Ah, The Simpsons.
If you grew up in the US through the 90’s (and I assume several other countries as well; it’s surprisingly difficult to look up exactly where and when the Simpsons aired outside the States) it was basically impossible to avoid this animation mogul. But when a show is so critically acclaimed and unanimously loved, why would you want to?
And of course, as with all things successful, the show quickly led to a tidal wave of merchandising, ranging from toys and collectibles to—you guessed it—a fairly sizable library of video games spanning several generations of consoles.
It’s not really a secret that some of these games were less than stellar—in fact, I’d go as far as to say most were pretty awful even up to titles for more modern consoles—but what I find odd is that when people talk about bad Simpsons games, they usually tend to ignore (or perhaps be outright unaware of) the first Gameboy title in the Simpsons video game library.
I’m not going to lie, I have not played every Simpsons game in existence (I have played quite a few spanning from The Simpsons Arcade Game all the way up to The Simpsons: Road Rage), but having owned this game growing up I still feel fairly safe in calling this one of the worst Simpsons games ever made.
The game is a 2D sidescroller where you play as Bart Simpson, progressing through levels to—as the title implies—escape an evil Summer camp.
The game consists of six stages (it’s not terribly long) and provides a small handful of ranged weapons and powerups to deal with the enemies you’ll encounter along the way.
It is the third Simpsons licensed game to be developed, following The Simpsons Arcade Game and Bart vs. the Space Mutants.
The first issue I have with this game is the music, which you’ll notice as soon as you boot up the game. As far as first impressions go, it leaves a lot to be desired:
Ah, the sweet, dulcet, kind of off-beat, includes-pitches-so-high-they-could-actually-cause-migraines tones of Mark Van Hecke
Now, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “Well, this is just the title theme, at least you won’t have to listen to this butchering of Danny Elfman’s work for very long!”, and I greatly admire your optimism, but you are actually stuck with this music for the long haul. That’s not to say there is only one music track in the game, but… there is really only one music track in the game. This is pretty confusing to explain in a couple of sentences, so I’ll go step-by-step on what they did to this song:
- Step 1: They reuse the title theme posted above as is for the first outdoor stage
- Step 2: They slightly alter the lead melody of the Simpsons theme and add in an original (and pretty repetitive) bass line for the indoor stages
- Step 3: They outright remove the lead melody from the first half of the Simpsons theme, leaving just the bass part and incidentals for the next outdoor stage
- Step 4: They got bored of the Simpsons theme by this point apparently, as they take the repetitive bassline from Step 2 and make it its own song with another original (also pretty repetitive) melody thrown on top of it for the mountain stage
- Step 5: Easily the most creative iteration (which isn’t exactly saying much), they use a modified version of the Simpsons theme bass line and put a spooky-sounding original melody over it for the last outdoor area and power station areas
Now, I have nothing against game soundtracks with common recurring musical themes, but when the game’s main theme sounds horrible, having these recurring themes basically ensures that your game’s soundtrack is doomed to fail.
The gameplay in this game is not necessarily the worst I have ever seen in a 2D side-scroller… but it’s still pretty bad.
The game is incredibly floaty, and—as you can see in the above Gif—not particularly fast. What can’t be demonstrated, however, is how clunky the game feels when you are actually playing it. While the game does allow you decent control as you fall, it’s just off enough to ensure a few missed jumps into bottomless pits and insta-kill bees.
This on top of the fact that enemies will fly on screen across the ground and from above without warning far faster than Bart can move makes being in mid-air something you generally want to avoid, which is a bit of an issue in a game involving platforming.
The combat is also problematic, but for different reasons.
Throughout the game, you will need to manage some form of limited ammunition source in order to avoid being stuck with the default weapon (spitwads), which are short-ranged and do nothing more than stun enemies.
The ammunition in the outdoor levels of the game are boomerangs, which can only be thrown one at a time (you will fire spitwads as long as a boomerang is on screen), and will be permanently lost if you don’t manage to catch them as they fly back. While this may seem standard, if you throw a boomerang in mid-air (even if you are about to touch the ground), it flies forward as it would from a ground throw, then comes back at a sharp downward angle:
If you run out of boomerangs, the game goes from being relatively easy to almost unmanageably hard; with enemies jumping in from all angles, stunning them will not always be good enough.
The first two indoor stages utilize an entirely different form of ammunition; you participate in food fights by picking up food items from the background that allow you to both take out enemies and block their projectiles. While the game gives you ample food to throw, it also tosses in some NPCs that—if you are unlucky enough to throw food while they are on screen—will cause you to outright lose all your current ammunition, leaving you defenseless.
Unfortunately, even when you do have the ammo necessary to deal with the stage you are currently on, the combat overall is fairly uninteresting, and does little to improve the mediocre experience already presented through the lackluster platforming.
I can’t stress enough that this isn’t the absolute worst Simpsons video game by any means (having personally played Bart vs. The World and Bart vs. The Space Mutants I can safely say they are much worse in terms of gameplay and overall quality), but as someone who owned this game growing up, I definitely felt it was worth mentioning just how bad it was.
If you’re an adventurous aficionado of bad games, I’d definitely recommend at least trying it out to get a better idea of the controls (plus, it only takes about 25 minutes to beat if you can power through it).
If you’re looking for a good Simpsons game, however, stick to the amazing Konami beat-em-up. Even though it’s the first licensed Simpsons game to be released, it’s a timeless classic and a great 4-player co-op experience.