The Simpsons: Hit & Run
Gamecube owners, take note of Simpsons: Hit & Run, the newest Simpsons game by Radical that, in following with its predecessor Road Rage, takes some other company’s smash hit and puts a distinctly Springfieldian spin on it. The victim this time: Grand Theft Auto III.
You’re going to take this and you’re going to like it, by gar, because knowing Nintendo’s squeamish reaction to releasing ultra-violent games on its consoles, this could be the closest you’ll get to the GTA experience for a while, assuming you don’t already own a PS2 or Xbox as well. Though owners of the ‘Cube will have to settle for a product that’s decidedly more cartoony than violent, Hit & Run fits the bill as an entertaining action game that emulates that which it pays homage to with a satisfying blend of respect and droll humor. (Sample: In the first mission, a newspaper boasts an article on its front page entitled ”Study: 90% of Video Games Begin With Easy Tutorial Level.” Har har.)
Perhaps it is a sign that the Simpsons has lost the potency it once had when they can poke fun at a video game monument as big as GTA3 and not capture the attention of some caterwauling bigwig in the Senate. Or, more likely, it probably has something to do with their horrid track record in video games. Aside from the classic 1991 arcade game and Road Rage, there has been nothing too terribly memorable about the family’s adventures (mostly Bart’s, but some other characters like Krusty have seen stardom as well). God knows we never want to lay eyes on Simpsons Wrestling or Simpsons Skateboarding again. Hit & Run proves that the success of Road Rage wasn’t just a fluke, that Radical has what it takes to lift the Simpsons out of a near-decade’s slump of ignominious, poorly designed, easily forgettable games. And if that means ripping off the successes of other companies, then by all means they need to keep doing it.
Hit & Run plays sort of like one of the show’s episodes, specifically the one where we see a typical day from the point of view of Homer, Bart, and Lisa. Add Marge and Apu to the mix and you have all the playable characters. Controlling one at a time, you’ll send them on a series of missions, mostly as a gofer, to reveal the nature of criminal shenanigans and goings-on in Springfield. You won’t find anything akin to busting up an underground prostitution ring or diving in the middle of a mafioso war in this game though – problems are of a more innocuous and lighthearted nature, such as Chief Wiggum wanting you to ram a donut truck to get a few cases of crullers or racing in the Comic Book Guy’s midsize sedan to get your hands on the latest rare volume of Radioactive Man. Still, don’t rush out to the stores and buy this for your five-year-old – it’s still not of as pure an innocence as some would desire.
Far more than its big brother Road Rage, Hit & Run offers the most immersive tour of Springfield to date – even more so than Virtual Springfield did on the PC. On foot, you’ll see even more references to the show than Radical was able to cram into their previous game (including a few more from some very recent seasons, such as a few billboards that indicate the splitting of Springfield into two area codes). Hardcore and casual fans of the show alike will drown in the tidal wave of stuff to gaze at, and will double over in laughter upon seeing Frostillicus in the Kwik-e-Mart’s ice cream cases (really just a frozen Jasper with a Viking helmet on, made into a sideshow for Apu to profit from) or the ever-present billboard which admonishes people against eating beef, then quickly flips around to tell them to eat deer. Even some past dialogue exchanges made it in; Milhouse inviting Lisa to the harvest dance should ring familiar for many a Simpsons fan. The Springfield-as-Liberty-City format seems to work as a means of cramming as many classic jokes from past seasons into the game as possible, and it makes the various sections of the city more fun to wander through. Seeing what makes you laugh a laugh of recognition comprises a large chunk of this game’s entertainment value, and at times you might find yourself straying away from the drudgery of missions to explore the amusing innards of Springfield, U.S.A.
Remembering back to some other efforts at bringing Our Favorite Family into three dimensions, we notice that the timeline of 3D Simpsons games is somewhat reminiscent of the many botched clones of Ripley in Alien Resurrection. While this is definitely their best looking 3D game to date, it’s clear that the look still isn’t as polished as one would hope, leaving more still to be desired from the gaming public. The animations are sparse and sometimes very peculiar (Marge runs with her arms stretched straight out?). The cutscenes provide humorous dialogue but can be painful to watch; the denizens appear to be little more than glorified computerized Muppets. Watch their mouths move and you’ll see the distinct jaw structure and movements of a marionette somewhere in there. It’s clear from the start that more hard work was concentrated on making the cityscapes look beautiful, and they truly are. It’s difficult not to dwell on how well the most famous fictional city on TV is recreated and how it all connects here. It’s dang good design that can’t be denied even in the face of some crappy-looking 3D models.
You’ll never be at a loss for action either, for your to-do list will be about as long as the list of jokes from the show that you’re successfully able to pick out. Missions are often interconnected and combined into one huge level, although you can abort at any time just for the sake of sightseeing and collecting coins and cards, which open up into even more surprises, including costumes and vehicles that your characters need to embark upon certain tasks (and which also feed off of the show’s rich vault of memorable jokes and episodes, like everything else you’ve seen and heard so far). Hit & Run takes all of the best elements of its source material and forces them to fit the confines of this twisted cartoon city with much success. It’s as good a fit as a square peg and a round hole have ever seen, although in the grand scheme of things Hit & Run plays more like the appetizer to Grand Theft Auto’s main course.
However, if you own a Gamecube, you’d do well to settle right here. It’s especially what the doctor ordered if you’re turned off by the gritty realism of GTA. Here, people don’t die when they stand in close proximity to an exploding vehicle (in fact, they roll away out of instinct, it seems), and they are promptly returned to land whenever they drive into the waiting arms of a bottomless canyon or freshwater lake. Things don’t seem as consequential, and perhaps that mold is the best fit for the Simpsons universe. At the end of any given episode the lesson learned and the ramifications of it fly right out the window. Hit & Run is similar to the show in that it’s little more than a throwaway thrill with some laughs along the way, but it’s definitely worth a go if you want to see a somewhat more optimistic take on the events and play style of GTA3. Hit & Run has a good time melding its own universe with that of another, and its success in this sort of alchemy makes it worth the play time alone.