The 14th January 1990 will be a date recognisable to any Simpsons fan – itâ€™s the date that the first ever episode aired on American TV, some three year afters the crudely animated 30-second shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show made the yellow fellows famous. To celebrate The Simpsons 20th birthday this month, we would like to present to you this sketchy history of The Simpsons videogames. Grab a Squishy and enjoy!
Itâ€™s rather sad to start this feature by saying that the first Simpsons videogame is also one of the best – Konamiâ€™s side-scrolling beatâ€™em up The Simpsons: The Arcade Game (1991) let you play as four out of five members of the Simpsons clan as they fought Mr. Burnâ€™s goons to rescue Maggie. Itâ€™s largely believed that there were no home conversions but this is untrue – there were versions for both PC and Commodore 64. You can see the C64 version in action on YouTube in its pixilated but faithful glory. Konami also released the little-known Bart’s House of Weirdness for PC (pictured) in the same year and then later returned to arcades in 2000 with The Simpsons Bowling.
Oceanâ€™s Bart vs. the Space Mutants (1991) was the first major Simpsons console game, released on no less than 10 different formats. It was an actually quite innovative platformer – on each level Bart had to find different objects to foil the Space Mutants plans. The aim of first level was to destroy all purple objects; Bart could purchase rockets to blow apart purple shop signs and could also buy also cherry bombs to scare off purple birds. True to the show, any phone-boxes found could be used to make prank calls to Moe. The Amiga 500 version had an animated intro that took up an entire floppy disk.
Acclaim then took hold of the license and milked it good and proper over the 8-bit and 16-bit era. Krusty’s Fun House (1992) started out as a puzzle game called Rat Attack until Acclaim decided it would sell better with the comical clownâ€™s mug on. The idea was to rid Krustyâ€™s bizarre abode of vermin by moving different blocks around to lead them into traps manned by various characters from the show. The later stages were harder than McBane – I had the Master System version and never managed to finish it. Bart vs. the World (1991) was seen as the sequel to Bart vs. the Space Mutants and was released on the 8-bit formats and Amiga and Atari ST. Here, Bart had won a scavenger hunt on the Krusty the Clown show and was sent around the globe to find treasure. Reviews werenâ€™t great; just look at the state of poor old Krusty in this screenshot. The third and last installment of Acclaimâ€™s Bart vs series was Bartman Meets Radioactive Man (1992), in which Bart gets sucked into a comic book and becomes transformed into Bartman. Only NES and GameGear owners were given the â€œpleasureâ€ of seeing Bart shoot lasers out of his eyes.
The humble GameBoy was treated to a handful of Simpsons games. Bart Simpson’s Escape from Camp Deadly (1991) is probably the most well known as it was the first, which was then followed a year later by the completely baffling Bart vs. The Juggernauts (1992) a sort of futuristic take of the TV show Gladiators. Eh? A year later saw the dream-like Bart & the Beanstalk (1993) hit the monochrome handheld while the showâ€™s cat and mouse duo Itchy & Scratchy got their first (but not last) game – Itchy & Scratchy in Miniature Golf Madness.
As the 8-bit formats were starting to fizzle out, and Acclaim turned their full attention to the Mega Drive and SNES with Bart’s Nightmare (1992), Virtual Bart (1994) and the US-only The Itchy and Scratchy Game (1995). The last was also available on GameGear. Virtual Bart is notoriously known for being very rare; a quick look at eBay shows that copies sell for around the Â£20-Â£30 mark. Bartâ€™s Nightmare is less rare, but still rather uncommon to find. Nether were much cop though.
A rather odd six years passed before the next proper Simpsons game appeared – there wasnâ€™t even a single Simpsons game released on either Sega Saturn or Nintendo 64. I use the word â€˜properâ€™ in that last sentence as Foxâ€™s PC-only Cartoon Studio (1996) and The Simpsons: Virtual Springfield (1997) werenâ€™t actual games as such. THQâ€™s The Simpsons: Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror (2001) on GameBoy Color was the game to end the yellow drought. Each level was based on a segment from the Tree House of Horror Halloween specials. Next came the cel-shaded The Simpsons Wrestling (2001) on PSone, which surely everybody has heard ofâ€¦and all for the wrong reasons. It was absolutely dire and fans often refer to it as the worst Simpsons game ever. Or as Comic Book Guy might say: â€œWorst. Simpsons. Game. Everâ€.
EA then took hold of the license and like Acclaim before them, milked it some more. The Simpsons Road Rage (2001) was a complete and utter clone of Crazy Taxi; so much so that Sega sued EA and won an out of court settlement. EAâ€™s next game wasnâ€™t much better – The Simpsons Skateboarding (2002) was a PlayStation 2 exclusive and left many fans clueless. Marge Simpson skating around like Tony Hawk? Really?
Vivendiâ€™s The Simpsons Hit & Run (2003) managed to put the license to good use and stored a lot of peopleâ€™s faith that a decent Simpsons game isnâ€™t impossible. Using GTA III as a clear influence, it hung around the chart for years after release shifting over 3 million copies. Hit & Run isnâ€™t the best selling Simpsons game though – EAâ€™s The Simpsons Game (2007) managed to sell a whole million more, and likewise was in the charts a good year after being released, no doubt helped by the buzz of The Simpsons Movie. It used the same engine as EAâ€™s The Godfather game and was a spoof of videogames in general, with The Simâ€™s creator Will Wright making a guest appearance. Itâ€™s probably the most humorous of all the Simpsons games although reviews were mostly around the 7/10 mark.
Much like Homerâ€™s favorite snack, this year weâ€™ve come full circle – the most recent Simpsons release is The Simpsons Arcade for iPhone, which pays tribute to Konamiâ€™s classic brawler. It even features an identical mini-game in which you have to whack buttons to pump up a balloon. Now thatâ€™s innovation for you.