There used to be this show called The Simpsons on TV, and while a lot of ink has been spilled about the show – in some cases by Dan Olson, using it as a lens to examine masculinity, and Hari Kondabolu to celebrate the diversity and complexity of his culture, and by Super Eyepatch Wolf to examine the impact of a creative complex on the creative continuity – the institution, the brand of The Simpsons is basically cultural superstructure. You can’t really go wrong writing about the Simpsons, you just need to make sure you both point out the recent series sucks (what would I know) and glorify in its history.
We talk a lot about what the Simpsons is doing based on its creators, a sort of top-down perspective on the work from the narrowest point which coincidentally is a position shared by people who, like, make films and youtube channels, but you know a thing we don’t talk about much?
The Simpsons videogames.
The Run Down
Specifically, what we don’t talk about much is this The Simpsons videogame.
Bart Vs The Space Mutants is a pretty dodgy little piece of tie-in garbage. It’s sort of a side-scrolling adventure puzzler with platform elements and a maze, a maze of all things, because mazes are fun, aren’t they, 1991 Acclaim developers. It came out on kind of everything, and it showed in its control system on the PC – you moved left and right with O and P, and moved up and down with Q and A, a type of control system that haunted me as a child unable to work out just what, exactly, was wrong with using the arrow keys. Still, the port at least was very faithful – all versions of the game seem pretty much identical.
What you do in the game is move left to right, usually just going to the right, controlling Bart Simpson as he does, well, stuff, to oppose the interests of a group of aliens that have really particular ideas about how to conquer earth, and only Bart can tell because of his X-Ray glasses, you know, those X-Ray glasses Bart is shown having all the time in the TV show, and then you go and, well, you do Bart Simpsony things.
You set off bottle rockets, you throw cherry bombs, you spray-paint things, you harrass adults and you skateboard, you prank-call people, you mess with people’s laundry, knock off people’s hats and even, let’s generously call it doing battle with Sideshow Bob. It’s a game that definitely knows what the Simpsons is, but doesn’t at all seem to have a grasp on what the Simpsons is about. Instead it imagines a Bart-centric view of the world shown in the advertising media, where he’s a cool boy who saves the day by being witty and clever despite being a mere child in a world full of adults, as opposed to the endlessly useless dullard who the show normally depicts as wasting time rather than doing things.
And that’s your lot! The game play is varied but also somehow very dull, where mostly the game is just about finding the particular way the game wants you to interfere with a thing the game’s going to throw at you, which start with somewhat-elaborate item puzzles and end up with you just popping balloons and navigating a maze full of tiny squinty objects. A hecking maze.
I have opinions on mazes.
The Strange Genesis
The game does demonstrate a lot of where it came from. It was a tie-in for a popular piece of media, and you got an almost Sonic-The-Hedgehog style (goodness, I was always going to bring it back to Sonic) antagonistic coolness to the cover art. The visuals of the game are by our modern standards pretty squinty, even if they are pretty indulgently large on-screen. The game can’t load vertically, so you just have a horizontal tube of a level, where you can only really move back and forth, until the final level which is, again, a maze.
Here’s the thing about Bart Vs The Space Mutants, though.
This game doesn’t involve the Simpsons as the story presents them – which is mostly a story which dips into the fantastic only in Halloween specials. Broadly speaking, the problems Bart dealt with in the series were bullies and schoolwork and his abusive father, and the stories tended to orient around much more real world sitcom problems rather than Bart going on an adventure.
Instead, this story presents the Simpsons as the advertising looked to kids.
This game made total sense to me as a kid. Bart was doing Bart-ish things, Bart was solving a problem in a Bart-ish way and I never questioned the aliens. The aliens, by the way, have plots that require purple items, hats, balloons and oh yeah radioactive stuff.
What I find so fascinating about this game in overview is the levels are almost perfectly tuned to what a kid would come up with when approaching the idea of The Simpsons based on its advertising and iconography rather than its actual story. It carries through: The mall is a big sequence of boring places, because Bart doesn’t care about stores that sell shoes or hats. His family are things to pick up, his mischief solutions to world-ending problems, and when the aliens are thwarted four or five times, their solution is to abandon earth and honour Bart because he’s just so cool.
Bart Vs The Space Mutants is kind of an amazing little game that perfectly encapsulates the Simpsons as perceived by the children that watched it who didn’t really get what they were watching. And you know some of those kids – because The Simpsons was something – strangely – of a family sitcom. Its animation and periodic focus on the kids and butt humour meant that the audience was at times wider than the show ever meant to be.
I think that’s pretty neat.
The game sucks though.
It’s available on Abandonia.
Get it if:
- You’re TheMexicanRunner and you want to speedrun on a different platform.
Avoid it if:
- On second thoughts, don’t do that.