EA recently said that they were going to pull their socks up when it comes to DS development, and you can’t argue with the effort they’ve put into this. It comes on the largest DS cart available, contains over twenty minutes of FMV, some 3,000 speech samples, a virtual Homer to play with and a handful of retro game parodies including Frogger, Space Invaders and Gauntlet. The thing is that EA themselves aren’t responsible for the effort – Amaze did all the work. Oddly their company logo has been emitted from the start up sequence and isn’t shown until the end credits. Bad show, EA.
Although now in 2D, it follows the same story as the bigger console versions, right down to each Simpson having their own special skills. That story being that the yellow fellows know that they’re in a videogame and eventually discover that they have to face their creator if they want to escape. Most levels include two characters to play as – for instance you might start off with Bart and have to make a safe path for Lisa by shooting targets and flicking switches. On one level Lenny and Carl are tied to a tree that’s about to be sawn in half, so you have to get to the end of the level quickly and shut off the blade. In another you have to save the 8-bit Simpsons – who are trapped in a NES cartridge – in the same way, so that other generations can enjoy retro games. EA can’t have played Bart vs The Space Mutants recently.
Here the notorious ‘Homer and the Colossal Donut’ level from the console versions has been turned into a three minute side scrolling affair – if you fall behind and Donut Lad touches you so you have to start again. Kent Brockman’s news commentary gets particularly annoying in this section, repeating the same five or so samples again and again. There’s no Medal of Homer level, sadly, but there’s one set in Japan where the boss battles are identical to those found in Pokemon. Amusingly the usually quite impressive animation has even been authentically cut down for this bit.
Marge’s levels are almost isometric in design and play like a basic version of Pikmin, with the idea being to find fellow Springfield citizens and order them to knock down walls to make bridges and the like. It’s not taxing in the slightest but it does provide a welcome change of pace. Lisa can summon the hand of Buddha to lift crates and re-organise platforms – although annoyingly they have to be placed in the exact spot or the next checkpoint won’t open – while Homer can turn into a huge ball after eating a load of edible power-ups. Probably the best Homer level is the medieval one set in Pierule (Hyrule, see?) in which Homer has to fly off ramps to damage a two-headed Patty and Selma dragon. The overhead Gauntlet parody level is good too, especially the speech samples: “Homer… needs… food… badly.”
There are some really fiddly platform bits towards the end where if you make one false move it’s actually quicker to kill yourself and restart at a check-point than to make you way back to where you were. And the virtual Homer is a bit of a swizz – new items are unlocked frequently but all it boils down to is dragging them over to him and watching an animation, many of which are repeated. If he chokes on food you have to zap him back to life with one of those heart zapping things, but that’s about as interactive as it gets.
One of the mini-games also had has flummoxed for a good half an hour – dolphins are attacking Lisa and have to be pushed back with the stylus. We kept throwing them back into the sea but soon there were too many to deal with. Eventually we found out that the idea is to throw them diagonally off the screen all together. D’oh seems a good word to use right about now.
The variation in levels is the biggest thing going for it, although trying to spot all of the parodies – like a Yoshi skeleton in the Springfield museum – was what essentially kept us playing until the end. At five hours long it isn’t exactly value for money but there are extras to unlock and videogame clichés to find. All of the retro parodies can be replayed at the Noise Land Video Arcade too. Perhaps the biggest parody of all though is that it feels like a bad spoof of the superior Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time.