The Simp­sons games you should bother play­ing


and “We took the orig­i­nal code tweaked Bart a bit, made him look a lit­tle dif­fer­ent” Dan Kitchen

BART vs THE SPACE MU­TANTS It was the first, but also one of the ■ best early Simp­sons games. The NES games that fol­lowed didn’t match the same qual­ity and at­ten­tion to the se­ries that this did, and no other Simp­sons game utilised the unique puz­zle-solv­ing el­e­ments of this de­but ti­tle from Imag­i­neer­ing. THE SIMP­SONS hit & run Where Road Rage was a fun but ■ lack­ing Crazy Taxi rip-off, Hit & Run was the oblig­a­tory Grand Theft Auto clone that was so pop­u­lar on the PS2. How­ever, the lat­ter was a much bet­ter-qual­ity ti­tle, and en­abled play­ers to prop­erly head out into Spring­field and ex­plore for the first time. THE SIMP­SONS TAPPED out Tapped Out is a freemium ti­tle in ■ the vein of Farmville and other so­cial city-build­ing games. It still man­ages to lever­age the brand well and in a fun way, and if we’re defin­ing ‘es­sen­tial’ as a study of how a brand can be used across a broad spec­trum, this is cer­tainly one to at least try. THE SIMP­SONS AR­CADE If a game of this era wasn’t a ■ side-scrolling plat­former then it was likely a beat-’em-up. But much like a Bart Vs The Space Mu­tants this wasn’t lazy cash-in but a well-rounded ar­cade game from Kon­ami. It was smooth, fast and paid close homage to The Simp­sons fran­chise. THE SIMP­SONS GAME Though this was es­sen­tially a tie-in ■ to The Simp­sons Movie, it didn’t suf­fer as such games usu­ally do. It utilised the hu­mour of the se­ries well and even poked fun at many videogame cliches and tropes for added en­ter­tain­ment. The fact that it was a solid 3D plat­former in its own right helps so­lid­ify it as a Simp­sons clas­sic.

eas­ier,” says Dan, who laments that he didn’t push back more on Fox’s de­sire to make the orig­i­nal a longer game by in­creas­ing its dif­fi­culty. “We took the orig­i­nal code and tweaked Bart a bit, made him look a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, not much dif­fer­ent but bet­ter in many ways. We tweaked his physics, but we did want to re­tain the feel of Bart so that if you were used to the first game and how it re­sponded to the con­troller then it wouldn’t be too dif­fer­ent. And also we wanted to im­prove some of the lev­els and the way they played, mak­ing sure we didn’t have as far jumps, mak­ing sure we didn’t have blind jumps, mak­ing sure you could move the cam­era and see where you were so you knew where to go.”

Mean­while, Fox’s in­ter­est was piqued. Where the orig­i­nal had been cre­ated with a de­gree of free­dom for Imag­i­neer­ing, the par­tic­u­lars of the sequel had much more in­put from Fox it­self. The po­ten­tial of ty­ing a videogame to its new phe­nom­e­non was a clear op­por­tu­nity, and it looked to re­lease a game that had more to of­fer its fans. “They wanted it to be a much more fuller ex­pe­ri­ence,” ex­plains Dan, “which is why we ended up adding in more of the char­ac­ters as cameos and why we ended up putting in the in­ter­sti­tial map and then minigames.” These minigames meant more ter­tiary char­ac­ters could be brought into the game with­out hav­ing to strug­gle with the NES hard­ware to in­clude more playable char­ac­ters, which Fox at least ac­cepted was a fair chal­lenge. “It wasn’t just good enough to have Bart visit another lo­ca­tion and do the same,” he adds. “We had to think: what can we give to the player that is Simp­sons-themed, cap­tures the per­son­al­ity of the show but gives them more than just the same?” This was where the idea to in­clude trivia had come from, since it tapped into the au­di­ence’s in­ter­est de­spite

there only be­ing two sea­sons of the show at the time of the game’s de­vel­op­ment. All this was crammed into a in­cred­i­bly short de­vel­op­ment time, a short turn­around that meant Bart Vs The World would also re­lease on the NES in the same year as its pre­de­ces­sor – a mat­ter of months be­tween the two.

At this point The Simp­sons name was al­ready a huge brand, its suc­cess and pop­u­lar­ity ris­ing with each new episode. Bart­ma­nia had run its course, boot­leg T-shirts were a com­mon sight and the show was re­ally be­gin­ning to find its groove in terms of hu­mour and style. But Ac­claim and Fox had been bit­ten by the craze, with the for­mer al­ready look­ing to work with other de­vel­op­ers on new Simp­sons games – par­tic­u­larly with an eye for a new gen­er­a­tion of con­soles. Imag­i­neer­ing would have one last Simp­sons game up its sleeve, Bart­man Meets Ra­dioac­tive Man, but the cir­cum­stances were dif­fer­ent. Fox be­came far more in­volved with the process, par­tic­u­larly from a creative stand­point. “The open­ing se­quences [of the show] are kind of lit­tle comic book panels,” ex­plains Dan of the orig­i­nal con­cept,

“and Fox wanted a kind of feel­ing of Bart pro­tect­ing the world from Ra­dioac­tive Man. They also came to us and said, ‘Look, we want more of the same with this one.’” Fox even had spe­cific ideas for the sorts of places that the game should al­low play­ers to ex­plore, and dic­tated the ad­di­tion of the likes of an enchanted for­est or un­der­wa­ter seg­ments. As a re­sult it was only the char­ac­ter of Bart­man that tied the game to The Simp­sons at all, oth­er­wise the en­vi­ron­ments, en­e­mies and story was com­pletely re­moved from the fran­chise. “It was re­ally more of a fan­tasy,” says Dan, “Bart’s gone into a comic book and what things could we do that Ra­dioac­tive Man had set up against him?”

Bart­man Meets Ra­dioac­tive Man was a ma­jor shift from the ti­tles that came be­fore it; sure, it was a 2D plat­former, but far more generic and with only su­per­flu­ous at­ten­tion to the brand. It didn’t have the puz­zle el­e­ments of Bart Vs The Space Mu­tants, or the va­ri­ety of Bart Vs The World, and was con­sid­er­ably harder. “Of course this one was all Bart­man, so we had to build in lev­els with this in mind,” con­tin­ues Dan. “So, in tra­di­tional Mario lev­els it’d be no fun if you could put on a cape and fly over ev­ery­thing, so we had to make them more ver­ti­cal, we had to put in things that would re­strict him more. We couldn’t just fly over ev­ery­thing, and so the chal­lenge from that as­pect was to make it fun but with dif­fer­ent types of lev­els.” The big­gest shift was the fo­cus on com­bat, with Bart­man’s melee and laser-shoot­ing abil­i­ties giv­ing the game a to­tally dif­fer­ent ap­proach than the pre­vi­ous ti­tles. It re­leased in De­cem­ber of 1992, and didn’t fare too well crit­i­cally. “Of course we felt pres­sure,” says Garry. “And the pres­sure only got worse be­cause when we first started the game it wasn’t clear how pop­u­lar the brand was go­ing to be­come. As The Simp­sons grew in pop­u­lar­ity, the pres­sure grew as well.” Imag­i­neer­ing’s in­volve­ment, how­ever, ended with Bart Meets Ra­dioac­tive Man, at which point the well-loved fam­ily was well on the way to be­com­ing the iconic piece of pop cul­ture that it is to­day. That pres­sure cer­tainly will have con­tin­ued to grow over the years and is per­haps a key cause of the er­ratic roller­coaster of ti­tles that the Simp­son fam­ily have had to en­dure, cov­er­ing the full spec­trum of knock­out smash hits to shame­ful duds. The Simp­sons his­tory with gam­ing is a long one, and as much a part of our con­scious­ness as the TV shows them­selves; in many ways the show’s qual­ity has its own par­al­lels to videogame equiv­a­lents. Yet while Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie might not have al­ways en­ter­tained at their very best, it’s im­pos­si­ble to say that there isn’t at least a soft spot in our hearts for The Simp­sons when it comes to videogames.

» [NES] Bart nar­rowly evades a peg-legged pi­rate us­ing a lad­der, and he prob­a­bly quips at the scoundrel to dine on his trunks.

» [NES] Bart­man stares off into the dis­tance and won­ders if this par­tic­u­lar li­cence was a good idea or not.

» [NES] Ra­dioac­tive man opens a door in space and time to con­grat­u­late Bart­man on his hard work.

» [NES] Bart­man dis­posed of all the iconic Spring­field im­agery and went for some­thing much more ab­stract.

» [NES] Bart Vs The World saw the el­dest Simp­son child visit fa­mous land­marks from across the world.

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