LEIPZIG, Germany--We were surprised to see how much new Simpsons content EA had on offer here at the Leipzig Games Convention, given that we'd seen the demos of many other big-name games recently at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. But The Simpsons Game was packing a smattering of levels--or episodes, to use the game's parlance--that we haven't seen before. Better, these demo levels confirmed our suspicions that the funny promotional and concept art that EA has released previously, depicting such game-related parodies as Grand Theft Scratchy or Medal of Homer, would actually end up in the final game as spoof episodes. Indeed, those were the very same levels we got to see during our demo.
Our favorite of these was a previously unmentioned one, Shadow of the Colossal Donut, in which the Lard Lad (you know, the friendly-looking, gigantic, donut-hoisting mascot seen in many depictions of Springfield) has come to life to rampage through town, fire lasers from his eyes, and terrorize the populace. As you may have guessed, this level sends up Shadow of the Colossus, even its unique game mechanics. Bart had to target a specific point on the Lad's posterior with his slingshot then fire at it to drop a large panel open revealing some circuitry, gears, and so on. The panel dropped down into a horizontal position, forming a platform that Bart could jump up, grab, and hoist himself up onto so he could start bashing on the Lad's mechanical innards.
If this level sounds suspiciously like one of The Simpsons' annual Halloween "Treehouse of Horror" episodes, that's not a coincidence. As it turns out, you'll have to play the game's four introductory levels (or "chapter one") in order as a manner of the tutorial. But afterward, chapter two will focus on the invasion of Springfield by green, tentacled alien mainstays Kodos and Kang. This will give you a number of surreal, spooky episodes in the Treehouse of Horror vein, and you'll be able to play these in any order.
Next, we moved on to Grand Theft Scratchy, which will see Marge and Lisa embarking on a quest to rid Springfield of the eponymous video game corruptor of young minds. You'll start this level by emerging from a house at the end of a cul-de-sac much like the one in GTA: San Andreas. You'll quickly find enemies, such as thuggish Scratchys and pimp-suit-wearing Itchys, roaming the streets. You can use Marge's megaphone to convert these ne'er-do-wells to your cause as you roam around Springfield, which is full of non-playable characters milling about in true GTA style. You can also attempt to purify the societal ills clearly brought on by nothing more than a distasteful video game.
We then got to see Mob Rule, an earlier mission where you'll learn how to use Marge's megaphone. Lead designer Greg Rizzer likened her mechanics to Pikmin, in that you can use the megaphone in a given level to convert other computer-controlled characters to your cause. You can then command them to move around and do your bidding for you. Marge will clearly be on an antivideo game tear in the game because this level was all about her heading down to the local SequelStop (complete with GameStop-stylized signage) and preventing the release of the latest Grand Theft Scratchy sequel, Blood Island. We saw Marge commanding similarly pious characters, such as Ned Flanders and Reverend Lovejoy, to do her vigilante bidding here.
Finally, Medal of Homer sticks Bart and Homer into army uniforms and links them up with the Hellfish, the legendary World War II unit. This unit included young versions of Grandpa Simpson and Mr. Burns. The plot of this episode has Burns absconding with a number of valuable paintings, and the valiant Simpsons will have to chase him through Africa, as well as the South Pacific, onto an aircraft carrier. However, this first section took place in a nighttime French village, beginning with an opening cinematic in which Grandpa referred to the residents as a bunch of "surrender monkeys." No doubt this was because of the abundance of white flags sticking out of various windows. The goal here was simply to roam the city and collect all of the flags before German forces moved in to take over. Like the other levels, this one included a number of touches that hearkened to the source material, such as swelling orchestral music at the right moments.
The Simpsons Game looks better every time we see it, and the designers have done a great job so far of nailing the look of the show with their unique cel-shading implementation. It looks like the humor of the game may even surpass that of the show because the writers had free reign to go nuts with the comedic elements and specifically lampoon a lot of gaming-related subjects you wouldn't expect to see in the television show. And we're impressed with any company that can publicly poke fun at its own most successful games, to boot.