Genre: Freeform Action
Publisher: VU Games
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Release Date: September 16, 2003
The Simpsons family is no stranger to the digital world, oh no, not by a long shot. Since the conception of the world’s most dysfunctional family, videogames in their likeness have consistently surfaced. The first of which was actually quite good: The Simpsons arcade game (when you used Marge’s vacuum cleaner attack it became evident that Marge was actually part rabbit. The big long rabbit ears that she hides underneath that vertically impressive hair was a dead giveaway). But it went downhill from there with such tragic titles as Bart Vs The Space Mutants for the NES, to the recently released The Simpsons Road Rage and The Simpsons Skateboarding, all of which failed to capture the magic of the show or even retain a decent gameplay experience. But they’ve finally done it, and I suppose it was only statistically inevitable. The Simpsons Hit & Run, which liberally “borrows” from the classic GTA formula, stands alone as the one Simpsons game that actually gets it right.
Much like any given episode from The Simpsons long illustrious 14-year stint on network television, the story in Hit & Run is all over the place, making sense only within the context of a particular scene. Suffice to say that Springfield is being overrun by hordes of mechanized bees, and a conspiracy involving black sedans and a sinister mind-controlling cola is also afoot. Alien abductions, mysterious crop circles, and a particularly violent videogame that all of Springfield’s impressionable youth want to get their hands on are also elements of the game’s story. You’ll control five characters throughout the duration of the game: Homer, Bart, Lisa, Marge, and Apu. With each scenario you’ll be one step closer to uncovering the source of problems in Springfield.
Following in the steps of the GTA series, most missions in Hit & Run revolve around vehicular mayhem, though the sense of realistic chaos and destruction here is toned down to fit the theme of the franchise. You can begin missions by exploring Springfield and striking up a conversation with a character that has a floating icon above their heads. Most missions require you to race around certain areas against computer-controlled opponents, collecting items before the timer runs out, or smashing up your opponent until their vehicle blows sky high. The missions are, in truth, the game’s single most unoriginal aspect, as each one requires you to do basically the same thing in a slightly altered situation. But they are all fun and oftentimes satisfyingly challenging.
Regardless, many thanks go to the developers for not requiring the player to actually complete missions in a straightforward and linear fashion. I mean, yah, you do need to complete all the main missions in order to proceed, but you can also hop out of your car at any time and explore Springfield on foot. Being able to check out the various sights of interest in Springfield firsthand, and rooting around in the alleyways and crannies of the surrounding visage adds exponentially to the fun that can be had with Hit & Run.
A lot of well-known landmarks can even be entered and explored, such as the infamous power plant, Moe’s Tavern, and the Springfield School. And when you grow tired of the game’s main missions you can also hit up plenty of NPC characters to start bonus missions. The formula here is decidedly GTA-esque, but since this is a Simpsons game and everything you do and see constantly reminds you of that, it is a distinctly different and subsequently refreshing experience.
Each area in the game is dedicated to one particular character, starting with Homer then Bart, Lisa, Marge, and finally Apu. While having a name that is synonymous with a sneeze isn’t usually what gamers look for in a protagonist, Apu really sets himself apart in Hit & Run by being the only non-Simpsons family character that is playable. The entirety of Springfield is eventually seen, but only slices of it can be explored at a time. Since each character-exclusive section is so big and expansive, and since there are no loading times whatsoever between areas, you’ll hardly notice that the Simpsons’ neighborhood isn’t explorable while controlling Lisa, or that the shop-laden docks area can’t be visited while Bart takes center stage. In short, there is more than enough real estate to explore regardless of which character you’re playing as.
The vehicles in Hit & Run are plenty plentiful, though the game doesn’t boast nearly the number of four-wheelers as GTAIII or VC. Still though, every car you see on the road can by effortlessly jacked simply by walking up to it and hitting the triangle button. The cars control (as Bart professes in the game’s humorous tutorial) pretty much like every other car game ever made. You have an acceleration button, brake button, and a button dedicated to the handbrake. Some citizens of Springfield will sell you their vehicles, too. Obviously, some vehicles are better suited for different missions. For example, if the goal is to destroy your opponent then a tough, durable ride such as the Plow Master should be used, but if you need to get from point A to point B before the timer runs out then maybe you should take Lisa’s Malibu Stacy convertible out for a spin. The conveniently placed telephones around Springfield allow you to summon any unlocked vehicle at any time.
Springfield is not a small town, as you have no doubt been lead to believe by the show, and as such, successful navigation is crucial to finding your way around. That’s why a handy-dandy GTA-ey radar system in the lower right-hand side of the screen visualizes you and your surroundings in a familiar and easily understandable way. You’ll also be glad to know that arrows will laden the roads you drive on and constantly point you in the right direction. It’s all quite functional and ensures that you won’t be spending needless time meandering about. Although, meandering about is probably the most entertaining thing you’ll end up doing.
In true GTA fashion, you are able to purchase different outfits in various places throughout the game. Each character can be suited up with three to five different types of garbs, assuming you have enough cash to buy’em. Oh yeah, you can earn money in Hit & Run, guess I didn’t mention that, huh? Money is plentiful in Springfield and you are constantly rewarded by smashing any object that you can get your hands on, or bumper, whichever applies. Hitting a vending machine a few times gives way to an explosion of gold coins, as does smashing into trees, mailboxes, and nearly every other environmental obstacle. You are rewarded for destruction in Hit & Run. If only real life were that simple, eh?
Hit & Run isn’t without its fair share of problems. Glitches and bugs that you’d likely find in the GTA games sometimes rear their ugly heads here. Vehicles occasionally disappear without warning (though surprisingly some cars will remain where you left them even after returning from a different location), opposing racers have a tendency to fall off ledges and respawn in bizarre places, the camera system is far from perfect, and the framerate fluctuates when your driving a car that is badly damaged. But since the game that Hit & Run is adapted after also suffers these same problems (and oftentimes to a more drastic degree), its few bugs and glitches can be easily overlooked in the name of pure, unadulterated Simpsons-themed entertainment.
As is easily identifiable in the screenshots here, The Simpsons Hit & Run is a great looking game. Springfield is meticulously detailed right down to the animatronic billboards that complement their equally detailed surroundings. Dozens of well-known Simpsons personalities await you at every turn and they are all digitized with the utmost attention to their small-screen features. Your eyes will roll back in pleasure as you scope so many visual references to various episodes of the show such as blinky the fish, Apu’s convenient store, and the Springfield school. All of this visual excitement is intensified significantly by the game’s superb audio presentation. The voice acting is performed by none other than the show’s actual cast, which means every piece of amusing and dryly-delivered comedic bits are absolutely on par with what all of America has grown accustom to on TV. Expect to hear about a half-dozen variations of the classic The Simpsons theme, along with plenty of new orchestrations. The sound effects get the job done, though don’t stand out in any particular way.
Overall, The Simpsons Hit & Run should appeal to a huge portion of gamers, including fans of the show, fans of GTA, and fans of fun videogames in general. Never before has Springfield and its many off-the-wall inhabitants been so faithfully reproduced in interactive digital form. Those who have been anxiously awaiting the next sequel in the GTA series or just pining for a Simpsons game that doesn’t suck should definitely check this one out. I never thought I’d say this but, this Simpsons game irrefutably, undeniably, and without question will rock your socks off. As opposed to socking your rocks off. Hehe.