The Simpsons: The Game Preview
"The Simpsons" is the longest running sitcom in television history (didja know that?) and even after all this time, the fans haven't grown tired of the yellow-skinned citizens of Springfield. The movie hits theatres on July 27, Microsoft is releasing a special Simpsons-themed Xbox 360, The Simpsons Game is scheduled for the PS3, 360, Wii and PS2, and they recently unveiled parts of the new title at the Fox Studios in Los Angeles last Tuesday evening. This one has been in development by EA for over two years now and will feature a completely original storyline by the show's writers; they're pulling no punches this time around. Previous "Simpsons" games haven't been up to snuff - despite a mildly entertaining arcade installment way back when - but this is one title that just might hit the target.
Speaking of pulling no punches, EA feels comfortable poking fun at themselves, as the game's storyline starts out as a parody of...well, itself. The Simpson family realizes they've been "forced" to star in yet another video game, and they're a little upset about that, but that's only the start of the jabs. Even EA themselves will get picked on, and the title's producer said they had to hire a giant team of lawyers to protect themselves against possible repercussions. See, there's gonna be some potentially offensive subject content, and the writers really fleshed out the scathing script, creating nearly 8,000 lines of dialogue that translates to about 53 minutes of spoken dialogue. In other words, don't think for a second this just another ho-hum game based on a TV show: EA has been working on it for a long time, so the concept should be solid.
The cartoon is 2D, so one might think the game should also remain two-dimensional, but these days, it's either 3D or nothing. Therefore, The Simpsons: The Game is certainly 3D and it looks relatively decent, if the reports on that early presentation can be trusted. In the past, the third dimension has proven problematic for Homer and Co., so we're still a little curious as to whether or not EA can pull it off. It should be a relatively simple process, but in the end, the graphics will hardly be a focal point of your adventure, anyway. EA showed off only one stage of the game, but there were multiple sections to that one level, and the crazy crew from Springfield will have plenty of things to do. Remember, we'll be dealing with a fresh new storyline, here, so don't expect it to follow the plot of any one episode or set of episodes.
The level was called "Around the World in 80 Bites," and showed Homer wandering around the Duff Brewery, eating everything he can get his hands on. The more he ate, the more he "ballooned," and before long, the presenter was rolling around like a giant yellow ball, still eating and still growing. The other part of the level boasted Bart in his Bartman costume, flying across deep chasms in the Brewery. The final version of the game will allow gamers to play with all five of the Simpson family members, which actually sounds similar to The Family Guy game, where we alternated between missions featuring Peter, Brian, and Stewey. Hopefully, though, The Simpsons: The Game turns out to be a lot better. We also hope there's just a bit more depth and variety than we find in most cartoons-turned-games. This is The Simpsons, after all.
And thankfully, there will be a bit more to this game. One of the features we heard about was the cooperative aspect of certain levels, where the player will switch between two pre-selected characters to accomplish tasks and goals. Now, apparently, this factors into the multiplayer option as well; a friend can jump right in without skipping a beat, which should be a great benefit. Why? Well, it'll be a great benefit because, unfortunately, EA hasn't planned to include an online mode. But that's okay, online multiplayer isn't really a make-or-break thing for this game. Like most multiplatform projects, EA plans to utilize the considerable power of the PS3 and Xbox 360 for more impressive visuals, while utilizing some unique motion-sensing for the Wii version.
But the best part may actually center on the game's ability to cater to its core audience: the fans. Just about everyone on earth has heard of the show by now, but the avid followers of the sitcom will be richly rewarded, as EA has worked to include all kinds of recognizable characters and locations. Moe's Tavern, the Nuclear Plant, Duff Brewery, and the Simpsons home will all be featured at one point or another, and of course, the now-famous characters that go along with them. You should expect to see everyone from Mr. Burns to Lennie ‘n Carl to Millhouse to Ned Flanders, and that's exactly the kind of appeal the game needs. Stray too far from the formula, and you get hosed. It's a fact that too many over-ambitious developers choose to ignore, but EA is correctly targeting big fans of "The Simpsons."
Last but not least is something that's caused a bit of a stir around the Internet: during the presentation of the game at the Fox Studios, somebody asked if they planned to include the classic Simpsons arcade game as some sort of "unlockable bonus," but while there was no confirmation, there was a smile and a "no comment" reply. It's a darn good idea, EA! ...as if you hadn't already thought of it, you sly dogs.
5/10/2007 Ben Dutka