The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants (NES) review
"When the flash is gone, youíre left with a rather hollow husk thatís satisfying only because the game keeps kicking your butt. Some of you freaks enjoy that, I know. Youíll revel in the amount of effort you must exert just to beat the first level, grin as wide leaps over bottomless pits in the museum send you to your death and back to the gameís beginning. For the rest of us, though, something is slightly off-center."
The problem with The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants isnít its lackluster visuals, or its extreme difficulty level, or even the fact that there are only five stages. None of that helps, but itís not so bad. No, the real downer is that the game just isnít much fun. It isnít now and it wasnít years ago when Acclaim first released it to the unsuspecting masses (who should have been tipped off by the name ĎAcclaimí on the box art, even then). Still, itís a worthy diversion for fans of the television show and retro games.
Worthy, I say? Yes, worthy. There are actually a number of features that set this game apart back in the day. The one that always comes to mind first is the few lines of digitized speech. The first time I heard Bart Simpson mutter ďeat my shorts,Ē I knew what it was to be a real man. Sure, it sounds somewhat grainy, and Bart speaks so quickly you might think he ate a bit too much candy. But itís right there, popping out of your speakers like a stiffie from a kilt. The aural goodness doesnít stop there, either. You also get to hear an 8-bit approximation of the showís theme song, and similar bits of music spread throughout other areas.
Graphics are also a real treat. Bart moves about the same as any two-dimensional hero, but the environments through which he hops are often quite spectacular. Springfield actually feels as close to its cartoon counterpart as I could have hoped for. Youíll rush past familiar sights like the retirement home, the Bowl-O-Rama and even Moís Tavern. In later areas, youíll venture to the mall and an amusement park, and even step inside the museum before the game finishes up in the (dreadfully gray) nuclear power plant. It all feels quite authentic to the show, and itís helped along by vibrant colors that outline every detail so expertly that they might well have been lifted from the show itself.
The developers definitely appreciated the license they were working with, too. The first stage makes this most apparent as one of the smartest things you can do is to place a prank phone call to Moís tavern. Itís vintage humor that feels right at home.
Unfortunately, great visuals and sound canít save the game entirely, nor can humor. When the flash is gone, youíre left with a rather hollow husk thatís satisfying only because the game keeps kicking your butt. Some of you freaks enjoy that, I know. Youíll revel in the amount of effort you must exert just to beat the first level, grin as wide leaps over bottomless pits in the museum send you to your death and back to the gameís beginning. For the rest of us, though, something is slightly off-center. Stages are so large and full of opportunities for instant death that the game shoots itself in the foot several times over.
Mostly, this is because the levels take so dang long to complete. Youíll find this is worked right into the very storyline. It turns out aliens are invading Springfield, and the only way to stop them is to collect a bunch of silly trinkets. In the first level, you must destroy everything thatís purple. This might require you to walk along a clothesline so you can knock a towel over a beach ball in someoneís yard, or you may need to fire rockets at a sign or chase away some oddly colored birds.
None of that seems so bad one level in. But in the second stage, innovation has gone out the window and suddenly youíre after hats. You canít beat a given stage (even if you reach its end) until youíve gathered the appropriate quota of items. Then you fight a boss and itís onto the next challenge, where you just do the same thing again with different objects (though it should be noted that the final area doesnít have a boss, small relief that it is). Because of this stupid system, the Ďgameí is actually a chore. Dying on level two is frustrating not just because youíve lost to a piece of plastic, but because you have to spend all that time collecting purple objects again. The further youíve made it in the game when, the worse each death becomes.
Itís not just those items that slow things down, either. Because many jumps can be so crucial, and because Bart leaps so erratically at times, you have to proceed with almost painful caution. Also, some characters in the game can be jumped on for coins (which net you extra lives if you collect enough). Obviously, coinage is important. But you canít tell which people are vulnerable and which are actually slimy aliens without switching to the menu screen to equip your x-ray glasses (a neat effect that gets old the third or fourth time you do it). Once again, the game forces your progress to a halt.
At times, it almost seems the developers wanted you to dislike the game. If you have trouble leaping over fresh cement using floating candy to keep you airborne, well, thatís just tough. Cheap deaths are the order of the day. Even if you stockpile a good number of lives (which you can do in the third level if you possess extreme patience), itís possible to lose them all in a matter of seconds in the museum because the edges of some ledges arenít quite where they seem to be. Then thereís still the maze-like power plant before the game is over.
So if the game is so broken, you ask, why bother playing it at all? Because it can be fun. If you loved hopping around platforms back in the day, this is a good reminder of the dexterity that was involved. Plus, itís got Bart. At the end of the day, itís still fun to hear him tell the aliens to eat his shorts. One more time!
Staff review by Jason Venter (Date unavailable)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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