Just when you thought wrestling games couldn't get any wackier, Activision dips into Fox Television well and delivers a no-holds-barred matfest that stars all your favorite characters from The Simpsons. In a sense, The Simpsons and wrestling seem like two good tastes that would taste great together. In this case, however, they don't. In fact, besides pinning your opponent, The Simpsons Wrestling is more like kickboxing than it is wrestling--but if you can accept that singular faux pas, the game isn't half bad.
Compared with traditional wrestling titles, The Simpsons Wrestling is light on features. There are three single-player championships to earn, 10 arenas to participate in, and only 12 playable characters. Apu, Barney, Krusty, Willie, Homer, Lisa, Bart, and Marge are available from the start, while Bumblebee Man, Ned Flanders, Professor Frink, and Moe join the cast as you beat them in championship matches. If you manage to win all the championships, you'll also unlock an additional battle option that lets you play as Itchy and/or Scratchy. While the absence of career, custom player, and custom bout options is disappointing, it doesn't really negatively impact a character-based game like The Simpsons Wrestling.
The greatest blight against The Simpsons Wrestling is its gameplay. While the simplicity of a three-buttons/three-attacks system ensures that literally anyone can join the fun, it greatly limits variety and skill. Each character has his or her own combination punch, projectile attack, and superskill, as well as three different grapples--all conveniently mapped to the square, triangle, and circle buttons. If you manage to fill each letter of the taunt meter, either by performing combos or collecting letter icons thrown into the ring, you can also perform a taunt, which gives you 30 seconds of invincibility. The presence of a constantly refilling attack meter attempts to alleviate button mashing, but since stock punches are so powerful and interrupt everything, murdering the square button is the only strategy you really need to defeat any opponent. Adding to the tedium, there aren't any ringside objects with which to assault your opponent, and it's impossible to exit the ring during a match--two major requirements for fun wrestling games. In defense of The Simpsons Wrestling, though, skating around as Bart, blaring Lisa's trumpet, or tossing around bibles as Ned Flanders is quite amusing, especially against human opponents.
It's exactly that kind of amusement and faithfulness to character that ultimately makes The Simpsons Wrestling worth playing, provided you're a fan of the series. Thanks to a cel-shading technique that enables shaded polygons to emulate line-drawn art, Bart, Lisa, Apu, and the rest of the Simpsons' cast are reproduced authentically. Many of the special moves, such as Krusty's sledgehammer, Apu's slap fighting, Willie's gardening tools, and Marge's hairdo attack, are borrowed directly from actual TV episodes. The game's backgrounds aren't overly detailed, but there are enough landmarks and people dotted about to convey a semblance of location. On the upside, this level of simplicity makes for a speedy frame rate, and polygon-clipping issues are nonexistent. In terms of auditory presentation, a few background tracks and a ton of character speech samples provide the soundtrack for The Simpsons Wrestling. Phrases such as Bart's "Eat my shorts!" and Apu's "Thank you all for coming, I'll see you in hell" give the game a welcome dose of wit.
In the end, wit and charm are the two most redeeming features of The Simpsons Wrestling, as it simply can't survive on its gameplay alone. However, in spite of its weak gameplay, The Simpsons Wrestling has plenty of laughs in store for devout fans of the series.