Way back when in the midsts of history, more specifically at the start of the 1990’s before social media and lips-syncing to songs became a way to pass time, the youth enjoyed all manner of things that was on television. However it took a certain dysfunctional family from the US to capture the imagination of viewers on a weekly basis with their antics and general tomfoolery – this was of course the Simpsons. As was the case with a number of television programs from the late 80s/early 90s, the success of the program brought about video games and The Simpsons was no exception. Although a plethora of games came and went on various systems, the first entry that got released on the NES was The Simpsons: Bart vs The Space Mutants. The title alone gave the game promise and a good impression of some scrape or antic Bart would get involved in. But looking back at it now, how does it play and stack up? Is it a vintage pearl like the earlier seasons of the show? Or as foul as the more recent episodes?
As you might have guessed from the title, you’re in control of Bart. This should come across as no surprise as at the time ‘Bartmania’ was sweeping the country, featuring in all sorts of merchandise and taking over the charts with “The Bartman”. Anywho…the story of the game is that aliens invade the planet and take over peoples’ bodies, enslaving them so they can take over the world. Bart is the one person who sees their dastardly plan and has to put a stop to it in order to save the world. Sounds plausible enough, and does sound like something that could happen on an actual episode. So far so good.
However, turning on the game you jump straight into the first level with which you have to find all and any purple object in the level, and spray them a different colour in order to get rid of them. Quite where this fascination of purple comes from is anyone’s guess, it is nice enough but is it any nicer than say a nice blob of aquamarine or a smudge of fuschia? On the game screen along the bottom you’ll notice a status bar that helpfully provides information on the item in your possession, lives you have left, a timer and also what can only be described as “goals”. What this means for instance on the first level is that you need to collect 24 purple items or in fact spray items from purple to red. But how does this work? You stumble across the first purple item which just so happens to be a rubbish bin (or trash can for readers across the pond) but if you press the A button you jump and pressing the B button does absolutely zilch. The select button will change the item you’re carrying and the start button performs that action. Sadly it doesn’t show anywhere the item that is needed in order to change the colour of the bin – you won’t know this until you have to further explore the level and on a really high shelf you eventually find a spray can. You have to backtrack through the level encountering enemies that seem to evade any kind of attack you try to throw it’s way before eventually coming across the first purple item you encountered and pressing B to spray your can. Throughout the level you have to try and be as resourceful as you can and find other ways of transforming the purple into a different colour, be this from climbing or stumbling across purple items.
One of the most infuriating aspects of the game is something you may encounter within minutes of the game on the very first level, and that is the controls (oh god they’re bad – Ed). The basis of any half-decent game is having tight responsive controls however this game sadly lacks this. For instance, when you try to move Bart, the controls are not immediately responsive and seem to have some kind of lag – this causes you to push harder on your controller to try and get Bart to react better however this doesn’t seem to work. Another example of this is when you attempt to do a super run, to get enough speed to clear higher jumps and get onto higher ledges. This requires a difficult combination of holding the A and B button but in a way where your spray can isn’t used and then timing your press of the A button to try and jump – would it not have been simpler to use the B button to run? The jump rarely works when you want it to, so in order to spray to remove purple items is an unnecessary pain and what is even more of a pain is attempting to complete a super jump with these awkward controls to get these items up high. If you thought that was bad, you’ll notice in due course that there is not a health bar – this is a game with which you get two hits before you’re dead. A gentle caress from an enemy, be it on your head or thigh, do that twice and bam you’re brown bread and start right back at the start of the level. The only positive is that the game remembers what items you’ve sprayed for instance so you don’t need to complete this again but the challenge of only having two hits before you’re dead will cause you to go back to the beginning more than you think.
One thing that is somewhat bearable is the 8-bit rendition of the theme tune but the downside to this is that it continually loops so after a while you may tire of hearing this theme tune. What would have been better in a perfect world is having the theme tune in short bursts rather than continually on a loop – it’ll make you wish “The Bartman” was on a loop isntead. Actually forget that, who would want that…? The sound effects are standard 8-bit fare with its typical jumping noises and background noises as well so again nothing that is offensive to ears and cannot be criticised that much. What is kind of cool is the attempt at some form of digitsed voice, that says “eat my shorts” and something which unless mistaken resembles a “cool man” though that is yet to be confirmed. Although the music and the sound effects are on the more positive side of the spectrum it doesn’t detract from the poor controls and poor gameplay on offer. The game was developed by Acclaim who made some decent games at the time such as Turok and “boomshakala” NBA Jam – maybe the team were having one too many sherberts at the office when developing the game but irrespective of that, it’ll take a lot of attempts and patience to move away from the very first level.
If you were a fan of the Simpsons and also a fan of video games, it is easy to see how excited you would have been that there was a game based off the show especially when this was released on one of the biggest consoles at the time. Imagine how excited you would have been, rushing down to your local friendly video-game seller or rental place, plonking your hard earned cash (or that of your parents) and treating yourself to the biggest mashup since Cherry and Coca-Cola but instead spending your time repeating the first level over and and over again. There will be those who may have breezed through the level and upon reading this wonder what the furore is about. To average gamers though, this would have been a game that makes you rage and throw your controller out the nearest window or aimed it at the nearest wall. Should you have made it to the second level then you would have been greeted with the task of collecting hats from a shopping centre which is in all honesty as changing the purple coloured items from the first level.
The developers knew how big the Simpsons franchise was, there was no need to rush out a game to appease the masses. This is something that could have taken a lot of care and attention in order to release a quality product for a quality television series. What gamers got instead was this travesty that had bad controls, questionable level objectives and an initial difficulty that was hard to master without untold hours of practice. Copies of this game are quite common and do not cost much at all, so by all means grab it for the collection or even just so you have the start of a franchise that didn’t quite make as much of a gaming impact as say Mario or Zelda. But never fear eh? Because surely after the criticisms of this game the developers couldn’t go wrong when Bart went global with Bart vs The World, right…?
All screenshots from Moby Games. And yes, we’ll make Andy review a lot more Simpsons games, mwah ha ha!!!