In two weeks’ time, The Simpsons will air its 700th episode, and we know it will be a flashback episode revolving around the Simpsons’ history with their neighbours, the Flandererses. It’s fitting that the show is using its anniversary to look back on the past, because for the last few years, it has been pining for the return of the glory days. We’ve seen callbacks to the monorail, Sideshow Bob’s rakes, Lisa’s substitute, Kamp Krusty, and many more besides in the past handful of seasons. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it will never again hit Golden Era heights, but I still tune in every week. I’ve loved The Simpsons for as long as I can remember, it’s like a part of my childhood, and whenever cancellation comes, I’ll know it’s the right time to say goodbye. But with the show so concerned with nostalgia, all I want to know is where the hell’s my new Simpsons game?
Almost as much as You Only Move Twice, Colonel Homer, and the Treehouse of Horror specials, The Simpsons Hit & Run was a part of my childhood too. The graphics were pretty hokey even by the standards of the day, with the pencil scribbles and chunky 2D models not translating well to 3D polygons, but I loved them all the same. Hit & Run was obviously the best, being a Simpsons riff on Grand Theft Auto with mind control cola, alien conspiracies, and a healthy dose of combat, RPG mechanics, and action-packed driving. You could play as the whole family, sans Maggie and Abe, as well as (for some reason) Apu. You also got to wander into Moe’s Tavern, the Kwik-E-Mart, and The Android’s Dungeon as you raced around Springfield.
As well as Hit & Run, there was Road Rage, which came out a couple of years earlier. That was a Crazy Taxi clone, and it wasn’t as good. Still pretty fun, but I think I loved it more because I loved The Simpsons, whereas my love for Hit & Run is entirely down to its weird brilliance. I even had the proper naff ones like Itchy & Scratchy in Miniature Golf Madness, Simpsons Wrestling, and Simpsons Cartoon Studio, but it’s definitely just rose-tinted nostalgia making me look fondly upon them.
The Simpsons Skateboarding was utterly shite, mind. Let’s not bring that back. But Hit & Run and Road Rage were fantastic fun, managing to cram every big personality in Springfield into their blocky pixels. Even the less-than-creatively-titled Simpsons Game, which came out in 2007, was decent. Not a classic, and I’d be disappointed if that was the standard of gaming we get when this hypothetical new title skips out of its lollypop house on gumdrop lane, but better than the Family Guy and Spongebob games. Definitely better than Simpsons Skateboarding too.
You might think that this is a bit of a pipe dream, with the Golden Era having long departed, surely the chance of any decent Simpsons game has died too. But that’s just not true. I mean, it’s unlikely, sure, but the Golden Era has nothing to do with it. Even the most generous of Simpsons fans like yours truly would classify season ten as the end of the Golden Era; this season aired in 1999, meaning all those great – well, good at least – Simpsons games came after. Principal Skinner was Armin Tamzarian in 1998, five whole years before Hit & Run hit shelves.
Besides, modern day Simpsons is not all bad. I would firmly argue that Barthood is equal to Golden Era quality, but of course no one besides me cares enough about The Simpsons to listen. The Squirt & The Whale, Halloween Of Horror, and Brick Like Me – the Lego episode – are all great too, but I can feel you all switching off now. The point is, The Simpsons can still wow them when it doesn’t phone it in, and usually when it lets Carolyn Omine write. Hell, The Simpsons Movie came out 8 years post-Golden Era and was universally acclaimed. A similar push of the best brains behind the show on a new game would see lightning strike twice.
Of course, I know the real reason why we aren’t getting a new Simpsons game: Tapped Out. That’s a Simpsons mobile game, one that launched in 2012 and to be fair, it still gets regular seasonal updates. It’s set in Springfield post-destruction, although everyone is fine, kind of. You start off just with Homer and 742 Evergreen Terrace, and gradually unlock more buildings and with them, more characters. Then you send these characters on Sims style tasks to generate more XP points and more cash. Being The Simpsons fan that I am, obviously I downloaded it immediately, but soon discovered you needed to spend a lot of actual money to complete challenges and unlock all of the characters or buy new space for your town, so I got bored of it. Mostly though, my problem was that all of the voice lines were ripped from the classic episodes, rather than anything that might actually make sense as a story. It’s just endlessly asking you “hey, remember when Moe said ‘Amanda Huggenkiss’? Wasn’t that funny?!”, and just like the current show, it’s looking back instead of looking forward.
As a show, The Simpsons keeps on truckin’ just well enough to get renewals, and Tapped Out is clearly milking enough cash to preoccupy the Simpsons gaming department at EA. It all feels a bit stale these days. But, uh, Hit & Run was good, wasn’t it? Made us all believe again.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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