All the shorts-eating you could ever hope for!
To Beat: Reach the Ending
Played: 9/5/16 – 9/14/16
My Difficulty: 7/10
I think it’s safe to say that The Simpsons has been the most successful US cartoon of all time. Such success leads to branching out all over the place and particularly into video games. There are many Simpsons games and today I will be writing about the first one!
The Simpsons show was created by Matt Groening and debuted on FOX on December 17th, 1989. The family was actually created two years prior appearing in animated shorts for The Tracey Ullman Show before appearing in their own half-hour show, and the series has lived on ever since. As of this writing, The Simpsons is in its 28th season spanning just over 600 total episodes. It is the longest running American sitcom and is near the top of many other lists of long running television programs. I have watched several episodes of the show but not regularly since I was a teenager.
There are over 20 Simpsons video games spanning the NES all the way to Xbox 360, PS3, and mobile. Bart vs. the Space Mutants was released in February 1991 and it is the first game with The Simpsons license followed just one month later by the arcade game simply titled The Simpsons. The most recent game is Tapped Out on iOS and Android which is still receiving gameplay updates today. The NES had four titles in total: Bart vs. the Space Mutants, Bart vs. the World, Bartman Meets Radioactive Man, and Krusty’s Fun House. Bart vs. the Space Mutants also appeared on the Sega Genesis, Game Gear, and various PCs. The NES version was developed by Imagineering and published by Acclaim. It was also released in Europe in late 1991.
Bart vs. the Space Mutants is a sidescrolling platformer. Aliens are attempting to take over the world and Bart Simpson eavesdrops in on their diabolical plan. They need to collect specific items in order to build an ultimate weapon, and so Bart sets out to remove those items before the aliens get them first. The story plays out exactly like this in the gameplay. Each level begins with the aliens discussing what object they need to collect, and then you set out to collect a specific number of that item to help clear the level.
The graphics have a cartoon look to them that is pulled off well on the NES. All the characters are recognizable and there are many objects that only appear once in the game so there is a lot of variety. The main issue with the graphics is that it can be tough to distinguish which background elements you can interact with in some areas. The music isn’t that bad either. The rendition of The Simpsons theme is done quite well, and there are some voice samples included too. However much of the soundtrack isn’t all that memorable.
The controls in this game are more involved than your typical platformer. The D-Pad moves Bart and the A button jumps. Bart can do a super jump by pressing both A and B at the same time and the feel for this is important as this move is used often. The run button is also A, so Bart jumps first and then he runs once A is held down. The run button is not obvious but it does come in handy. The B button is used for specific weapons. The game also has an inventory system. You can cycle through the inventory by pressing Select, and if you hold Down and hit Select the items will scroll in reverse order. Press Start to use the selected item. The Pause option shows up as part of the inventory so you will need to select the Pause option and press Start to pause the game.
One of the default items is the X-Ray Specs. The aliens disguise themselves as ordinary humans walking the streets, so the X-Ray Specs can reveal if a person of interest is either a normal person or one of the aliens. When you use the Specs the entire screen color changes to sepia tone and the alien heads are revealed if a person is indeed an alien. If it’s an alien Bart can jump on his head to defeat him. However if it is not an alien then Bart takes damage for trying to hurt an innocent bystander. When an alien is bopped a trinket is left behind that represents the proof of their existence. That’s how it’s described in the manual! Collect enough of these proof tokens in a level and one of Bart’s family members will help out in the boss battle at the end of the level. Progress is tracked by spelling out the letters of the name of the family member. For instance, the first level spells out MAGGIE and so six proofs need to be collected, one for each letter in her name. It is not required to do this but it can be helpful.
The other default items are coins. Bart can find these behind objects in the levels by jumping around. Do this in the right places and bouncing coins pop out. These can be spent just like money in certain places in the game. They also grant Bart extra lives if you collect enough. When you earn 15 coins you automatically earn an extra life, but it only costs 10 coins to buy one. I assume this was done so that you will never have fewer than 5 coins at any time unless you intentionally spend them.
There are some other items that appear but are not part of your inventory. Krusty the clown emblems give Bart an extra life and they are most helpful. Jebediah Springfield bestows the power of invincibility if you are able to locate his severed statue head powerup.
The status screen at the bottom has all the necessary information for playing the game. It shows which family member is featured in the stage along with how many letters are currently spelled out. Next to this are tiny Bart heads that show how many hits are remaining. For each life, Bart can take two hits from enemies. If he has been hit once already then one head will display and the next hit will cause a loss of life. Next to that in the status screen is the current inventory item, the score, remaining lives, the level timer, and the number of remaining goal items required to complete the level. If you reach the end of the stage without meeting the goal requirement, then the boss will not appear and you will need to backtrack to find more items. Finally on the far right the current weapon ammo is displayed.
Here are each of the five levels in the game:
Level 1 is the streets of Springfield. Bart must collect (or destroy) purple colored objects. These take all kinds of different forms and there are a number of ways to deal with them. The most common way is to collect the spray paint weapon and change the color of purple items to red, rendering them completely useless to the aliens. Other purple things need to be hidden or removed in specific ways. The first level of the game has a puzzle feel to it that is kind of a novelty for its time. This is also the main level where you purchase items to help with the purple cleanup. For instance, you can buy a wrench and use it on a fire hydrant to spray a stream of water that washes off fresh purple paint from a nearby awning. The level is challenging because there are only a few excess purple items that can be bypassed. Maggie is in this level and she will help by rolling bowling balls that Bart can use to damage the boss.
Level 2 is the Springfield shopping mall and the goal items are hats. There are stray hats all over the level but you can also lift them off a person’s head if they are wearing one. This is where the game ditches the puzzle elements of the first stage and switches to a more straightforward platforming challenge. There are lots of enemies that walk and fly around and you just need to get by them since there are no weapons in this stage. There are also areas of wet concrete that kill Bart if he sinks in them. These sections have tricky jumps that are pretty unforgiving. Marge is in this level and she will help deflect some of the boss projectiles for you.
Level 3 is Krustyland and Bart must get rid of balloons. There are some carnival mini games that Bart can play as well as one puzzle challenge for free balloons if you can figure it out in time. Bart can find slingshots here. They only damage a couple of enemies but they are most helpful in popping floating balloons that are too high to reach. There are some neat setpieces here and some tough platforming as well. Lisa can occasionally stun the boss to give Bart a breather during the fight.
Level 4 is the Springfield Museum of Natural History and Bart is collecting the exit signs. You only need to deal with six exit signs, so the level is more about surviving the obstacles than any other level in the game. Bart can get a dart gun here that can hurt some enemies as well as blow away the exit signs that are otherwise unreachable. This stage has the toughest platforming with sections that must be navigated perfectly. In some areas it is really difficult to tell what is a platform and what is just background detail, and also some of the platforms are not as big as they appear. I found it very frustrating. At the end of the stage, Homer will drop wet towels that block projectiles and cause the boss to slip up a bit.
The final level is the Springfield Power Plant and Bart must find all of the nuclear power rods. This is a large maze with multiple floors to explore. Bart can take the elevator as well as emergency stairways and he must take every path to explore every nook and cranny of the place. There are doorways here that are blocked off unless you have the keycode to open the door. There are 16 rods to find but Bart can only hold four of them at once. You have to go into the basement and drop them off at the reactor to collect more. All of the family members are here and they assist Bart in their own way. Lisa knows the door codes and she will share one if you talk to her. Marge will take your collected rods to the reactor for you sparing you a trip to the basement. Homer will scare off all the enemies from the screen if you give him a box of donuts that you find throughout the maze. Maggie wanders around but she does help you out in a specific way.
In Bart vs. the Space Mutants, you begin with 3 lives and can collect up to 9 total. There are no continues and no passwords, so the game must be cleared in one try. The challenge here comes in several ways. The first stage requires the most thought initially but it is the easiest level once you know how to do it. The three middle stages have some tough platforming and several instant kill spots. Sometimes you will have to spend all your lives getting the feel for overcoming an obstacle and then you have to start all over again. The final level doesn’t have a map of any kind, so if you miss a rod or two you are up against the clock if you get lost. The penalty for failure is steep and the game is lengthy enough that it takes several long attempts to get good enough to beat the game. I think 8/10 difficulty is a fair assessment.
I have played and beaten Bart vs. the Space Mutants but not since I was a kid. I owned all three of the “Bart” NES games in my childhood collection and I beat all three back then, but I didn’t retain a whole lot of knowledge from prior play. I remembered all of the puzzles in the first stage but that was about all I could recall.
I foolishly thought that my old knowledge would be good enough to clear the game quickly. I beat the first level with relative ease on my first playthrough, but the rest of the game featured the same kind of incremental progress I experience when playing new games. I think it took me around a dozen tries to finish this game. The latter part of the museum level took a lot of practice, and the final maze really got to me. I am generally good with maze levels and mapping things out in my head, but I got down to the last two rods and got completely stuck until I got Game Over. It’s frustrating getting so close to the end like that. Luckily the next run was the winning run and I had plenty of lives left over for a comfortable win.
The Simpsons is such an iconic television series and by extension I think there is a lot of nostalgia for Bart vs. the Space Mutants. The development team managed to put in a lot of Simpsons references in the game and the Simpsons theme sounds nice on the NES. From my playing experience, the game is rough around the edges and not all that fun to play at times, but the first level at least is genuinely clever and holds up nicely today. It’s a mediocre game with a few redeeming qualities.