I'll admit it; I'm a Simpsons geek. I have been known to spout Simpsons quotes in just about any situation and longtime readers have probably noticed that I tend to slip a Simpson-ism into my reviews now and again. I know there are a lot of people out there that love the how as much as me, though, and that is why it is so painful to look back on the lineup of videogames based on The Simpsons that have come out over the last decade or so. Not a one of them, from Bart vs. The Space Mutants to The Simpsons Skateboarding, would be worth a damn without the license. We play them, though, and even force ourselves to like them just to hear the theme song on the title screen or to see Mr. Burns' scowling face. Road Rage is no different and it is yet another Simpsons game that fans will love to hate.
In Road Rage, C. Montgomery Burns has replaced Springfield's public transit system with expensive nuclear powered vehicles. In order to get their old buses back, the people of Springfield must work together to raise one million dollars. To do this, they start a taxicab service. As you can probably imagine, hilarity ensues. Or at least it would if this was a TV show and not a cruddy GBA game. All it would take is cameos by Leonard Nimoy and Britney Spears and this would fit perfectly into the last few seasons of The Simpsons.
Road Rage features a handful of modes, and all of them are worth spending some time in. In the road rage mode, you choose a character and then pick up and drop off passengers. In performance mode you just have one passenger during each run and you make more money depending on how well you can suit that particular character's tastes. Bart would want you to hit as many other cars as you could, for example. Mission mode puts you in scenarios specific to each Simpsons character. And, finally, is the Sunday drive mode where you can just cruise around Springfield and take in the sights. There is also a multiplayer mode where two players compete to see who can get the most fares, but it requires two carts and two GBAs.
If you have played the console versions of Road Rage, or the Crazy Taxi series of games that Road Rage shamelessly rips off, then you should know what to expect here. You simply drive around and look for potential passengers. They are marked with spinning balls over their heads and it is your job to pick them up and take them where they want to go. On the GBA, the places you take them are simple, bright colored squares that are usually off the main roads so you have to do some hunting for them. This kind of sucks the fun out of the game because instead of delivering people to recognizable locations like Moe's Tavern or the Krusty Burger, you are just taking them to a little square off the beaten path. You find out where to go by either following a little map on the lower left corner of the screen, or by following onscreen arrows that tell you when to turn.
Driving around town and collecting fares is actually sort of fun, but there isn't really anything that lets you know that this is Springfield. You start the game in the Simpsons' own neighborhood of Evergreen Terrace, but you won't be seeing any familiar sights such as the Simpson or Flanders homes because they don't exist. Instead, the levels are filled with junky 2-D sprites that are all identical to each other and none of them look like anything you'd recognize. Another problem is that the neighborhoods are very small and the people you can pick up are limited to just the main Simpsons cast, so you'll find yourself picking up the same people and taking them to the same locations a lot. Also, rather than fences or buildings to keep you on the road, there are just a lot of invisible walls surrounding flat green patches on the ground. The core gameplay of driving around and delivering passengers to their destinations is fun for a while, but there isn't nearly enough of it and the simplicity of it all will cause the game to become boring pretty quickly.
Each of the sixteen characters has a vehicle unique to them. Homer drives the family's pink sedan, Marge drives a Canyonero, and Groundskeeper Willie drives his souped-up tractor. The cars all handle pretty much the same, but there are some cars that are noticeably slower or faster than the others. Only five characters are unlocked at the beginning, but as you play through the game and collect money more characters and neighborhoods will open up. Unlocking all of the characters and seeing the sights in each new neighborhood you open up is definitely going to be worth it to fans of the show, but once you have everything there is absolutely nothing that will keep you coming back.
Something that deserves special attention is that Road Rage doesn't have a battery back up and instead forces you to input passwords to get back to where you left off. This would be all that bad if it weren't for the fact that the password system uses photos of the Simpsons characters. A possible password would be something like Apu, Lisa, Apu, Chief Wiggum, etc. For die-hard fans of the series, this isn't so bad. For people that can't recognize characters such as Kent Brockman or Professor Frink, however, inputting the passwords will be a lot more difficult. At any rate, having a password system at all is inexcusable and Road Rage would have been better with the option to save to the cartridge.
Graphically, Road Rage is a mixed bag. The characters you pick up look good enough that you can recognize them even before the little picture appears onscreen telling you who it is. Your chosen character and their vehicle look even better and, again, it is easy to tell who you are and what classic Simpsons vehicle you are driving. On the other side of the graphical spectrum, the environments look horrible. Road Rage uses a graphics engine similar to the GBA Mario Kart, but it doesn't look nearly as polished and smooth. Everything other than the characters is a mess of lots and lots of colored squares and there are right angles as far as the eye can see. There are just too many colors and lines displayed at once and the result is that it is harder to get around because the background just blends together. As I mentioned above, all of the buildings and signs and everything else are represented by cruddy looking 2-D sprites that are repeated throughout the game and none of them are recognizable.
The sound in Road Rage isn't bad, but it could have been a lot better. Other than the Simpsons theme music on the title screen, there is nothing else in the sound that lets you know this is a Simpsons game. The rest of the music is just plain old repetitive "racing" music that has appeared in countless other games. There aren't any sound bytes to represent any of the characters, and that is possibly the worst thing about Road Rage. Even though the GBA is fairly limited, they still could have put in a sound byte for each character and had plenty of room to work with. That isn't the case, though, and as a result the sound fails to impress.
Overall, Simpsons Road Rage is a very average game that fails to really deliver on either the Simpsons license or the Crazy Taxi inspired gameplay. It is fun for a while, but the gameplay is so shallow that the game will probably become boring rather quickly. For die-hard fans of The Simpsons, however, it is sort of entertaining to just play through and see all of the characters. It is an average game through and through, but the license is enough that it may be worth a purchase for some people. For Simpsons fans, it is fun enough to spend a weekend with if you get the chance, but everyone else should avoid the game the same way you avoided the console versions.