Reviews: The Simpsons Game

Neither Fun Nor Funny

I read alot of reviews before picking up the Simpsons game. Almost all agreed that while the gameplay was mediocre, it had the Simpsons brand of hilarity. So I decided to give it a go.

We join the Simpsons family, who discover magical powers through an instruction manual for The Simpsons Game. They set out to unravel the mystery, making plenty of video game references and jokes along the way. There is a very epic feel to the journey, as levels go from enchanted Everquests forests to COD battlefields, to a bouncy colorful Nippon and even Heaven itself. The locales grower stranger and grander, and there is always a sense of excitement and adventure that I've rarely felt with a video game. Add in an incredible soundtrack to go along with it, and this is a game that should be a blast to playthrough.

I say should, because two other aspects set out to undermine these strengths.

Firstly, gameplay. You start from the hub world of Springfield, which despite being populated with all your favorites, is pretty desolate and boring. Each main section, despite the changing scenery, amounts to bland brawling, cookie-cutter platforming and puzzle-solving, though every so often there will in-game reference to a classic (IE one boss battle plays like a level of Joust) to keep things fresh. The camera, unsuprisingly, is of little help, and is the cause of many deaths.

Secondly, humor. While the entire game does lampshade video game tropes, from old cliches to half-assed licensing, the humor, in typical modern Simpsons fashion, is content to simply parrot these observations than do anything of actual wit with them. Cliches are pointed out, but are never fixed or even played with; they're just there for you to endure. And what isn't a video games joke is either recycled from early seasons (repackaged and tossed in randomly without the set-up or timing that made it funny to begin with) or just plain lazy ("all french peopel ar cow-wards who luv zer whine n cheez" ).

When people call this game funny, keep in mind they mean 2007 Simpsons funny. If you aren't a fan of Simpsons during this year, then the humor will fall flat on its face every time. Combine that with bland gameplay that bogs the rest of the experience down, and only the grand scope of the journey can make it worth a bargain buy.

And is that what you want in a Simpsons game?

Mediocre at best, but funny as hell.

The Simpsons Game isn't really something you play for awesomeness. The levels are very linear and (until the last set) quite bland. Each area is just about the same as the last; just jump on platforms and bash enemies to death. The camera WILL KILL YOU more than anything else. The virtual Springfield is fun to explore at first, but it really only amounts to finding more collectibles, and is actually rather small. Co-op feels like it was just tacked on two minutes before launch. And once you've beaten every level, that's it.

That being said, The Simpsons Game is still a lot of fun the first time through. Why? Because it's the first Simpsons game to be genuinely funny. The entire game is one giant lampshade of every video game trope under the sun, from pointing out tired cliches, to arguing over game terminology, right down to some jabs at executives and the disposable nature of the game market. Even the bits that don't have any lampshades are a lot of fun, in some ways even more than the actual show in recent years.

The scatterbrained story revolves around the Simpsons discovering an instruction manual for The Simpsons Game, which allows them to unlock super powers. From there, they fight aliens, chase down Will Wright, explore the inner workings of video game development (hint: it involves hedgehogs in hamster wheels), and so forth. The best part, though, is the last few levels, where the family enters other Simpsons games in development, all so they can hunt down Matt Groening and put an end to their terrible licensed games. In particular, the "Medal of Homer" level is made of pure awesome, the "Big Super Happy Fun Fun Game" level is just so wacked up it's awesome, and the "Neverquest" level has one of the most hilarious boss fights ever. And the Groening fight is so full of Take That's and Self Depreciation, it stands out as the game's true highlight.

Even though the game hits most of the bad design branches on its way down (although not to the level of the Matt Hazard series), it's simply so god damn funny that it's worth one run through. And since it's probably five bucks or less at your local game store, it's not a bad bargain buy.