The Simpsons Game Review
As far as most fans are concerned, it took way too long for a full-length feature film featuring their favorite TV family (that's a lot of "F" words!) to arrive in theaters. It finally happened last fall, and at the same time, EA dropped the long-awaited game. However, The Simpsons Game is hardly the first title based on the longest-running sitcom in television history, as there have been several installments in the past, including a mostly appreciated arcade version. Thankfully, the game isn't based on the movie - which is good news, considering the track record of games-based-on-films - so we had high hopes for this title, primarily because we've been hoping for a fantastic virtual Simpsons experience for quite some time. What we get is a solid title with a few mechanical and gameplay flaws, which results in an adventure that remains entertaining throughout. Unfortunately, one can easily breeze through the game in about eight hours time, which means many will balk at the $60 price tag; if the production was of a higher value, it would be worth the cost of admission. As it stands, The Simpsons Game would make for a great rental option, but not much else.
The graphics feature a jarring contrast between the best-looking Simpsons cartoons ever (you get to see the cartoons in high-definition) and underwhelming cut-scenes and gameplay graphics. It's somewhat disappointing to see the comical family in all their side-splitting glory early on, then watch them relegated to a merely average existence during the technically lacking cut-scenes. There's plenty of color and a decent amount of detail in the environment, though, and the level design is both accomplished and diverse. There just isn't anything that even remotely resembles a "wow" factor, and while it may be unfair to expect that from a game like this, we still expected better from a next-gen video game. The silver lining revolves around the town of Springfield, which boasts a variety of different locations and secrets, but even then, we find ourselves decidedly bored with the level of visual quality. Honestly, you'll want to check out the actual high-def cartoons all the time, but playing the game can get to be the equivalent of a graphical yawn. Still, and at the very least, fans of the show will probably be satisfied with this presentation, so that's probably what counts.
The sound is much better, thanks to top-notch voice-acting, consistent sound effects, and a professional soundtrack that fits the atmosphere nicely. Normally, we grow tired of character one-liners sprinkled throughout the gameplay, but in this case, we would always welcome the hilarious Simpsons panache. Perhaps best of all, the voice acting excels in any situation; whether you're watching a cartoon or playing through a particular mission. Due to the goodly assortment of skills and items in the game, there's also an appreciated variety of effects, which certainly adds to the overall sound appeal. The soundtrack can often be strangely surreal and even a little dreamy, and that sometimes seems confusing, but it still works. Even when wandering around Springfield, it just sounds realistic. ...well, as realistic as a fictional cartoon town should be, anyway. We really don't have anything bad to say about the sound, and it remains the brightest highlight in The Simpsons Game, which may not be ideal but it's still a big plus. If only the graphics had been on par with the sound quality, we would've had a truly amazing technical production, but we'll take what we can get.
This game will make you smile more than once. That much is a given, especially if you're a fan of the show. You start off in a chocolate-laden dreamland in which Homer runs wild, and from there on out, you will explore Springfield with each of the four main characters of the Simpsons family. Each has their own special set of skills, each can be switched to any given time (usually), and each will be able to locate and pick up special collectibles. Unfortunately, these collectibles don't seem to do anything at all, and while the cooperative-based levels are well done, the concept tends to get old very quickly. Furthermore, what with plenty of significant camera issues and a two-player mode that typically leaves one player without a task, The Simpsons Game slips and stumbles on its way to gaming nirvana. But it doesn't fall flat on its face, as the engaging adventure features plenty of "good" and not much in the way of "bad." In other words, we have both good news and bad; the latter is that it's not a must-play for just any gamer, but the good news is that Simpsons lovers get a game well worth playing.
We'll start with the problems, though. We just mentioned the iffy camera, and we're forced to elaborate. The camera switches between free and fixed as you progress, and when it's free, you often don't have full control due to a loose and mediocre view implementation. For example, there's one spot when Bart is in the Natural History Museum standing on a planet prop. If you try to rotate the camera to the left to get behind him, it keeps getting stuck and bouncing back to the right. This would happen far too often in other situations, too, and it grew to be immensely annoying in certain levels. The other downside hinges on the contrast between each of the four Simpsons characters; it's painfully obvious that Homer is the most capable of the bunch, as Marge and Lisa only have one attack apiece and aren't half as much fun to control. Bart's "Bartman" costume allows for greater abilities - he can glide and climb, for instance - but for the most part, it's most satisfying to run around with Homer. Of course, there's plenty of reason to play as other characters, primarily because particular members of the cast will be able to pick up their own collectibles. Bart picks up the Krusty icons, Marge picks up coupons, etc.
But like we said earlier, there doesn't appear to be any purpose to finding these little platforming rewards. You can pick them up around town and during specific missions, but it really doesn't seem to matter if you ignore them entirely. This defeats the entire purpose of running around in search of these collectibles, and without a purpose, we can't put much stock in that feature. The last bit of negative feedback centers on the two-player cooperative gameplay: when playing single-player, you're always switching to the character that will help solve the puzzle in question. But when playing as two players, one person will likely just be standing around with nothing to do. This means - oddly enough - that the single-player campaign is far more entertaining than the co-op mode, just because there's always something to do and the pacing is solid. However, one can still be happy with the experience, despite all these drawbacks. We often like to focus on the positive, and we'll be doing that with The Simpsons Game, just because we think the fun-factor should always take precedence.
The control is good (although not as tight and refined as it could be), the level design is always interesting and fresh, and the ambiance set by the wonderful voice-acting and those inspired cartoons really helps. When it comes to games like this, it's always of the utmost importance to cater to your target audience, and we believe EA does exactly that with this title. It may not appeal to everyone, but then again, it doesn't necessarily have to. If they had only managed to create a more open-ended experience with Springfield and a game that doesn't end in less than 10 hours, they woud've had a must-own piece of software for any Simpsons fan. It was always plenty of fun to take control of any given character - again, especially Homer - and make your way through the town or specific levels. There's also a great deal of good-natured jabs; the writers take a few shots at themselves (that's right, EA making fun of EA), there are references to the PS4 and Xbox 720, and the characters themselves realize they're actually in a video game. It's a great way of drawing in the player, and it works extremely well.
EA gets a lot of things right with this one, even though several technical issues hamper the overall gameplay. It's too bad that the total play time isn't very long, there's no online multiplayer, and the two-player co-op isn't up to snuff, but the game remains entertaining for the majority of your brief adventure. The camera is irritating and the in-game graphics could've been better, but with wonderful sound, great level design and a very good presentation, there are no crippling problems. Unless you're a super Simpsons fan, The Simpsons Game probably isn't worth $60, but it's still worth looking into as a rental for just about everyone.
3/1/2008 Ben Dutka