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January 17, 2014

The Simpsons: Road Rage

Well, I haven't had the best of luck with the Game Boy Advance games. Two of the worst games I've reviewed were for the GBA: Mario Pinball Land and Garfield: TheSearch For Pooky. That's why I'm getting scared now every time I have to review one of those. But I shouldn't fear. Not all these games are bad... right?

Now, let's talk about something that brings a collective small “yay” from a crowd and a collective groan from another: The Simpsons. The series has been going for twenty-five years now, and it's still going, as impressive – or as annoying – that might be. Has it gone on for too long? Well, it still extracts a laugh from me from time to time, and some recent episodes were fine (if we forget the horrible pacing problems) but yeah, quite a number of recent episodes were sorta hit or miss. Yeah... As for the games? They're also kind of hit or miss.

The Simpsons: Road Rage is one of a few Simpsons games based around driving cars. Fun fact, both are also references to Grand Theft Auto; they reference other road-based crimes. Road rage, and Hit and run. Now, is this game as clever as its title? ...Hm, not sure...

So, you start the game, and you access the main menu. From there, you have many options: “Road Rage”, which I suppose is the Story Mode; “Performance”, kind of an Arcade Mode; “Sunday Drive”, kind of a Free Play; “Mission Mode”, self-explanatory; “Head to Head”, a... Multiplayer mode???; And last but not least, “Options”. I'll look at those one at a time, but before anything else, it's Story Time!

And of course who says “A villain in The Simpsons” says... Charles Montgomery Burns, of course! Okay, it also says “Sideshow Bob” or “Snake Jailbird”, maybe “Fat Tony” or, if we stretch it, “Joe Quimby” or "Russ Cargill"... But still, Burns was the obvious choice this time around. In this game, the greedy billionaire has bought all the buses of Springfield, converted them to nuclear power, and let evil drivers loose aboard them all over the city. The only way the citizens can stop him is by collecting money themselves, to buy the buses back. As it turns out, since public transportation is now lacking in Springfield, the Simpson family found a good idea; Let's convert our cars into cabs and drive people where they want to go, like a taxicab enterprise! Maybe this way they'll collect enough funds to buy back all the buses from Mr. Burns and peace will return to the city.

And the race is on, now, to collect a million dollars. You're lucky, all the Springfieldians are a tad too rich already. They have hundreds of bucks to spend in traveling.

And they all got cars. How much did
THAT cost?
When you select the Road Rage mode, you are brought to the character selection screen, and from the start you can access five characters, all members of the Simpsons family: Homer, Lisa, Bart, Marge and Grampa. Yep, even the kids can drive cars. What, why isn't Maggie there, then? Well, do you really expect Maggie to be able to drive? What next, you'll tell me that she's an ace shooter? Note that all cars have different stats for acceleration, top speed and maneuvering. There's 10 characters to unlock in Road Rage mode and 11 in Performance mode. Huh, gotta wonder why...

Head for the floating baaaaaaaaaaalls.....
After that, you select a location (at the beginning, only one is unlocked: Evergreen Terrace), and off you go. How does this game work? Well, A is the gas pedal, B is the brake pedal and the backward movement. You must stop near a character who's waiting; the character will jump in your car (Literally). On the screen, you have a map that shows you the quickest way to reach the passenger's destination, and a time limit that appears. Basically, you must drop the passenger at its destination within the time limit, or else the passenger will jump out, angry. The passengers include random nobodies, Springfield citizens we've never seen because they look so freaking bland and uninteresting, but most of all you can pick up all the more known citizens, from Krusty to Apu to Smithers to Edna, and even the children. Each character only goes to one destination zone, always the same. Thus, it gets pretty simple to drive them where they want to go after a while. You learn the patterns and the position of the streets and destinations.

Each destination zone is made of large concentric squares. When you reach the destination zone, you must try to stop your car closest to the center as possible; being far from the center nets you maybe fifty bucks, when being right at the very center gives you five hundred! See, now, why I said it was important to learn to use B to stop the car quickly? You also get money on the time you took to reach the destination with the passenger; the longer you take, the less money you earn. And it gets tricky because, as time passes, the passengers demand you take less and less time to drive them to their destination (as in, the time limit they ask for decreases each time you pick them up). And this goes on until the time runs out, which is a Game Over. But a positive one, actually, as you just add the money you've earned to the total amount you've already collected.

Also, when there's a passenger on your back seat, you can do a lot of things. See, the roads are dangerous, what with construction areas and objects on the sidewalks and other cars that you won't always see coming, and other stuff like that... There's also a lot of hills going up and down, letting you do a few stunts for the person. And every passenger you can take on a ride has a different personality, and will react differently to what you do. You get access to a square showing the character's face during the ride and his/her emotions while you drive. If the response is positive, you get a little bit of money. If it isn't, however... Anyway, some people like jumping stunts and others don't, some people like when you bump into other cars while others don't, and some people will like when you ram into objects while others, you guessed it, won't.

Also, when you're picking up a person for a ride, you could have an additional challenge to do. There's only three of those.
-Bring the passenger to its destination and ram into X objects on the way;
-Bring the passenger to its destination and hit zero car on the way;
-Bring the passenger to its destination while ramming into X cars on the way. (ROOOAAAD RAAAGGGEEE!)
These challenges net you a bonus amount of money when you succeed. Of course, you still have to drop the passenger on time at its destination.

And that's how the Road Rage mode goes. Very simple, really. Now, a quick look at Performance mode? Well... You pick a driver, and then a location. You also get to pick your passenger among 21 characters in the game. Their likes and dislikes in situation of passengers is described on the left; they love some things you'll do, they'll go “meh” at other things, and they might really dislike other things. What do you have to do? Break as many objects as possible, make stunt jumps as often as possible, ram into cars... If you do something that the passenger likes, you get money. If you do something they don't like... you get less money. The harder to please a character is, the bigger the challenge.

Bat loves jumps...
....Moleman hates them.
While in Performance mode, there are additional bonuses you can get in the areas you're driving. If you honk where required, you get money; If you catch a... helmet (I think that's what it is), your car jumps and you get money for how far you landed from your jumping point. In some places, you get money depending on the speed you're going. The passenger also has a vertical meter left to his/her picture; it fills up when you do something the passenger likes, and decreases when you do something he/she dislikes. The higher the meter is, the more money you get with your antics. Some bonuses give you additional time as well as money. The game ends when the time runs out.

As for Sunday Drive, you just drive around a location you pick without having to care about passengers or destinations or anything. Perfect to learn the map for a district you just unlocked. But aside from that, it's the most useless mode in the game, with no money being collected.

Each time you collect enough money, you unlock either a new driver or a new district to drive in. As the game progresses, the districts become increasingly complex and dangerous. Beats me why, really. Who are the unlockable drivers? Groundskeeper Willie (on his tractor!), Krusty, Snake, Frink, Otto (in his school bus), Barney (on the Plow King!), Moe, Chief Wiggum (I don't trust him...), Apu and Mr. Burns. Yep, you unlock him once you've collected a million bucks.

The first mission has Willie shredding mailboxes with his
tractor. Huh. Guess he hates receiving his paycheck.
To unlock the eleventh unlockable character, you need to complete all ten missions of the Mission Mode. These are ten special events that you must complete, if you want to get the last driver anyway. The missions will usually involve a character driving somewhere, a task to accomplish, and locations with endless pits everywhere and jump pads for which you must steer very well if you don't want to fall in the aforementioned pits. One major problem with a few of those missions? Well, in some of them you have to destroy a certain number of objects. Sadly, those objects don't appear on the map, and as a result you can't really tell where exactly the damn objects are. You often need to search around and remember where you came from in order to complete those missions. The most annoying part? The timer for most of those missions is really short, and as a result a single mistake can make you lose too much time for the mission to be possible to finish. That's why you must be an expert in steering, in speed control, and most of all, you need to have some freaking good memory in some cases. (Although there's a way to get around that timer problem, as you'll see.)

(Imitating Krusty) Urrrrrrrgh...  I'm good at physical comedy,
not at stuff that needs talent!
My favorite missions? Snake, who is driving on a “bridge”, surrounded by endless pits for 90% of the mission; Moe driving Homer back home, in an entire neighborhood filled with endless pits... yet again! Wiggum driving under a doughnut rain to pick up as many of them as possible (hilarious, but still a difficult, annoying mission); Krusty doing circus training aboard his clown car, which is like three mini-games in one (learning to drive on narrow ledges and to jump the right distances; controlling the car while on a giant ball, which means using B to move forward instead of A; and finally, learning to steer in water while jumping in circles of fire). And the last mission where Homer destroys Burns' statues in his garden. Awesome. And what do you get once that final mission is completed? You unlock Homer in his Homer-Mobile, the car designed by himself, the car that ruined his half-brother Herb Powell! Yep, you get to drive that monstrosity in Performance mode. After every few missions, you also unlock Extras in the Options menu.

By the way, before I get to the Options and Extras, I have to mention that there's the multiplayer mode titled “Head to Head”. For this, you need to find... someone with a copy... of The Simpsons: Road Rage... and another... functional Game Boy Advance (Good luck with that one!)... With another copy of the cartridge... AND the Link Cable... Crap! Crap, crap, crappy idea! All those instances of Link Cable Multiplayer are crap! No wonder I don't have pictures for this one. I doubt anybody's even seen that damn mode!

You can also use a password to unlock everything. Yay!
Perfect for the lazy Homers of the world!
Now that this last burst of anger is out of the way, let's get to the Options. You can Set a preceding password (Hopefully you've written them somewhere; the passwords also use pictures of Simpsons characters), but you can also Get the last Password you saw, in case you didn't write it down. Of course, the game doesn't save automatically, so when the portable console is turned off, it's bye-bye data! So before turning it off, always remember to write the password down! Also, somehow you can set the game difficulty... What's that for... Ah, I get it! You can switch between Easy, Normal and Hard, and all it does is that it lengthens your starting time in Road Rage and Performance modes, and it also increases the time the passengers give you to reach their destination. I think it also does that for the missions, but I'm not sure... Oh hey, it does! Awesome! Next is a Sound Check, with all the songs you've heard in the game.

And last but not least, the Extras. Little somethings you get once you've completed a number of missions. Extra Number 1 is... the ability to change the background image at the main menu, from the Burns casino to the Simpsons' house to a few other well-known Springfield locations. Extra Number 2 is... Just being able to see a larger version of the layout of all the courses you've unlocked. Extra Number 3 is... Wow! The great prize! In this Extra, you can edit the color of all the drivers in the game! No, really, you are given all the colors on the 3D model, car and driver included, and you can literally change every single color of every car! You can turn them all black or all white, you can change the colors at will. That's freaking awesome for such a game. And Extra Number 4 is... the final cutscene to the game. Yeah, that one isn't really special.

I've said everything I could... But for the Heck of it, let's end this review by going over the main details again, You know I like to do that. The Simpsons: Road Rage is... A pleasant surprise. I wasn't expecting something like this to happen. Really, in retrospect it's better than I thought.

Okay, the story is nothing to be amazed at, and the concept is laughable (I mean, seriously, shouldn't slamming into objects and other cars be deadly?), and at first sight it really just doesn't seem that great. The way the passwords work is also pretty awful, what with having to write the names of the characters on a piece of paper; this makes lengthy passwords to write (example: Krusty-Krusty-Krusty-Moe-Burns-Wiggum-Abe-Otto). The multiplayer mode is pointless, absolutely pointless, and besides you'll probably never get to see it.

BUT! As a game? It's really great. It offers different difficulties, to accommodate everyone. There are many modes in the game, so you can choose what you feel like doing best. The characters include Springfield's best-known citizens, so almost everyone is guaranteed to have access to their favorite character. Even if the concept is laughable, it's still very well-done, what with the tons of items lying around to bump into. Even if you can control only 16 characters in total, you'll see the others in the main modes, as you'll certainly pick them up somewhere in one of the six districts of the game. And there's always the Sunday Drive Mode to familiarize yourself with any district you unlock. Okay, after that the mode is pretty pointless, but still, when you've just started playing it's kinda useful. The Mission Mode, while annoying because REALLY difficult in places, is still a very welcome challenge. Might be way too difficult in Hard mode, though... Also, the music isn't too bad, and the environments are very detailed.

And, most of all, as I probably hinted at in this article, The Simpsons: Road Rage contains tons of references and shout-outs to the early Simpsons seasons. It's always great to notice a little in-joke that appeared in one episode.

So, do I recommend this game? Actually, I do. I'd say anyone can have fun with this game. Of course, it's a lot better for those who are fans of The Simpsons. And in fact, I'd say this game should please those who prefer the early seasons of the Simpsons.

Did I forget anything? Oh, right, I forgot to talk about... something... Damn, I forgot what... D'Oh!

Yeah, that's what I had forgotten! The obligatory Simpsons reference to Homer's famous catchphrase! As if that wasn't enough Simpsons, next week is the first part of a two-part review of The Simpsons Game, for the Nintendo DS. You won't want to miss that; it's gonna mess with your mind, big time.