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January 24, 2014

The Simpsons Game (DS) (Part 1)

In the wake of the Simpsons Movie, Matt Groening and the production team behind this cinematographic event were trying to hide the movie's plot so that nobody would discover it before the film's release. That whole dome thing, the family escaping to Alaska, Homer saving the city... I'm sure you all knew about this, right? (If you didn't, well... Oopsie!) Well, the whole plan was to be sure that nobody would know before July 27th, 2007. Hey, I went to watch this film in theaters for my 15th birthday! You can't give any better to a Simpsons fan!

However, I can't help but believe that this extreme secrecy had an effect on all the merchandise that would inevitably come because of the film's popularity. Many movies nowadays have their video game adaptation... with, ahem, “varying” levels of quality. My guess is that, among others, the Simpsons producers didn't want the advertisements for an upcoming video game to contain scenes that are too close to the movie's plot... And thus, we got a story that was unrelated to the film in all regards. Or they wanted to make sure nobody on the staff at Electronic Arts would spill the beans on their ultra-secret plot, so they chose to create a totally unrelated story. Or maybe it's a reason totally unrelated to the Movie. Regardless, what is said story?

The family discovers they're in a video game!

… Oh God.

This is the Simpsons Game, everyone. The DS version. And get ready, because this is gonna be one Hell of a surreal mind screw of a ride.

How do we kick off this crazy premise? With a dream within Homer's mind, where he attacks a chocolate world! In this direct reference to a one-off joke in an old Simpsons episode, we learn the basics to the game. How to move forward, how to jump, how to attack... Very, very simple. As a tutorial level, you couldn't ask for better. You also get to learn Homer's new special attack: He becomes bloated and round like a ball and rolls around, can ram into enemies with this ability, and can also ground pound to cause a tiny earthquake, again to attack enemies. At the end, Homer wakes up... and realizes it was all a dream. Well, DUH! You turned into a bowling ball full of lipids! Of course you were dreaming!

Oh, also, you can go back at any moment to the Simpsons house to play the minigame “Pet Homer”. Basically, Homer's in his underwear, and you can tap him to tickle him. You can also bring all sorts of food towards him so that he'll eat it. Except maybe vegetables. He has two meters, one for his energy and one for his mood. Overfeed him and he gets a heart attack, in which case you must use a defibrillator. You can also shave him, though his perma-beard will come back instantly once you're done. More items get added as you progress in the game. Also, other characters from The Simpsons, and even characters from this game, can make a cameo here from time to time. Note: Homer remains in his underwear all this time, never wearing anything more. Not even socks. So don't try to dress him up. There's no way.

Na nanana na, ya can't hit me!
In another part of Springfield, Bart buys Grand Theft Scratchy, a crossover that seems perfectly fitting considering the two base materials. However, Marge sees him with the game and confiscates it. Angry, Bart walks through the city when a video game guide falls from the skies right in front of him. When reading it, he finds out about his own video game superpowers. He comes across Homer and the two head to Springfield's Museum of Natural History. You can now play Homer and Bart in a level! Bart can become Bartman, ain't that awesome?

Also, by this point, you will have noticed something more about this game; it's chock-full of collectibles and unlockables. In every level, you can collect little items, one for each character. Homer picks up beer bottle caps, Bart picks up Krusty Coupons, Lisa picks up Malibu Stacey coupons... And that's still not all. You can also collect “Video Game Clichés”, presented by none other than an expert on the matter, Comic Book Guy. Can you catch them all? Not just the collectible clichés themselves, but the jokes and references behind them?

As Bart and Homer progress in the museum, it becomes clear that Jimbo, Dolph and Kearney are there to cause trouble too, so Bart must deal with them by attacking with his slingshot. Bart finally defeats Jimbo, who was hiding inside a UFO in the Universe room of the museum. At the end, it turns out that Skinner had sent them there to steal stuff for the school.

Only Bart can fly? ...Oh well, too bad.
Next we see Homer and Bart at the Duff Brewery, where an all-eating contest is held. Homer reveals that he has the Bloat ability, and will use it to win the contest. In this level, Homer and Bart fight the other men of Springfield all while helping each other in reaching the next areas of the contest, up until a final room where Homer must launch himself – in bloated form – onto a replica of the Statue of Liberty, to make a giant hamburger fall off. Hurray, they won!

It's kinda odd to see the characters in 3D in the cutscenes... I mean, we're so used to seeing the 2D versions, of course it looks odd.

But now it's Lisa's turn. You see, she asks for Bart's help, as she wants to get rid of an evil wood-cutting enterprise owned by – duh – Mr. Burns. Bart tells her about his superpowers and Lisa looks in the guide to see if she has any. Turns out she does! She can use an ability called Buddha's Hand, which lets her move heavy objects without using any physical energy. Or, well, you use the stylus to move the objects around. Don't go telling me that it takes you any physical energy either! Oh yeah, she can also use this to lift enemies off the ground and drop them to kill them. Bart and she work together to stop the enterprise and its wood factory, each depending on the other's abilities to go ahead.

Seriously, what is up with the lumber-
jacks attacking us with SAW BLADES?
Lisa' ability is very interesting, as it adds a bit of puzzle gameplay in a game that was mostly platformer so far. Marge's abilities, as you'll see, are also very puzzle-ish. Can we understand here that men are more for action and women are more for thought? Why should I ask myself such risky questions?

...Oh hey, there's a Frogger parody near the end of this level! A gamer's Heaven! Pretty cool! ...And once this relaxing arcade break is done, you have to save Lenny and Carl, which somehow got themselves attached to a large log and risk getting sawed in half. Morons. When they're saved, the factory is also stopped, the furnace explodes, Mr. Burns admits defeat (That was quick), and dozens of lumberjacks have lost their job. Congrats, Lisa.

One thing you'll notice VERY quickly in this game is that there's no scoring system. There's no lives either. Literally, you can make the Simpsons die hundreds of times. There is literally no way to lose a level, unless you count leaving a level to re-start it as losing. As a result, the game is damn easy. Really way too easy. The only part of challenge in this is when your character dies and respawns at the last checkpoint and you have to go through either the enemies or the level dangers once more.

Another thing you'll learn quite quickly as well is the life bar on the bottom screen; it depletes kind of quickly. Each Simpson has maybe four or five hit points, tops. Last thing you'll notice? Most enemies – scratch that, ALL enemies – will have an attack speed high enough that they'll be able to hit you. In other words, no matter how many Hit Points the enemies have, it'll take you four or five seconds to dispose of them, and they have enough time to attack you back and deplete your own Hit Points quickly. Last thing you'll notice? Level traps such as flamethrowers and saw blades will pretty much kill you as soon as you touch them. Not in a single shot, no; instead, it depletes your Life Bar of all five Hit Points in less than a second. Nice damage programming there, Electronic Arts. Although, this Hit Point thing is really inconsistent, and as a result some levels are easier because of it, while others are harder. But still, why should you care that you're gonna lose lives if you have INFINITE LIVES?

Now, what's happening on Marge's side? Well, she learns that a Senator is trying to ban Grand Theft Scratchy; sadly, Quimby is bribing the company behind the game (Surprise! It's Electronic Arts!), so banning it will be very difficult. The children who bought the game also seem more violent than usual; Martin Prince even steals Flanders' car! MARTIN PRINCE! The town's adults must get together to stop this, but how? Well, Lisa shows her mother the game guide, and Marge finds out about her abilities.

What can she do? She always has a megaphone with her; she can use it to rally nearby adults to her cause. After which she can make them do whatever she needs them to. It could be knocking down a sign, punching a kid, or stopping a bribe from taking place. She can also send Maggie through tight spaces to pull levers. Of course, Marge can also punch and kick if she needs to physically defend herself. Against angry policemen, I'd understand, but against KIDS...? Good Lord, this is getting violent!

Marge and Lisa help each other. In the end, Maggie is sent through an air vent and pulls a lever to heat up the sauna in which Quimby and the man from EA were. They come out, and then hear the mob outside; The president of EA had told Quimby to avoid mobs or the bribe would be gone. Well, the bribe is gone! Grand Theft Scratchy cannot be played by minors anymore! Woo hoo, Marge and Lisa won! Lisa still points out the hypocrisy of the situation, that Marge used violence to stop a violent game...

However, the troubles aren't over. Hell no, they aren't. Kang and Kodos are watching the planet from space, and decide it's time to attack. They turn the Lard Lad Donuts statue into a monster, they also make the dolphins intelligent, and they start releasing many of their own species to invade. ...Well, geez, those are some good Treehouse of Horror references! Anyway, Bart and Lisa think they still aren't ready to face all this, so they have to find Professor Frink. He will know what to do in this case.

Bart and Lisa reach the professor's house and, after a few knocks at the door, realize he's not there... so they sneak in and find a strange machine in the basement. They get inside the machine and are transported to a strange world that looks like a factory. Professor Frink arrives and tells them that this is the Game Engine, the game's program itself, the indubitable proof that they are in a video game. Bart tells him that they need to upgrade their video game powers to face the aliens... so Frink shows them the game's guide. Except the prof is then taken captive by an ape. Oh hai, Donkey Kong! Bart and Lisa chase after the ape. Bart unlocks a new ability, which lets him use a grappling hook to swing above large gaps or reach higher platforms. They also... somehow... battle characters from Street Fighters. Lisa also learns to lift herself to other places with her Buddha's Hand ability. The level ends in a parody of the original Donkey Kong, in which Lisa removes bits from the structure to make it collapse. As a result, Professor Frink is freed. He hands them the strategy guide, but decides not to go with the Simpson kids, as he's found love in the Game Engine. With a... turtle. Bart and Lisa leave the Game Engine.

Okay, seriously. What the Heck just happened?  It makes no sense! Dang! Okay.... um... ... ...I just realized something. This game is too weird for me. I need to enter a different mindset to enjoy it fully.

Ah, better.

Hurry, Homer! Or one source of your obesity will kill you!
Now we're... no wait, they're ready to take on the challenges created by Kang and Kodos! First off, Lisa stops the incoming hordes of dolphins by grabbing them with her Buddha's Hand ability and toss them aside, right into the fishermen's nets, where they can't escape. Next, Bart takes care of the army of Rigelians by killing them with his slingshot, in a mini-game reminiscent of Space Invaders. Okay, the first two threats have been eliminated. What now? ...Oh right, Lard Lad is still walking around, destroying stuff with his giant doughnut. Homer, you can do it! Homer learns of a new ability of his in this level; near a helium tank, he can bloat – again – but this time around he's gonna start floating up like a balloon for a few seconds. So, first he bloats and becomes a giant bowlng ball, how he becomes a balloon? I'm sensing a theme here. Also, if Homer gets touched by Lard Lad, it's instant death. Homer has to float, run, jump until he reaches an electric fence, behind which he hides. Lard Lad still follows him, but for some reason the electricity turns him off and he falls down. Not sure this makes sense, but eh, what do I know. Phew, thanks God this giant statue is dead. Yeah, well, we still had to do all the work.

Well, at least Bart and Lisa's mini-games can now be played at the Noiseland Video Arcade. You see, I forgot to mention that the Level Select screen is a small version of a Springfield district. All flashing locations indicate that one level is held there, except for a few. Those others are the Android's Dungeon (Where you can see how many collectibles you're missing for each level, what you earned for getting all collectibles in a level, and also the whole list of video game clichés), the Aztec Theater (where you can watch again all the cutscenes) and Moe's Tavern (which lets you see the end credits as well as the ability to tap on some Springfield citizens and re-listen to the lines they say in the game). The only location with more than one level is Frink's house, first with the Cheatrix, and then the others, which you'll see soon. Oh, and there's also the Chocolate Land level that you can access from a dream bubble near the Simpsons' house.

Yet, despite all their efforts, the Simpson family didn't manage to defeat the aliens. On the contrary, they're still around, and it seems like all is lost. As for what is really lost, it's the whole “Sideshow Bob works with the aliens” plot twist; its not in the DS game. Come on, EA, you totally should have put this in! Really! I wanted to be completely unsurprised because of the obvious spoilers in the games' advertisement! I ain't buying this game once more just for this one scene! There's also a few levels that are in the home console versions that aren't in the DS version. Among them, there's the Medal of Homer level, which was used a lot in advertisements for this game. It's kind of sad that we lose a few levels because it's the handheld version.

Anyway, the Simpson family is looking for more ways to save the city, and since they're video game characters, they thought “Hey! Why not go look for walkthroughs on Internet? Or cheat codes?” So, they hurry on the family computer. However, Homer tries to put his beer in the CD compartment... causing the computer to bug and bring the whole family into a virtual land. Or rather, the Bargain Bin, a cheap cousin to the Game Engine. They then meet a nerd on a floating platform. Not any nerd, either; the creator of SimCity and The Sims! Of course, being a recent Simpsons work, it couldn't help but slip in a little cameo. Duh. Sadly, the nerd tells the family that he destroys old video games when they become outdated. Guess what? There's been quite a few Simpsons games around the NES and SNES era, so a pixelated version of the Simpson family is about to be destroyed! They must be saved!

So far, the game is pretty awesome, though all this meta comedy makes my head spin. Is that what we call a mind screw? Phew, I think I understand what it means now. If you thought this plot made little sense, just wait until you read the second part. You are not gonna believe it. So, come back next week!