The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants
The first and still one of the best Simpsons licensees
Back in the early 90s I used to read a lot a certain video game magazine. I got to know most of my first games through it, and this includes Bart vs. the Space Mutants. The magazine had an article covering the first two stages for the NES version of the game, and I was amazed by the variety of gameplay the game had to offer. By that time I had an NES but I never got to play the game on it (I didn't find the game to buy at any store and I guess I didn't find it on any rental store, or else I would rent it, as I did with most the games I played back then).
One year later my brother got us a Mega Drive and it came with Altered Beast on it. As I did with my NES, I rented most of the games I played, specially because I had bad experiences in buying some games. Some of them used to turn out boring in a couple of months and I found it too expensive to buy a game just to find myself tired of it after some play time. But I never got Bart vs. the Space Mutants out of my head so I got it for Christmas in 1992, and it was the only game I ever bought for that particular Mega Drive (which I sold in 1996).
I was really excited about it, because the graphics in the Mega Drive version were far superior than the NES one. Besides, I had two magazines covering all the strategies to beat the game, so it really seemed like a great deal. And in fact, I wouldn't regret buying it.
First of all, the graphics in the Mega Drive version just shine! They are colourful and really make justice to the show. Looking at the opening animation screens today, I realize they are quite simple. They're not really what you would call animations, as the UFO image just scrolls down the screen and the animation where Bart puts his X-Ray glasses to see the Space Mutants is really just two alternating frames. But that really looked amazing back in the day. The use of bright colors fitted the game even more due to an interesting plot device right in the first stage, which probably is the strongest feature in the game, granting space for really great gameplay features all through the game.
The story is the following: the Space Mutants are about to take over the earth and, to do so, they're building a powerful weapon out of purple objects. Where will they gather the objects? Springfield, of course. This may seem really dull for an story, but this simple story allows the game to be more than just a regular platformer. Bart is the one to save the world, as the title implies, and to do so, in the first stage, he needs to get rid of all purple objects he finds. He will do so in the most varied ways, what gives the game some puzzle solving action. The easiest way of doing so is painting the purple objects other colors than purple. The color of choice here is red, and this is done by using a color spray can. But Bart can also get rid of the objects in other ways, like walking on a clothes line to drop clothes over the objects, or using a wrench to open an hydrant and let water wash the wet purple paint on an awning. The later way involves more than you would expect from a platformer, as Bart has to buy the wrench at a specific store. He does so with coins collected all over the stage. The coins are also used in other interesting ways, such as playing Moe a trick to get him out of the tavern and painting his purple apron. The coins are used also in different ways at later stages.
Once Bart frustrates the Space Mutants' plans in using purple objects, they turn to other objects for the same purpose. In stage two, they'll look for hats at the shopping mall, in stage three it will be balloons at Krustyland Amusement Park, in stage four the objects sought will be "Exit" signs at the Natural History Museum and in the last stage, they'll look for radioactive cylinders at the nuclear facility where Homer works (finally something that resembles fuel for a powerful weapon!). The variety of objects and scenarios add value to the game, as the level design gets really interesting and fun. Again, the ways of getting rid of the objects is quite varied, and the game will keep the player interested.
Each stage has a final boss, and there's something interesting here too: Bart can get help from one of his family members at each stage to beat the boss. In stage one it will be Maggie, in stage two, Marge, in Stage Three, Lisa and in stage four, Homer. The interesting part is how Bart gets their help: he must collect proof about the Space Mutants. He will collect it by jumping over their heads, but the problem is that the space mutants are using human bodies as disguise! Using his X-Ray goggles, Bart can tell the Space Mutants apart from regular human beings. Once he gathers enough proof to spell his family member's name, he'll get their help.
The music and sound effects are OK, but the music can get a bit annoying due to reasons to be spoken of in "The Bad" section.
There is a really cool "Eat my shorts, man!" speech every time you die. Even though it is cool as I said, I'm mentioning it here in the bad section because you'll hear it a lot of times, as this game is reeeeally hard! Even though I loved this game, I got quickly uninterested in it because I kept dying several times right at the first stage!
Even though the overall gameplay isn't that complex, the game can get a bit confusing at first. One button is used for action, one for jumping and one to use the main weapon (which varies throughout the stages). Running and jumping higher on objects can be done by holding the jump button, and this is somewhat difficult sometimes. Jumping farther can be done with both the gun and the jump button pressed, but you'll lose ammunition. Bart also moves a bit too fast and it makes difficult for one to navigate Bart through some jumping parts. You know a platform game went wrong when you die too much from imprecise jumping.
Bart has a life meter of only two hits, so dying is pretty easy. The game has lots of hidden lives, and be sure you'll need all of them. This is that kind of game you have to master each level in order to beat, as you'll need to get to the last level with the most lives you can. On top of that, the game offers no continues.
Another annoying thing is that you really have to know each level by heart. The puzzles aren't completely intuitive and some of them require a really precise positioning of Bart. For instance, at the first stage you have to use a flying rocket to scare a purple bird away. Unless you're in the exact right spot, you'll miss it and will have to use another rocket. As rockets are bought with money, you'll need every coin you can get. As moving around the level is pretty hard, either you get to know the right amount by trial and error or you find yourself a walkthrough to tell you beforehand what to buy.
It took me several years of practice to beat this game, and I only did it once. I reached the last level lots of times, but finishing was never easy. The time limit is something that you only consider when you get the last level, as it is a maze really hard to memorize, (even more due the fact you get to it much less frequently than the earlier stages, for obvious reasons).
The sound effects, although good, are a bit lacking. You'll get sounds for hitting objects and jumping, but that's it. I'm pretty sure it isn't due hardware limitations, even though this game came early in Mega Drive's history. Some more digitized bits, as when Bart plays Moe a trick would be awesome. But even if that is asking too much, other simple but more frequent sounds would be cool. The music is something which could've been done better. Even if it is cool, the levels are sometimes quite long, and the amount of time you spend on them (specially because of the constant dying) makes it a bit annoying. Also, I don't get why the developers didn't use the main theme from the show in the opening screen.
The Bottom Line
Bart vs. the Space Mutants is a really good game with lots of great ideas. The gameplay is varied and it bears lots of interesting gameplay devices which add some adventure value to a good platformer. The graphics are really good, even it being an early Mega Drive release. It could be a bit more polished by the inclusion of better sound effects and tighter controls. I for one would love to see a fan-made remake of it, with its minor flaws addressed and the difficulty level lowered a bit.
by chirinea (46950) on April 14th, 2009