The last few years have been good for Simpsons gamer fans. While some may argue that the TV series has been in a state of steady decline for a while, the games side has fared better, with the likes of The Simpsons: Hit and Run reinvigorating what was a pretty average state of affairs with pop culture licenses.
The first thing you'll notice about The Simpsons Game on the Xbox 360 is its art style. Character models and background artwork are incredibly true to the television series and distinctly "Simpsons." Just firing up the game, die-hard fans will feel like they've actually stepped into Springfield and are directly interacting with members of the town. The artwork relies heavily on cel-shading, resulting in a flat, hand-drawn look that masks the expansive 3D environment. Everything from backdrops to environmental objects is impressively detailed. Bart's cape billows subtly in the wind as he flies around in his Bartman superhero costume. Homer in Homerball mode is strangely hypnotic to watch as he jiggles and plows through anything standing in his way. Physics also plays a huge role in this title, with what appears to be a complex collision system really helping to put you in the action, rather than float through the gameworld as a visitor.
Like the original arcade game years ago, The Simpsons Game is essentially a beat-'em-up that offers four playable characters in Bart, Lisa, Homer, and Marge--no sign of Maggie. Each has his or her own specific special ability, with Bart able to transform into Bartman, and Homer into a giant ball of rolling fat. Lisa has both her saxophone attacks and the Hand of Buddha, which ironically can be used to drop heavy objects on your foes, but is also required to solve more Zen-like environmental puzzles. The example we saw used Lisa's powers to pick up trees at a logging site, which were then stacked to form jump pads to create a staircase to an area that couldn't be otherwise reached. Although she wasn't in our demo, Marge's special power is her megaphone, which she uses to incite mob behaviour from crowds of people, bending them to do her bidding.
Two Simpsons family characters appear onscreen at any given time, with the player able to swap between them to complete objectives. A friend can also pick up a second controller and join the action, taking control of the unused character for some split-screen cooperative play.
The family's special abilities play a huge role in both the progression of the storyline and the development of the characters themselves. The environment is for all intents and purposes a living, breathing entity, with plenty of interactivity: letting you use Dumpsters as springboards, for instance, and open-air vents with Bart's cape to quickly scale a building. Rather than the clichéd "find key, open door," you'll need to use more creative approaches to get to out-of-reach areas and activate switches or complete an objective to advance.
Audio plays a huge role in the game, and having the show's writers as well as the original voice cast involved really adds that authentic Simpsons flavour to the mix. While no final numbers are locked down yet, the single-player portion of the game is said to be around the 13-hour mark, with about an hour of new cutscenes for players to enjoy. EA tells us there's also additional unlockable content for the hardcore players, so there's plenty of reasons to go back once you've finished it.
We have high hopes for this title, and perhaps more importantly, it bodes well for the future of licensed games. Check back soon for a full review.