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The Simpsons are no strangers to video games. As their popularity would suggest, they’ve had a number of games since Simpsons mania in the early 90s with terrible Bart based adventures leading into the 2000s with the likes of The Simpsons Wrestling and The Simpsons Skateboarding. Incidentally, playing either of those games for more than 30 minutes will require you to go to a church, confess and get blessed with some holy water. However, among these awful to mediocre games stands the definitive digital Springfield world. A game that showers fans with gags and quality gameplay. A nostalgic romp for anyone who’s ever seen the show that still holds up today: The Simpsons: Hit and Run. The game that the man at the store said is the one every boy wants aside from Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge.
Built as a spiritual successor to the fairly decent The Simpsons: Road Rage, The Simpsons Hit and Run is to Grand Theft Auto (with a heavier emphasis on driving) as what Road Rage was to Crazy Taxi. Although, rather than one large open world you’ll be thrust into one of three world’s you’ll return to at least twice as different characters. Each world is satisfyingly large and densely packed with secrets to find and various missions to complete. On foot and by car, the controls handle well, making races, chases and getting around places fun in themselves. It’s the best video game version of Springfield to date with many iconic landmarks and set pieces, populated to the brim with the iconic and enormous cast of the show, all of whom have their original voices from the show and have something funny to say if you encounter them. But not the dead eyed unrecognisable citizens unfortunately, who just stand there stealing your soul with their unblinking gaze.
The story is definitely wackier than the average Simpsons episode, with giant wasp cameras, crop circles and mind control all culminating in a terrifically challenging final level based on the Treehouse of Horror Halloween specials. The game’s writing is hilarious, nicely capturing the seasons 8-10 era, just the edge of the golden age. That’s not to say it all hits, a line early on where Marge tells Homer he’s so sexy when he’s paranoid always confused me, but lines like Chief Wiggum’s “No running over an elderly person without a license” and Milhouse’s “Perhaps you’d like to share some chewing gum” make me laugh with every repeat playthrough. Of which I’ve definitely done 10 or so. I find myself going back to this game at least once every year or so, it’s just that entertaining and fun. And never once have I wanted to skip a cut-scene or speed through some dialogue because it’s just that good. The smallest of touches are added for fans to smile at like The Car Built for Homer from Season 2’s ‘Oh Brother where art thou?’ playing La Cuca Racha for the horn, an unlockable Itchy and Scratchy cartoon and all the unlockable costumes calling back to older episodes like Homer’s Stonecutters outfit from Season 6’s ‘Homer the Great’ and Lisa’s cool girl outfit from Season 7’s ‘Summer of 4 Ft. 2’.
Inevitably, there are some downsides to The Simpsons: Hit and Run. A lot of the missions are very similar to one another. Usually asking you to race, follow or destroy an opposing vehicle. And even all these years later some of them can be damn near unforgiving. The latter half of The Simpsons: Hit and Run is no cake walk. Mmmmm cake… The final level in particular being balls to the wall crushing with its difficulty. Short time limits and long missions with no room for error, while being forced to use specific vehicles with questionable handling. If you win then you’ve damn well earned it after all those attempts. The final mission with Grandpa changes a man.
Only having three worlds across seven levels is a bit of a bummer, but they do have different aesthetics and explorable areas/routes on the repeat visits. And remembering certain shortcuts helps with the difficulty of later missions. Some shortcuts even get blocked off with new ones opening up to further encourage exploration in familiar areas.
Certain missions require specific cars or costumes which rarely add up. Needing to buy the Plow King from Barney to destroy Smithers’ car makes sense but a lot of the time it’s just needing a new fast car despite your older cars being just as, if not, faster. With costumes for example when playing as Apu (yes you play as Apu and it’s as amazing as it sounds) to follow the police to help him find Snake Jailbird. Why does a cowboy hat and baseball jersey affect him following someone? It can lead to some annoying grinding for cash if you can’t afford them when you need them.
All these years later, The Simpsons: Hit and Run holds up amazingly well and is still the best Simpsons game to date. It’s clever writing, fan service and consistent challenge make for a great first time play and continuously enjoyable revisits. Some games become a breeze on repeat playthroughs but The Simpsons: Hit and Run is an only sometimes bull challenge that keeps replays engaging. If you played it before back in the day, pick it up again, if you’re a Simpsons fan who’s never gotten around to it I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised and if you’re not a Simpsons fan I don’t know why you’d even have an interest but at least the gameplay is solid.