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The Simpsons Game (Xbox 360) artwork

The Simpsons Game (Xbox 360) review

"Smithers, dismember the corpse and send his widow a corsage."

The Simpsons Game (Xbox 360) image

At one point, The Simpsons Game admits that its franchise consists of mostly awful licensed fare. You come across this confession during a late campaign cutscene, where a major villain apologizes for all of the poorly developed precursors to this self-aware adventure. I couldn't help but cringe during this scene, though, because the events leading up to it were no better than your standard, lackluster Simpsons title.

This revelation comes after hours of toiling with all manner of flaws, from irksome mechanics to painfully drab missions. You take control of two of four Simpsons characters (you only utilize Maggie during brief segments, where she crawls through ventilation ducts) as they voyage through a parody of the games industry. Yeah, this is one of those games: a title that thumbs its nose at video game cliches and pitfalls, while falling victim to similar headaches itself.

Now and then you bump into a game trope, and Comic Book Guy pops up to smugly point out that the device in question is overused. The game then spams that very concept to no end. It trashes enemy-spawning nests, but has no problem throwing them at you until you want to burn every copy of Gauntlet you can find. Even lava pits and saw blades aren't safe from Comic Book Guy's eye for the obvious, and both of those crop up more than a few times throughout the campaign. Let's be honest, though: few people are actually bothered by pressure plate puzzles or breakable crates or most of the trite old things this game points out. Simpsons critiques a lot of low hanging fruit, but it fails to realize its own flaws.

The Simpsons Game (Xbox 360) image

For instance, you can explore Springfield in all its glory, but don't expect a full-fledged sandbox from this installment. There are no major side missions or distractions that any worthwhile open or semi-open world title would provide, aside from collecting character-specific items. Each playable member of the family has seventy-five tokens to obtain, plus additional items hidden in each mission. If you wish to fully undertake this task, though, be ready to backtrack like crazy. You might struggle to get Bart and Lisa to climb a certain building, only to discover that a bottle cap lies waiting for Homer's grubby fingers. You then must drop back down to the street, locate a bus stop, change out your party and hope you can remember how and where to summit the building.

Where was Comic Book Guy on that? "Oh, a mediocre open world with incessant item gathering. How original."

On the brighter side, though, Springfield is at least a joy to explore for all of fifteen minutes. The town is impressively put together, and looks great thanks to cel-shading. Everyone from Ned Flanders to Bumblebee Man also wander the streets, spouting off random quotes. For delightful traction of an hour, Simpsons functions like an interactive episode of its source material.

But then you enter the game's assortment of missions, and disenchantment returns. You'll breeze through the first few levels, only to curse yourself hoarse once you reach a stage where Bart and Lisa enter a virtual world where video game content is manufactured. At that point, you battle an endlessly spawning army of football players and clones of Ryu from Street Fighter, as they crowd and mercilessly beat you to bloody pulps. Even if you put distance between you and the mob, they pelt you with fireballs and pigskins until you perish.

The Simpsons Game (Xbox 360) image

You could fight them off, but the combat system here is horribly dated. You receive one button to mindlessly mash for an attack and another to execute special blows. Your strikes don't build up to neat combos, either, so you're stuck constantly swinging inadequate punches while enemy populations barely diminish. More often than not, I found myself avoiding combat (in an action game, no less) and focusing on objectives. Again, Comic Book Guy, where was your biting commentary on simplistic, overused button-mash mechanics?

But how can anyone complete objectives when constant annoyances get in the way? Sometimes you reach a dead end or a chasm you can't cross with a normal jump. You stand there scratching your head for ages, until you realize you can use Bart's grappling hook. The game provides you with a tiny prompt in your HUD to let you know when that item is available. It's easy to miss, especially when a deluge of foes bear down on you (as they often do).

Later, you battle a possessed Lard Lad in a Shadow of the Colossus-inspired stage. During this fight, you nail key points on the Lad's body to create platforms, which are needed to further exploit his weak points. However, you can only reach these lofty heights by utilizing the environment. So you need to scour your surroundings to find a water spout or a climbable building, then pray that you don't miss the platform. After some time, Lad runs to the other side of the battlefield and his weak point reseals.

The Simpsons Game (Xbox 360) image

You struggle to complete objectives as you rotate the camera or engage in platforming sequences. At times, the camera refuses to fully rotate or it sits behind a part of your surroundings. You won't be able to fight off the legions of wind-up Krusty dolls or knock out Scratchy pimps when all you see is the back of a billboard or a brick wall. But that's not nearly as irritating as falling off seesaw-like structure because the game's physics are apparently unable to properly process a jump off a descending surface. Your experience only worsens when these two headaches get together to pester you like no other combination can. For instance, I had a hell of a time getting Bart to ascend a pair of walls with grippable surfaces. Any time I'd leap from one wall to another, the camera would automatically rotate, changing my flight path and causing me to miss my target.

Yeah, this game is funny, and it pays fitting tribute to video games. Not only do familiar archetypes pop up, like an Italian donning red and blue clothing, but so do locations and settings. I appreciated platforming across a river full of alligators and logs, a la Frogger, and the hairs on my neck rose when I landed in a certain cul de sac from Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. However, it's difficult to fully appreciate these segments when the missions attached to them are either needlessly frustrating or bland. I was apathetic when I rode Final Fantasy-esque airship, because the job attached to it revolved around battling legions of Comic Book Guy sumos and throwing switches ad nauseam to keep the aircraft afloat.

So that late-game apology I mentioned earlier is ironic. Granted, The Simpsons Game isn't as broken as its franchise's worst offerings, but it remains a needlessly frustrating, sub-par action-comedy nonetheless. Ultimately, it's just another installment in a long line of flawed, unpleasant Simpsons games.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (September 23, 2018)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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