By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
kay, I'll admit it. I've seen every episode of The Simpsons. Yeah, even all the Tracy Ulman shorts...and the whole first season (the ones you won't find in syndication). I remember the days when Smithers was black, and Bleeding Gums Murphy was still alive. I own the book, all the old Burger King toys (the really big 'uns, too) and I rush home from whatever I'm doing daily to catch those syndicated Simpsons reruns.
It's safe to say I'm a Simpsons nut. Which is why, when I heard Fox Interactive was making a new Simpsons CD-ROM, I immediately cringed. I had the misfortune of playing the old Sega Genesis and SNES games which were terrible, and an obvious way to cash in on the franchise. These were cheesy side scrollers, and not even remotely decent ones at that.
Imagine my surprise when Virtual Springfield arrived.
Now, I'll come back to this, but Virtual Springfield is the CD-ROM by Simpsons nuts, for Simpsons nuts, and everyone else can just go off and watch King of the Hill as far as Fox is concerned. On one hand, this is a godsend for us Simpsons fanatics...on the other...if you aren't a total fan of the series, and I mean a total fan of the series, this CD is going to leave you scratching your head.
First of all, a common misconception about Virtual Springfield is that it's a game. It's not. In fact, it's very far from it. Virtual Springfield is exactly what it sounds like. It's a virtual Springfield. Just imagine yourself walking around an episode of The Simpsons, and you've got the general idea. The whole thing takes place in a first person perspective (with a nice border suggesting that you're actually viewing everything from inside a Virtual Reality helmet), and movement is done by either clicking the mouse on the compass, or with the arrow keys. Walking isn't as easy as it should be, since you're confined to set paths...it's a major hassle to get around if you're looking for anything in particular.
And man, is there a lot to look for. Things are exactly where they should be, and exactly as they should be. Right down to the tiniest detail. You can visit such lovely locations as the Kwik-E-Mart, Krustylu Studios, hell, you can even go into the Stonecutters hall (unfortunately the society of "No Homers" is nowhere to be found). And like I said before...everything is exactly as it should be. Just for the heck of it, when wandering around the Kwik-E-Mart, I clicked on the "non alcoholic beer" area...and lo and behold, the secret passage to Apu's garden in the shade opened up.
And that's not the only small thing in here. I pulled out The Official Guide to the Simpsons and started pulling out things at random to look for...the Mr. Plow jacket, Sax on the Beach (Bleeding Gums Murphy's album), hell I was able to find (and play!) "Larry the Looter" for god's sake! I was continually amazed with just how many things I was able to dig up.
The "game" works in a way similar to the old Cyan Manhole games...you basically click around and look at all the fun stuff going on. Certain areas can't be accessed until you've seen other ones, but there really aren't any "puzzles" to solve, or anything so cliché. In an attempt to raise the replayability meter, there are tons of "Simpsons Virtual Trading Cards" to hunt down. Basically, if you haven't gotten them all, you know there's an area where you haven't been yet (or simply haven't looked hard enough...some of these things take a freakin' microscope to find). While I'm definitely happy that it didn't turn out to be yet another Myst clone, I can't help but wish there were something more here.
The problem with Virtual Springfield is that while total Simpsons maniacs like myself are going to love it, your average casual viewer simply isn't going to get it. While I was playing it at the office, a few guys came over, and those who knew the show well were laughing hysterically along with me...but the people who had only seen a handful of episodes simply couldn't understand what was so funny about seeing a bag of cat chow where the word "cat" had been replaced with "hurricane".
It's obscure references like this that make the game great in some ways, but simply baffling to a lot of people. And the "mini games" (such as "Larry the Looter") are well...exactly as they are in the show. And nothing more, really. "Larry the Looter" may have been a great gag, but it plays exactly the way Bart did in that classic episode. You loot three windows, and then an old Granny blows your head off with a shotgun. It's great for a laugh...but it's not exactly a perfect arcade game.
Most disappointing of all was "Apoom" the Doom parody where you play Apu behind the counter at the Kwik-E-Mart, defending yourself from the onslaught of thugs and teenagers (and teenage thugs). It's a great concept, and when I saw it in the manual, I was totally psyched. I mean come on...this is genius. Unfortunately, the game's engine simply doesn't allow for the kind of Doom-style gameplay necessary for it to be remotely enjoyable. This is a Myst-type engine, and therefore is limited to Myst-style conventions. What could have been a hilarious trek around the Kwik-E-Mart with a shotgun, becomes a lame point-and-click game with all of four enemies, and a few weapons. Sure, the BFG parody is funny (I won't spoil it for you) but again...it's not a great game.
Then of course, there are a number of places that are noticeably missing. Sure Principal Skinner's house is here...but you can't go in it at all. The fun of wandering through Skinner's bedroom simply can't be found here, I'm afraid...although his office is a definite treat. You can go into the Power Plant, but why not Mr. Burns' house? I can't tell you how much I was disappointed when I found out that I wasn't going to hear "Smithers, release the hounds". And of course, and possibly most tragic of all...is the lack of "The Android's Dungeon". Now, I don't know about you...but next to Professor Frink (and maybe even Cletus, the slack jawed yokel), the owner at "The Android's Dungeon" is definitely my favorite character. The fact that I can't inquire about the price of a "very rare episode of Mary Worth, where she advises a friend to commit suicide" was a major disappointment ("no, you may not").
All in all Virtual Springfield is worth the $25 or so bucks you can pick it up for, but it's not the ultimate Simpsons game I've been hoping for. Perhaps now that Fox Interactive's got a killer 3D engine (for Aliens Vs. Predator) they'll put it to some good use and create a real Simpsons game.
- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here at loonygames.
|Credits: Bargain Bin logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Bargain Bin is © 1998 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited and like, in poor taste, dude.|