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SummarySimpson, eh? I'll remember this name!..
The GoodAs a fan of The Simpsons TV show (and an even bigger fan of video games), I was disappointed by Hit & Run, which was neither particularly good as a game nor satisfying as a Simpsons product. After having seen screenshots and reading some of the reviews for The Simpsons Game, I thought it would probably be a more exciting experience. And indeed, it was.
The first thing you'll notice here is just how well the game captures the spirit of the TV series. The graphical style immaculately transfers the cartoony characters and environments into cel-shaded 3D; the transition is so smooth that you'd swear you are playing a real cartoon, with the third dimension somehow magically squeezed in. The Simpsons look, move, and talk exactly the way they do in the series. The Simpsons Game is like another episode in the show.
Unlike Hit & Run with its sporadic, weak lines, The Simpsons Game excels not only in presentation, but also in writing. Almost every single line of dialogue is written perfectly in the spirit of the series. It is a pleasure just to watch the cutscenes and hear those characters talk (luckily, there is a feature that allows you to watch all the 40 or so movies in the game).
The situations and the dialogue can get extremely funny: I laughed out loud several times (while Hit & Run hardly caused me to smile). All the characters behave just like their prototypes, nobody acts out of character, and they keep passing the ball to each other, providing non-stop entertainment. The story is what you'd expect from some of the most whacked-out Simpsons episodes; with constant self-references and breaking of the fourth wall, the story gradually becomes more and more weird and even metaphysical, culminating in an ending that is almost scary in its twisted logic. The writers chose video games as object of parody and satire in the game; the whole narrative is in fact about video games, and it contains cynically amusing remarks about the industry.
The humor is not only present during the cutscenes; the levels themselves are conceived as parodies and contain plenty of funny locations, enemies, and assorted one-liners that are guaranteed to make you laugh. Video games are being mercilessly lampooned throughout the whole game. You'll explore hilarious levels such as Medal of Homer or Shadow of the Colossal Donut. You'll meet the famous designer Will Wright, whose evil plan of destroying obsolete 8-bit Simpsons games (because they "don't sell any more") you'll have to foil. You'll engage in paradoxical, metaphysically challenging dialogues with real-world people (including the creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening!) and video game characters, and fight hilarious Simpson-themed "video game-ish" enemies such as undead Ottos or a dragon with two heads, those of Selma and Patty.
The varied thematics of the levels keep them interesting despite the stale gameplay. You'll play as Marge, calling gun-wielding dogs to rebuild a whole neighborhood that has been turned into a seedy San Andreas-like environment (albeit with an Itchy & Scratchy theme, e.g. cat whores and mouse gangsters); in another one, you'll have to figure out how to target and destroy the weak spot of a huge walking donut commercial, in an obvious parody of Shadow of the Colossus.
The BadStripped of its glorious license, The Simpsons Game is just another overly easy 3D platformer with mediocre gameplay. One could blame the designers for hiding their unwillingness to get rid of video game cliches by masquerading them as obligatory part of the humorous narrative ("look, it's another video game cliche! Ha, ha, ha"). The thought of the developers' self-awareness softens the blow, but the fact remains that The Simpsons Game is full of video game (particularly platforming) cliches; whether they were intentional or not, they aren't particularly fun to encounter. My personal gripe is the characters' inability to swim. Of course, it is presented as a funny cliche to collect ("don't you know you never learn to swim until the sequel?"), but... come on.
Most of the game consists of jumping puzzles and using the characters' special abilities. Granted, it's fun to crush enemies with Lisa's "Hand of Buddha" or turn into fat Homer who throws gummi at people the first time you get these abilities. But the scripted nature of the game doesn't leave room for strategy: you'll rarely have choices between your abilities, and for the most part will have to use them exactly at the points the designers tell you to.
When I say "tell you to", I mean it almost literally: whenever you need to use an ability to solve a puzzle, the game conveniently shows you an icon of the corresponding character. What's the point of figuring out how to solve a puzzle if the game tells you exactly what to do? The only "challenge" that remains is to find the "hot spots" where an ability can be used.
The Simpsons Game is far too easy, clearly marketed towards more casual players. You'll still need to redo jumping sequences thanks to the irritating jerking camera - a flaw that has plagued many 3D platformers, including far better ones. Occasional awkward navigation and imprecise, graceless movement coupled with frequent environmental clashes prevent the game from at least being a smooth, if childishly simple, platformer.
The lack of challenge is a pity, since the game's clever script and parodies can be best understood and enjoyed by video game veterans accustomed to actually using their brains to overcome obstacles. Ironically, the game is once again aware of it: at one point, the 8-bit Simpsons contemptuously dismiss the game because "how can there be challenge if you have infinite lives?". Well... just like with the cliches, maybe the designers could have actually listened to their own creations?