The platforming isn’t particularly challenging, the solutions to the puzzles are handed to you on a plate (curse you, in-game hint bubbles) and you can’t help wishing that someone had looked at the way the city is handled in Crackdown – as an open-world playground where collecting bonuses brings real game benefits – and applied that to Springfield. You can’t help feeling that a lot of the work gone in building the city and its more notorious locations will probably go to waste. And while you’re wishing, you might also wish for a less badly behaved camera, and for it to be easier to trigger certain actions when you’re only just out of the right zone. Lesser stuff than this has brought big games down before.
But The Simpsons keeps on earning itself a break just by playing so close to the look, feel and attitude of the series. We’ve had enough lazy rip-offs where the characters and an approximation of the visual style are taped onto an existing game design. Here, the graphics are an uncanny replication of the cartoon style. The Simpsons Game resembles a moving flat cartoon with the series trademark basic linework and rudimentary shading, even though it’s fully rendered in 3D. The characters look right, and with the voices from the show, sound spot-on as well. Best of all, they’re written right. You’re not getting a selection of catch-phrases thrown at you willy-nilly, you’re getting the sort of smart, knowing dialogue you’d expect to hear from your TV screen, and deployed with a certain degree of wit. If you know and love the series – and who doesn’t – you can’t help but be impressed by how well it’s all been put together.
And The Simpsons Game goes one better because it comes from a team that also clearly knows and loves video games. In fact, video games are the subject of the satire and the inspiration for many of the levels. We get sections inspired by Medal of Honor, Shadow of the Colossus, fantasy RPGs and classic platform games. We have levels in which Marge tries to ban and then clean-up a controversial game called Grand Theft Scratchy – no prizes for guessing the subject there. Gameplay is regularly interrupted by the over-egged cynicism of the legendary comic-store guy, alerting you to video game clichés that the designers have lazily employed.