Grand Theft Auto: Springfield

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I love the Simpsons. Very seldom do I watch network television these days, but the Simpsons has always been a tradition for me. I even watch it at work when I am closing up for the night, and I even have my own favorite episodes in mind (Some of my favorite episodes include Cape Fear, featuring Sideshow Bob’s ordeal with the rakes, and Bart Sells His Soul, where we hear the sissified Todd Flanders yell out "Ow, my freaking ears!").

On the other hand, I also love the GTA series. Whether it is the open ended gameplay, the engrossing storyline, submissions galore, or the hilarious scripting, I always go back to GTA on occasion.

At first it would seem interesting to see how two of my favorite things come together, but early impressions of Simpsons video games have been less than appealing. With the exception of Konami’s old 1991 arcade game (a TMNT-style fighter), the rest of the Simpsons games (Road Rage, Simpsons Wrestling, Bart vs. the Space Mutants, etc. etc. etc.) are well below standards.

I’m glad to say this time it is not the game. Not only is Simpsons Hit and Run as Comic Book Guy would say: "Best. Simpsons Game. Ever." It is also the Funniest. Game. Ever.

As we all know, Springfield is an unusual town. We’ve seen it all: three eyed fish, a device to block out the sun, and even baby Maggie shooting Mr. Burns over a sucker of all things. Now we have Krusty the Clown plugging a new cola that seems too good to pass up (especially for Homer). Not only that, but there are sightings of wasp cameras and black vans popping up all over Springfield. No one seems to know what is going on, especially Chief Wiggum. (But then again, what has he ever done right?) Leave it to our favorite dysfunctional family (with help from Apu the Kwik-E-Mart cashier) to find the source of the trouble.

Hit and Run plays in the same vein as the GTA series, where each character (Bart, Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Apu) can explore by car or by foot. The default vehicles fit each character perfectly: Homer drives his pink sedan (although without the damage he got when in New York City), Marge wheels her road rage Canyonero, Lisa veers along in her Malbu Stacy roadster, Bart uses the Honor Roller soap box racer he got from Martin, and Apu drives his sports car. One has to wonder how a Kwik-E-Mart clerk can own such a fast car.

Mission structure is more linear than what is found in Rockstar’s offerings, but there are also some side missions and races available. In addition, special bonuses such as vehicles and costumes (including Homer’s muumuu he wore when gaining weight to claim disability) can be purchased with coins found in each stage.

Since the game is like GTA, driving recklessly will increase a special meter, similar to the Wanted levels. When it is full, you will be in "Hit and Run" mode and Wiggum will be hot on your tail. If he catches you, there is a 50 coin penalty, which isn’t as bad as being thrown in jail, but it can still hurt when obtaining new items.

As with past Simpsons titles, all the main voice actors (Dan Castallaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, and Harry Shearer) recreate their characters, and as always they sound great. With a storyline written by lead writers Matt Selman and Tim Long, the production quality is also very impressive.

Basically the game plays like a lost episode, a very funny lost episode. Never before have I so enjoyed such a hilarious title. Even the soundtrack fits each of the characters, using the original theme song as a background. Jazz lover Lisa’s theme, for instance, includes a saxophone accent.

Visually the game looks impressive, and the town of Springfield truly comes to life. I do have my concerns about seeing my favorite Simpsons characters in 3D (does Homer 3 ring a bell?), and there are some problems with the camera when traveling on foot (a common problem for 3D games). Other than that it looks great.

Finally here is a Simpsons game that will appease both gamers and Simpsons fans. It might not unseat the mighty GTA franchise but for younger gamers who don’t have to worry about excessive violence (it doesn’t get any worse than a typical Itchy & Scratchy episode) this is perfect. It will also appeal to those old enough to enjoy the more mature titles, and to those who want to enjoy Simpsons humor that is much funnier than even the most recent seasons.

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