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Having grown up watching Simpsons cartoons for pretty much as long as I can remember, I always thought it slightly odd that there was neither a competent film nor video game to go along with the franchise.
Like me, the growing majority of the world has also grown up watching the Simpsons. It was perhaps something of a media curiosity that it took as long as it did for them to finally produce a feature length outing for our favourite yellow four fingered friends. With the movie in cinemas there then comes the associated video game. These often lacklustre releases usually feel it necessary to churn out the same video, audio and story assets to create a comparable experience on your home console.
Before we get any further, we really need to spell out that The Simpsons Game is a very straightforward action plat former. Most of the gaming fare to be found within has been seen elsewhere. There is very little new or innovative here, the same familiar play schemes are trotted out as you progress your way through the three dimensional representation of the Simpsons' reality. However, the twist in the tail of this game is that it knows how clichéd it is. Whereas most games are oblivious to their flaws and shortcomings, The Simpsons Game plays to the fact that it is not breaking any new ground. In a nod to many post-modern authors, it knowingly winks at those of us who have played these types of games before as it makes light of the various forced play mechanics that it is using.
The one bright light of the game is probably the two player action.
This post modern approach is easily the high water mark for the game, and pretty much every corner of the industry comes under some attack. Games as diverse as Grand Theft Auto, Medal of Honor, EverQuest, and Shadow of the Colossus are ripped apart for their various gaming conventions. For those of us with a keener eye, these more obvious gags are then fleshed out with some subtle references to games such as Gauntlet and Joust. Any writer knows that the first rule is to know your audience, and The Simpsons Game's writing is a demonstration that they have achieved just that; this is a game that understands its audience.
This approach manages to distract from the limited gameplay for a while, and the novelty of those dulcet Simpsons tones certainly titillates, but it's not long before you arrive back where you started at the fact that there is very little fun to be had here. It wouldn't be so bad if the delivery and finesse of the various game elements was a little more polished. But the control scheme provided for the Wii really doesn't make proper use of either the Wii-mote or Nun-chuck, and again hampers any suspension of disbelief. Before you have even got off the tutorial level you find yourself wrestling with the camera to get a view of what is going on, the camera man it seems has gone AWOL and expects you to be both player and director for the remainder of the game.
The one bright light of the game is probably the two player action. The game lets you play the various levels, apart from the tutorial, in a co-operative manner. Each level pares up two likely and less likely characters from the TV series to tackle a particular conundrum. In one player mode you can switch between each player. In two player however this makes much more sense as you can take a character each and truly work together to solve each of the problems or beat the enemies.
As you might expect The Simpsons Game draws heavily on the huge repertoire of Simpsons series. This materialises both in some old favourite (and still funny) one-liners, as well as lifting excerpts from certain episodes where appropriate to the action. Whilst this recycling of material isn't ideal when you have just shelled out a good GBP 40, the scene selection is masterly and did have us reminiscing on more than one occasion. The problem is that this makes you want to go and watch some Simpsons on TV rather than play more of the game.
Visually, the game takes the sensible decision to stick with the cartoon's two dimensional representation of things. It would have been a mistake to move their world into fully rendered three dimensions; at least it wouldn't have been the Simpsons. The cartoon art style means that, even on the Wii, the graphics look almost as good as the TV series. This is fortunate for Nintendo's console as it often suffers from less than impressive visuals on these multi-platform releases. As such The Simpsons Game obviously benefits from being able to invest more in the graphical assets that will be shared across the various releases; it really does seem to be coming out on every platform known to man.
This is a game that will appeal a lot more to younger gamers .
The sound is also pretty solid. The voice work thankfully uses the proper voice actors from the series, and they do their usual super-stellar job of near perfect comedic timing on the majority of their lines. The general quality and depth of the sound design holds up well under scrutiny, sound effects and background music are always on cue and add to that overall genuine Simpsons feeling.
The game as a whole is all over pretty quickly by today's standards and is unlikely to take a persistent player much more than seven hours. Value for money suffers in comparison to the 360 and PS3 versions which have the added benefit of an explorable Springfield to explore and investigate. IN place of these the Wii version gets a few "Wii moments." These turn out to be pretty straight forward mini-games that have only a tenuous link to the level in which they crop up. Whilst they certainly don't detract from the overall game they also don't add all that much in terms of actual gameplay.
Overall this is a game that will appeal a lot more to younger gamers and those of us who are die hard fans of the TV series. Those two demographics alone could well stand this game in good stead in terms of sales. In terms of critical appeal however there is not that much to praise. Once you have got past the post modern self aware approach and two player mode then you will find yourself fast running out of things to do with the game.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: