Gas, brake, honk. Honk, honk, punch.
For years, Simpsons fans (who are rabid and multitudinous) have been clamoring
for a good Simpsons game. So far, they have been let down. Game developer after
game developer has taken the Simpsons license and churned out crap, and in some
cases, worse than crap. So, as a particularly rabid Simpsons fan myself, I am
pleased to announce that The Simpsons Road Rage is the best Simpsons
game made. Too bad that's not saying much.
It seems to me that anyone trying to make a Simpsons game faces two major challenges.
The first problem has plagued the manufacturers of plush toys and other novelties
since the show first came out: Matt Groening's odd cartoon characters translate
terribly into 3D. Lisa's head, for example, always ends up looking like a plastic
yellow puffer fish.
The other problem is even more fundamental: What kind of game do you make?
The lack of any obvious answer has led to a string of lame platformers, some
dumb little action games, a bowling game, and a very, very bad wrestling
game. Exhibiting another profound lack of creativity, the developers of
Road Rage have made a Crazy Taxi clone.
The wealthy tyrant Mr. Burns has taken
over Springfield's public transportation system and filled the streets with
nuclear buses to drive people around. This is bad because'well'I guess because
Mr. Burns did it. So the town of Springfield is out to stop him by turning all
their cars into taxis. Ok OK, so Shakespeare
didn't write the plot and it's basically just an excuse to get everyone speeding
around in taxis. Fortunately for the developers, Crazy Taxi is a pretty
good game and The Simpsons do a decent job of recreating it, at least while
you're actually playing.
For those of you who have never seen Crazy Taxi, here's how it works:
You pick a driver (in this case, a Simpsons character) and drive their car around
Springfield like a maniac, picking up passengers and dropping them off for money.
The faster you get them there, the bigger your bonus, but run out of time and
it's game over. It's fast and fun.
The graphics, however, are pretty mediocre. I don't fault the game for it's
bland textures because the cartoon has simple colors and the game does a decent
job of looking like the show. But the edges are pretty grainy and there are
some odd graphical glitches, like Ralph Wiggum,
who looks like he is wearing a hat made out of bees.
sound is great at first, with plenty of new original recordings by the real
cast members. And with more than 30 Simpsons characters making an appearance,
from Professor Frink to Mayor
Quimby, there's a lot of dialogue. The best conversations are specific to
particular pairs of characters when they recognize each other and say more meaningful
things. But most of the time they just say the same random quotes, and while
there are a lot of them, they'll start repeating themselves pretty quickly and
you'll start wishing they'd just shut up for a while.
The Simpsons: Road Rage also improves on Crazy Taxi by making
it bigger. There are 18 characters total, most of whom you unlock during the
game when you get enough money, and each has their own unique vehicle. There
are six large areas of Springfield to explore. There's a "mission mode" where
you have 10 tasks to complete, like using Otto
and his school bus to "knock over 10 street lamps in 30 seconds." Finally, there's
a split screen two-player mode which Crazy Taxi never had.
But the best part of the game is that the developers are obviously Simpsons
fans themselves - the game is a wealth of Simpsons trivia. They've tried to
keep the virtual Springfield as true to the show as possible. From the Kwik-E-Mart
to the Frying Dutchman, Simpsons fans
will recognize common and not-so-common locations. Drive into the hills above
Springfield and the real nerds will recognize Kamp Krusty, the Stonecutters
Lodge and Rancho Relaxo.
The developers took the same care with the drivers and their cars. Chief Wiggum's
police car and Homer's family sedan are obvious, but the aficionados will love
Marge's Canyonero, Apu's
70's Firebird and Barney in the Plow
So it seems like we have a pretty solid game here. Not brilliant, but fun
and dorky, maybe a "B." But there's a horrible curse on this game: the worst"
loading times" ever. You can spend more time waiting around than actually
playing Road Rage. There's a long load time before and after
every single game, and each game is only a couple of minutes long. Mission mode
is even worse; to play a 30 second timed mission, you have to wait for 40 seconds
for it to load! Better not fail, or you'll have to wait again every time you
retry. Even one of Grandpa's interminable
stories is less boring.
All this makes The Simpsons Road Rage a perfect rental for Simpson
fans, but I wouldn't want to buy it. In just a few days you can unlock all the
bonuses, explore virtual Springfield to your heart's content and suffer through
what will add up to hours and hours of loading time. After the fun wears off,
you'll find Road Rage feels more like stop and go traffic.