At one point in the game, Bart and Lisa grab a game guide so that they can learn new power-ups before they’re supposed to. The game even features a special guest villain from EA’s own top ranks. Not all the humour works, and there are times when making fun of a silly and artificial game mechanic doesn’t exactly excuse you from using it yourself, but some of this stuff is a treat. Just as you can’t help loving The Simpsons when it’s right on the money with a spoof of a classic film or current hit TV show, so you can’t help loving the game when it prods and pokes mischief at some of gaming’s silliest foundations.
Nor is it fair to label the gameplay as predictable or unimaginative. The key factor is that each member of the family has their own specific capabilities. Bart, in the form of Bartman, has the acrobatic powers of the classic platform hero. Lisa can stun attackers with her saxaphone, and – through meditation at specific shrines – move large objects, flick foes out of the way and, later on, zap them with lightning. Homer can transform into a giant blubber-ball and roll or burst through barriers, or inflate himself with gas and float from place to place. Marge, meanwhile, can use a megaphone to convert bystanders to her latest cause, then unleash them – in the style of Pikimin or Overlord – on obstacles human or physical in her way. While what power to use where is heavily telegraphed, and often too much so, this still lends the game a lot of variety. Some levels are heavy on platform skills or even fighting and shooting, but others are more about cooperation between characters or – in Marge’s case – recruiting and commanding mobs. And even if your main missions don’t need you to think that much, collecting all the bonus items – a task you’ll need to return to levels to succeed in – will do. In other words, there’s a little more range and depth here than you might expect.
Again, there are times when the whole thing fails to pull together. The Shadow of the Colossus parody is a nice idea, but the means of destroying this particular monster are too fiddly for the level’s own good. It drags on a long time past its welcome. One alien invasion level is similarly afflicted by a poorly judged difficulty level, while the fantasy RPG section – dig Homer’s Zelda-inspired costume while you can – turns out to be a lot less entertaining than you might have hoped.