Released: February 1991
US Cartridge ID: NES-Q5-USA
Genre: Action Platform
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 2 megabit
Mapper: MMC1 (128k PRG, 128k CHR)
After three years of starring in short animated segments on The Tracey Ullman Show, Fox Broadcasting readied the pointedly absurd yet telling antics of the famous yellow family for the spotlight. First airing over the 1989-1990 broadcast season, The Simpsons met with immediate success, breaking all previously existing Fox rating records. The Simpsons, however, was more than just a popular television show: its exploding popularity turned the quintessentially dysfunctional American family into an altar at which Americans of all ages worshipped. Capturing the hearts of young and old alike, boys nationwide were quoting Bart while sporting their signature Bartman t-shirts on playgrounds while their little sisters commiserated with Lisa’s frustration at being the talented yet unrecognized middle child. Fathers nodded approvingly at Homer’s surfeiting of beer in the face of a frustrating and thankless job, and mothers empathized with Marge’s steadfast dedication to her family’s well-being, despite how unappreciative her loved ones inevitably proved to be.
The onslaught of merchandise that accompanied the first couple of seasons of The Simpsons ran the gamut from dolls to lunchboxes to video games and beyond. The first of these video games, The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants, was released in February of 1991 to expectant droves of kids frothing at the mouth for an opportunity to become Bart Simpson. Despite lukewarm critical reception, Bart vs. the Space Mutants quickly became one of the best-selling games of the year on the NES and was subsequently re-released on a multitude of competing platforms.
Developed by Imagineering (Absolute Entertainment’s development studio) for Acclaim, Bart vs. the Space Mutants’ carries the same quirky sense of offbeat humor as A Boy and His Blob and Ghoul School, and to a lesser (and ironic) extent, Barbie. Late one night, Bart spies a massive UFO hovering over Springfield. Eavesdropping on the invaders’ plans to enslave humanity, Bart realizes, thanks to his X-Ray glasses, that he is the only one who can see through the invaders’ convincing human disguises. As the only one capable of putting a stop to the end of his race, Bart decides to save the world.
The aliens have come to Earth seemingly unprepared, as they’ve yet to construct a weapon capable of achieving total domination. The aliens, exceedingly knowledgeable on the types of resources available on Earth, decide to search out purple objects as the main component with which they will fashion their weapon of mass destruction. The first stage, taking place on the streets of Springfield, tasks Bart with destroying or covering up as many purple objects as possible in order to thwart the attempt.
This unique (albeit ludicrous) setup provides an interesting mixture of puzzle and platforming action. Avoiding contact with the roving aliens, Bart must find cans of spray paint in the hopes of hiding anything purple from view. For things that cannot be simply painted, Bart must exercise his healthy imagination to find a viable solution: using a wrench on a fire-hydrant will douse the tool shop’s purple door awning, making it appear red, while launching a cherry bomb at the window of a pet shop will send the purple bird fleeing in terror.
While finding and removing all of the purple objects that he can, Bart must regularly don his X-Ray specs to check passersby. While aliens appear normal to the naked eye, the glasses reveal their true form: if Bart happens to catch an alien, he can hop on them and steal “proof of their existence.” If he can collect enough evidence to convince Maggie (by spelling out her name at the bottom of the screen), she will join forces with her older brother during the stage’s culminating fight against bully Nelson Muntz. After Bart deals with Nelson, the aliens realize that purple objects are no longer as viable as they had once considered, and reprogram their machine to instead accept hats.
Each of the following stages pursue the same pattern: after cleaning up the streets, Bart heads to the mall to collect hats, battling giant floating candy and fashion accessories while looking for proof of extraterrestrial life in order to convince Marge to help him in a showdown against Ms. Botz, the Babysitter Bandit. Stage three takes place at Krustyland Amusement Park, where Bart must best sideshow freaks, collect balloons, and enlist Lisa’s aid against Sideshow Bob. The fourth stage sends Bart to the Springfield Museum of Natural History to prevent precious exit signs (of all things) from falling into the wrong hands, relying on Homer’s help to take care of Dr. Marvin Monroe. Finally, stage five brings the entire family together for the finale at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, forcing the five to work collaboratively to hide the fuel rods that the aliens so desperately seek.
The series’ trademark humor shines brightly in the first stage through constant references to events in the show: Moe’s Tavern can be prank called, the Jebediah Springfield statue intimates the benefits conferred on those who find his broken-off head, and the whistle will summon Grandpa Simpson to his window at the retirement home. Unfortunately, though the streets of Springfield are loaded with sight-gags and subtle allusions, the remaining stages feel comparatively generic and lifeless with few references to the show, making it seem as if the developers didn’t have the resources nor time to complete the game as they’d originally intended.
The puzzles lend another dimension to the game play that is typically absent from 8-bit platformers; some of the stages provide a fair amount of replayability in the different approaches the player can take to solving them. The controls, however, can be frustrating at key moments. Bart’s jump is extremely difficult to control without a significant amount of practice (and at the beginning, dying over and over again is to be expected, along with swearing and controller throwing). The run and jump actions are both mapped to the A button, but the length of a jump may be increased while in the air by holding the B button. This setup is needlessly convoluted, extremely imprecise, and worsened by the fourth stage’s insistence on grueling platform jumping challenges. While the controls certainly don’t ruin the game, they do test the patience of even the most dedicated gamer when Bart goes flying off the edge of a platform for the umpteenth time for no discernible reason. Once the controls are mastered, the game becomes completely manageable; until then, however, it can be irritating and impossibly unforgiving.
The graphics feature impressively detailed depictions of Springfield’s denizens, and the generally over-saturated style effectively mimics the general look of the television show. The sound lacks variety, but competently accompanies the graphics and action as most stages feature the TV show’s theme song. Some famous Bart’s sound bites are also present, with his trademark, “Eat my shorts!” being played whenever he loses a life.
The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants is far from being the perfect game, but it keeps itself respectable with its unconventional challenges, clever humor, and its refusal to rehash other experiences available on the platform. While it doesn’t succeed at everything it tries to do, Bart vs. the Space Mutants is a fun, original, and personable game. Just be warned that the enjoyment derived is largely contingent on the player’s level of skill and patience.
|The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants
|The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants