Simpsons Game Reviewed

The Simpsons Game is brilliant. It’s not the perfect video game by any means, but the conception, execution and delivery are brilliant. It would have been easy to stick Homer and co. in a variety of ‘funny’ situations and add some platforming elements to mix up the puzzling and third person shooting and leave it at that, but ever since the photo-face in Tiger Woods 08 EA seem to have found their funny bone, because from start to finish The Simpsons Game is laugh-out-loud funny. Actual LOLs were coming out of my mouth at times, right from the belly, and that hasn’t happened since Gabe Newell last mentioned a Sony console.

This being a Simpsons product, the writing is top notch: the storyline is a self-referential ironic look at videogames, with the family getting involved in an ever expanding plot line based around a fictional new Simpsons game, starting from when Bart finds the instruction manual right through to an alien invasion and several expertly crafted digs at Everquest, Grand Theft Auto and even EA favourites like Medal of Honour. There’s even at least one trip to the EA game factory, with identical Maddens, big dripping vats of AI, and an evil menace in the form of Will Wright complete with little green Sims crystal over his head.

So, in essence, it is a third person adventure with shooting sections, platforming bits and a few puzzles, but it’s all wrapped up so coherently within a familiar universe (the entire town of Springfield and the Simpsons house is explorable, GTA style) that you forget you’re playing essentially quite formulaic and repetitive game mechanics.

Each of the four main Simpsons characters is playable – you’ll always have two in each level which you can swap between at will, but each have different properties and abilities. Bart has long range weaponry in the form of his slingshot, can climb walls and can transform into Bartman and use his cape to glide. Homer can ultimately transform into a ball and use helium to reach higher areas and fire grenade-like blobs of goo. Lisa uses her sax to stun enemies and has the ability to move key parts of the landscape about to solve puzzles, and finally Marge, whilst not directly able to fight herself, can use her megaphone to command others around to do her dirty work for her.

It’s a finely balanced mix that works really well, and the cut-scenes and original cartoon animations that pepper each level further concrete the Simpsons experience. It would be spoilers to discuss the story and characters further, suffice to say that it’s a storyline well worth playing through and the surprise entrance by NES versions of the family is a real treat. Each level can be attempted in a time-trial fashion once completed, to extend the lifespan beyond hunting for bonuses.

Visually it’s solid – the frame rate is locked at 30, there’s stacks of ‘next-gen’ effects going on and the characters and surroundings are brilliantly modelled. The audio is fantastic too – EA have excelled themselves with the script and speech which is not only consistently funny but well acted and the equal of the best of the TV episodes. For Simpsons fans, this is the perfect way to explore the town in full 3D and the high definition cartoons that bookend each episode are pin-sharp in 720p for the first time.

Beneath the clever storyline and the fun-poking (the cliche counter is an excellent idea) is a great, albeit fairly short single player platformer with plenty of heart. The (offline) co-op mode is cool (splitting the screen, and framerate, in half) and welcomed, but a fully fledged online multiplayer death match option would have been a riot. The modular approach to the game suggests that it’s possible for downloadable content, even if it’s just new characters to play as. It’s a brave way to use a trusted franchise, but EA have pulled it off and we can’t recommend this more for hardcore Simpsons fans as they’ll obviously get the most from the game. Everyone else can rest assured that this is well worth the cash.