Springfield in the palm of your hand!
As a longtime Simpsons fan who had gone astray, only to be brought back into the fold by the very well written movie earlier this year, The Simpsons Game has been one of my most anticipated titles of the year. I went in knowing my hopes could be dashed though. Despite a few notable attempts, the Simpsons forays into gaming thus far have ranged from the enjoyable (The Simpsons Arcade) to the downright painful (Bart’s Nightmare, I’m looking at you). Having quickly blazed through one of the console versions, I sat down to see if Springfield could be packed into portable form without losing some of its luster. Would the game be able to succeed despite the limitations imposed by the handheld?
Graphically , the game is an impressive feat, managing to capture the look and feel of the cartoon and bringing the Simpsons to life on your screen. Everything looks clean and crisp, with animations that mimic those of the show. The hand drawn segments meant to be in the exact style of the show are beautifully done and really show that sometimes we do welcome being taken out of the game world for our cinemas. This is painfully evident when the game attempts to provide cinematics using the in-game engine, as characters look awkward and disjointed upon close inspection, and it really takes you out of the experience. From a distance the 3-D is beautiful, but zoom in and things take a nasty turn.
The gameplay is broken up into different levels, and each level has specific characters you must use to tackle it, each with different abilities, such as Bart using his Bartman cape to glide and Marge’s ability to court town-goers to follow her and do her bidding. The variety to the levels is wonderful, most levels parodying one or multiple different video game related subjects (I’ll leave it at the as to not spoil anything). Even better are the Comic Book Guy “video game cliches” – different moments where he will appear on screen and announce that you’ve found another cliché, with over 30 to collect throughout the game. You’ll be shocked to see just how often this industry re-uses the same subject matter over and over. The humor and self-parody of The Simpsons Game is by far its greatest asset. Early on , the game reveals to the characters that they are in fact living within a video game, and this helps to keep things feeling unique and provides a vessel for the writers to go on an all out assault towards everything about the games industry and the Simpsons themselves.
Second only to the game’s humor is the incredible sound and voice-acting of the title. Just about every major and minor character is voiced by the same actor who does the voices for the show, and it’s apparent from just how spot on every word throughout the game is delivered. The music matches the show’s spirit perfectly, and every single nuance is present and accounted for. This is truly a benchmark for how licensed products need to be approached if they ever hope to rise above the mediocre. It’s a shame the gameplay can’t keep up with the humor and voice work.
The game’s combat in a bit uninspired, and seems more like just something you need to push through in order to get to the next joke or pop-culture reference. Punching enemies with the same moves over and over seems worth it though when the humor is just so spot-on. The puzzles seem enjoyable at first, until you realize early on it’s the same exact things over and over. Homer has to stomp on something. Bart has to use jet streams to glide across. Wash-rinse-repeat. With so many games to be parodied, one would think the options for parody in gameplay would be abundant. Though we do get a few interesting portions to break up the gameplay such as mimicking Frogger, over-all both combat and puzzle elements are uninspired.
The controls are another issue altogether. The console iterations were hard enough to function the camera, and in the PSP version it’s game breaking in many areas. The inability to turn your character and the camera at the same time makes many of the Bartman flying areas near-impossible, and many other areas of the title much more difficult than necessary. Outside of the camera issues, the game controls well, and is another example of why the PSP either needs a second analog or developers need to shop shoe-horning their console titles onto the handheld.
A couple things taken out on the PSP version are another disappointment. The large, free-roaming version of Springfield used as your hub for accessing missions on the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions is taken out, one can only assume due to system limitations. Though not game-breaking, Simpsons fans will surely want to be able to explore the game to its fullest and would be much better served by another system in that regard. The lack of multiplayer is another downer, as romping through the game with a buddy on-the-go would seem a good fit for this type of game.
The Simpsons Game is short, very short. Seasoned gamers will blaze through without much trouble in a six hour session or so. Some replay value is provided through the “clichés,” some time-attack goals, and different collectibles for each character to find within the levels. Unless you’re the type of gamer who needs to find every single bottle cap, you won’t see much reason to give the game more than a single play through though. With a six hour game, that kind of replay value is just a little hard to swallow.
Though an enjoyable romp, there’s no way to recommend the PSP version over one of the console iterations of The Simpsons Game. The humor is what fans game to see, and you’ll find it easier to get to all the enjoyable parts if you aren’t constantly fighting with the camera. If you do need your Simpsons on-the-go, this is as competent a port as one could have hoped for on the PSP, and has most of the goodness present in its bigger brothers. Fans of the show will not be disappointed, but realize that you’re coming for the jokes, the gameplay is merely a vessel to get you there.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Beautiful in game and stunning cinematics, but close-ups are awkward. 2.0 Control
Constantly fighting with the camera brings the experience screeching to a halt. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The benchmark for all other licensed properties. 2.0 Play Value
Short, without much to do when you’re done. 2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.