The Simpsons Game: Best. Simpsons Game. Ever.
The Simpsons Game is a rare beast: A franchise game based on a TV show that manages to bring all the flair of the series to the interactive realm. Although marred by a few small issues, and handicapped by the worst demo ever, The Simpsons Game offers a bunch of Simpson-y goodness, from well-written parodies of popular games to spot-on dialogue and ad-libs provided by the show's voice talent. This is, so far, the Simpsons game that feels most like an actual episode of The Simpsons.
Many Simpsons franchise games have taken popular game concepts and just re-skinned them with Simpsons characters. Sometimes this has been a very, very bad move (think Simpsons Wrestling), and other times this has worked out well (think Simpsons Hit & Run or Simpsons Road Rage). The Simpsons Game breaks from the rip-off & re-skin approach; it is a 3D action game with elements borrowed from many genres and titles. It retains the trademark Simpsons sense of parody and satire without becoming a clone of any other game.
The overall plot of the Simpsons is rambling and full of detours. It begins with the Simpsons in Springfield, where an alien invasions has thrown the town into chaos. The Simpsons must help save the town by playing through a series of "episodes" that pair up two-Simpson teams to take on various baddies and situations. Each Simpsons character has special abilities they can use, and each episode requires two of the Simpsons to work together to solve puzzles and defeat baddies.
Throughout the game, the voice acting and writing is absolutely incredible. It is clear that the game developers used every scrap of ad-lib and off-the-cuff commentary provided by the Simpsons cast to fill in the various little comments and quips delivered throughout the gameplay. This is undoubtedly the best writing we've seen so far in a Simpsons game and is reminiscent of the quality of writing from the ill-fated Futurama game from the previous console generation. More franchises (we're looking at you, Lost) should realize that the more authentic the game version can be, the better the game experience will be. That's not to say that we want to re-play TV show or movie plotlines, but the game should hit some of the same notes as the original franchise. In the case of the Simpsons, this means pithy satire and witty dialogue, which EA delivers here in spades.
Another thing The Simpsons Game gets right is the multiplayer. Two player cooperative play is essential in The Simpsons Game. Throughout you can switch between the two characters used in any given level, but this often becomes tedious. And during large battle scenes the only real effective way to clear the room is to have a human being controlling each character.
The only questionable component of the game itself is the spotty levels of production quality. For the most part, controls are relatively solid, but the gameplay is constantly affected by a super cruddy camera. You'll find yourself in situations where there is no victory over the camera, too – you must make difficult platform jumps without being able to clearly see the landing zone or pushing the joystick in an awkward up-and-right direction.
Another aspect of the game that is very spotty are the graphics. The graphics generally look good when the camera is at a distance, but whenever it gets close to the action the characters start to look deformed and the line quality on the cel-shading starts to break down. This is very annoying especially after so many Simpsons games that had quite good graphics. These are not problems so much with rendering speed as they are with rendering quality. It is as if they built the Simpsons game on a half-broken graphics engine.
But probably the thing that the Simpsons game will be remembered for by the gaming community is the absolutely horrible demo that was released on the Xbox 360. This demo single-handedly turned off all of my Simpsons-loving friends. For some reason, EA decided to release the boss battle against Lard Lad (a parody of the Shadow of the Colossus gameplay) as their Xbox Live demo. This was an absolutely foolish decision. The boss battle comes from halfway through the game, and when encountered in the flow of normal gameplay it is not very difficult. However, as an initial introduction to the game, the boss battle is completely inappropriate. While many Xbox Live demos have been known for greatly increasing the public's interest in a game, this demo can be blamed for tanking The Simpsons Game before it even got to store shelves, and that is truly unfortunate. EA should have chosen one of the game-parody mini-levels to debut the gameplay – these would have been more approachable and much more fun for novice players.
So The Simpsons Game leaves plenty of room for the next Simpsons game to improve upon its predecessors, and at the same time it manages to deliver a thoroughly enjoyable experience, especially for fans of the TV show. If you are a longtime Simpsons lover and gamer, then you really shouldn't miss this one. The dialog and game parodies alone are worth the price of admission.