers (a great cameo from Sims creator Will Wright). We've all seen movies that make a mockery of other movies and frankly they sucked. However, The Simpsons Game's focus on parodying the daylights out of both classic and contemporary video games works a treat.
Throughout the typical platforming running and jumping fare, there are mock-ups of Frogger, Gauntlet, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders and more. If you are a fan of the show, you may be familiar with the Simpsons' trip to Japan where they undertook a cultural-learnings type experience. The heavy-duty cleaning mascot Mr. Sparkle is one of many very minor characters who turns up in the game here, and there's yet another parody to be found in the form of a boss fight a la Pokemon complete with generic punch attacks and the summoning of Battling Seizure Robots! for the win.
Avid fans of the Simpsons and their exploits will no doubt have a blast with the game. It's an absolute crack-up seeing familiar faces pop up in some of the craziest scenarios that are on par with the cartoon itself. Although the general switch-hitting means of progression is rather bland, there are sections where you have to race past as a lumbering Lard Boy monument stalks you Godzilla-style, shooting paralysing bolts your way whilst wreaking havoc to the surrounding environment. Marge's levels differ from the rest in that you aren't restricted to a pure 2D plane, playing out more like a Diablo-esque dungeon crawler as you recruit fellow Springfielders to help you riot enough to get the controversial video game, Grand Theft Scratchy, banned. And then you have some not-so surprising touch-based mini-games that involve using Lisa's Hand of Buddha power to lob evil dolphins away from your hometown or even repel lightning bolts called forth by a dastardly Benjamin Franklin.
There's a lot of variety to be seen here and between each of the four key family members, there are plenty of subtle differences with how you tackle things. The Simpsons all share the ability to double jump and spam some basic kung-fu, but they also have their own unique abilities to contribute in certain situations. Homer can eat lots of junk (and it's hilarious to hear Marge spur him on to reach obesity) to provide fuel for his instant ballooning ability. As a well-rounded body he is able to roll about flattening enemies with ease, breaking down walls, or hurtling off ramps into the skies above. Bart can turn into his superhero persona Bartman, gaining the ability to float over short distances and swing all over the place with his trusty grappling hook. Lisa the brain-box may look the pacifist, but in certain spots she can channel the Hand of Buddha to flick enemies away, cast out thunderbolts, or less aggressively shift cars and tree trunks around to remove blockades or create makeshift platforms. Finally there is Marge who I have already mentioned deals with crowd control. Enemies may overwhelm her alone, but by tapping on close-by citizens and then directing them to the guards and assorted punks that want a piece of Simpson flesh, you can get by relatively unscathed.
Many times you will not play as just the one Simpsons member. Usually you pair up with another and have to make good use of both individual's abilities to get through. It's a fun mechanic akin to other top-notch team-based games, but it is rather simple here. You never have to select which character to play as; the game automatically does it for you. This means that until you switch over to the other character, you know that your job with the current one is not done yet. This takes away any semblance of problem solving which is a pity. Nevertheless, the gameplay is still a lot of fun, especially if you're a young (at heart) gamer and more so if you are a big-time Simpsons fan.
This may very well be the best console 2D Simpsons game yet. (The Simpsons Arcade Game doesn't meet this console' criteria.) It has humble beginnings, but persevere and you'll soon find some great laugh-out-loud diversity. Too bad it doesn't last very long, though. A good three hours is all it took me and with the lack of side-quests or bonus levels, it will be the same for most. There are plenty of collectibles strewn throughout the place, but these aren't of much worth except for 100% completion purposes (I ended up with 96% on my first run). Collecting video game cliches is quite a laugh, though; you'll have to contend with spawning enemies, lame tutorials and several chasm deaths to say that you've found/experienced them. Although it isn't as fleshed out as in the game's console counterparts, little things like this just go to show that the developers did not write this DS version off as just another port.
There are a lot of FMV sequences crammed in here too, not to mention an endless supply of voice acting (some repetitiveness while playing, though). Presentation-wise, it doesn't get any better on the DS. There's even a Nintendogs-esque mini-game where you can nurture and feed Homer while he's taking it easy (usually dozing off) on the couch. Aptly titled Pet Homer, it's a fun diversion from the main game.
It's great to see that after 19 seasons, 404 episodes (and counting) of genuinely funny comedy (the initial bunch are still the best), not to mention countless money-making merchandising, Matt Groening and cohorts are finally starting to take the video gaming side of things seriously. The Simpsons Game for the DS may not be innovative nor as appealing to mainstream audiences (you really do need to be a fan of the show to appreciate what's been done here), but it's a highly creative production nonetheless. It's fairly easy-going (except for the last two levels which will require some help from a gaming mother or father) and the level progression is perhaps too straightforward for its own good. However, if you're up for a rollicking good time that tells a tale about how video games have consumed our life, and you don't mind the Simpsons' outrageous take on the typical all-American family, this comes highly recommended.
VERDICT 8.0/10 A mention of Video GameFAQs?! Oh wow, they even parodied this site!!!
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 11/02/07, Updated 11/06/07
Game Release: The Simpsons Game (US, 10/30/07)
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