MMM, More SIMPSONS…
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.