Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror
Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror was developed by Software Creations and published by THQ, it was a
side scrolling platformer consisting of 7 levels loosely based on 7 shorts from the popular Halloween themed Simpsons episodes. Following a handful of Windows games published by Fox Interactive, and a Bowling games released by Konami exclusively for the Arcade, The Simpsons made their return on the Game Boy Colour in March of 2001.
The game is notable in that it sees Maggie make her sole appearance as a playable character (along with each of the other family members). Though oddly, she takes Bart’s role as the Fly in a level which is based on the short “Fly vs. Fly”. Each family member has their own level, though Homer has a total of three!
The game utilises a beautiful art style and the sprites are wonderfully animated. While there are some pleasant nods to the show, such as a boss battle against Count Burns. Unfortunately the control system feels significantly dated. Akin to the issues that plagued the NES platformers.
The Simpsons Wrestling
Fans didn’t have to wait long for their next dose of The Simpsons in video game form, following the release of Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror in March, The Simpsons Wrestling released in April of 2001 exclusively for Sony’s Playstation. The game was developed by Big Ape Productions and published by Activision.
The Simpsons Wrestling is an atypical wrestling game, with light beat-em-up elements. A total of 20 playable characters make up the game’s roster. Remarkably this marks the first (and only) playable appearance of many fan favourite characters such as Barney Gumble, Ned Flanders and Moe Syzlak. Each character boasts a unique moveset with whacky attributes and a myriad of weapons. The game pits 2 characters against each other in a variety of 3D locations that longtime fans of the show will remember. These locations include the Power Plant, Kwik-E-Mart and Moe’s Tavern, among others.
This was the game I was most looking forward to revisiting. It is often heralded as one of the worst games ever made. Though since I owned this game as a youngster, and it combined two of my favourite things at the time. I was fond of it. To the extent that it made the shortlist of games for my 2001 Game of the Year. I have to say that while this game is objectively bad, unbalanced, and looks pretty hideous it’s still actually a lot of fun to play. Okay, maybe not a lot of fun. It’s kinda fun. This game’s main strength lies in the fact that it’s fully voice-acted. Which is a big plus!
The Simpsons next saw a video game released in the form of the criminally under rated Road Rage, released in November of 2001 for the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube. A game developed by Radical Entertainment and published by EA, which later saw a GBA version in 2003 (made by Altron).
The plot of Road Rage stems again from Mr Burns. Many Springfieldians decide to fight back against Burns’ desire to control the transit systems of Springfield by making enough money from taxiing people around to buy the buses back. Like The Simpsons Wrestling, Road Rage boasts a sizeable and impressive roster of fan favourites. Though it is slightly smaller at 17 playable characters, there are 4 special holiday themed duplicate characters playable only on Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween and New Year’s respectively. Beyond the playable cast of characters, there are dozens of other characters that serve as the games passengers, each with their own humorous lines of dialogue!
Road Rage’s main objective is to find a passenger and deliver them to their desired destination as quickly as possible. There are a total of 6 different sections of Springfield, each with radically different themes. As well as a mission mode, and a more casual mode named ‘Sunday Drive’ that allows you to explore the environments without the constraint of a time limit. The game at its core is literally just SEGA’s Crazy Taxi, but with a Simpsons makeover. So much so that a lawsuit was filed by SEGA for patent infringement.
Road Rage holds up extremely well to this day, with addictive gameplay rooted in trying to top your previous high scores! It easily cements itself as one of the best Simpsons games. It went on to sell well over 5 million copies worldwide!
The Simpsons Skateboarding
The Simpsons Skateboarding is a skateboarding game (shocking, I know), released exclusively for the Playstation 2. It was developed by The Code Monkeys and published by EA in November of 2002.
The game features a thin plot that sees Springfield converted to a skate park for the annual ‘Skate Tour’. It allows you to travel certain Springfield monuments and locations, only now you can skate on them! The game features a measly 9 characters in total, notable perhaps only because it marks Nelson Muntz’s playable debut.
Like The Simpsons Wrestling, Skateboarding is widely considered to be one of the worst games of all time due to poor controls, presentation and sound design. Sadly (maybe not), this game always eluded me!
Hit & Run
Radical Entertainment followed up on Road Rage with the The Simpsons Hit & Run in September of 2003. It was released for the Xbox, Playstation 2 and Gamecube.
Hit and Run stars Homer, Bart, Lisa, Marge and Apu as they seek to tackle something strange surrounding Buzz Cola and the sudden emergence of mysterious cameras that seem to be spying on Springfield. Across 7 sand-box style levels, they uncover a larger conspiracy with Kang and Kodos revealed to be at the helm of mischief.
The levels are fairly formulaic, but still brimming with plenty to accomplish. Each level has 7 story missions that propel the plot forward. Though they each also contain 1 side-mission (that nets you a new special playable driver from the extended cast of the show, including the likes of Snake, Abe Simpson and Comic Book Guy) as well as 20 wasp cameras, 3 races. There are also collectibles hidden throughout the levels. Most notably Itchy and Scratchy cards (which contain nice references to the show) as well as Buzz Cola Coins (money) See, money can exchange for goods and services! (Which in this case is alternative costumes and new vehicles).
Radical cast off the shackles of Crazy Taxi and instead shifted their parody focus towards Grand Theft Auto. It’s as much of a shameless rip off of GTA3 as Road Rage was of Crazy Taxi. Missions generally revolve around racing against other characters, destroying vehicles or collecting a certain number of items before the time runs out.
While on foot, you are able to attack pedestrians or commandeer their vehicles, or just destroy them for kicks. Behaving in this way is necessary if you want to collect enough coins to buy every vehicle and costume, but it will result in your warning meter going up, and should you max that meter you can expect to be harassed by the police! Reckless driving will similarly fill this meter.
Hit & Run has since become a cult classic, and still sees a dedicated modding community keeping the spirit of the game alive even 15 years after it first released! It also made my 2003 Game of the Year!
The Simpsons Game
So here at last, the final game in The Simpsons’ repertoire. The Simpsons Game, which served as a promotional tie in to The Simpsons Movie hit store shelves on October 30th 2007. Developed by EA Redwood Shores for the Xbox 360 and PS3, Rebellion Developments for PS2, PSP and Wii, and Griptonite Games for Nintendo DS (anecdotally this was in fact the last game I ever purchased in a brick and mortar store).
The Simpsons Game starts with Homer asleep and dreaming of the land of chocolate in a throwback to one of the all-time greatest Simpsons gags. Bart later stumbles across a video game guide of ‘The Simpsons Game’ from which he learns that he and his family have special powers. The Simpsons family use these special powers through a series of 16 levels that take them through a plethora of interesting environments and settings, many boss battles and ultimately a showdown with God, himself. The story is excellent, and easily on par with the quality of the show (at the time). Perhaps the best thing about this game is that it utilises traditionally animated cutscenes.
There are 4 playable characters in total, and each have several of their own special abilities. Homer, for example can transform himself into a big fat ball. Which makes him surprisingly agile. While Bart makes use of his Bartman persona, Marge has the ability to sway public opinion in order to form angry mobs and Lisa can use ‘the hand of buddha’. The game can be played in either single or multi-player, and there’s even a hub-world for Springfield that’s brimming with collectibles, characters and in-show references (including Steamed Hams!!!) to really sink your teeth into. Time trials later unlock that provide players additional value.
A sequel game was sadly cancelled in in 2011, and effectively ended The Simpsons long history in the medium of traditional gaming. Aside from a wildly successful but ethically dubious mobile game ‘Simpsons Tapped Out’, and a small role in Lego Dimensions, The Simpsons has not really reemerged in the world of gaming for over a decade. Looking back, there have been a lot of ups, and even more downs, but I can say with absolute certainty that the highs remain among my personal favourites of all time.
What do you think? Would you like to see more games based on The Simpsons? Let us know in the comments!