“You know, a Simpsons video game is a little like the mule with the spinning wheel. No one knows why it got made, and danged if he has that much fun playing with it.”
Games based on The Simpsons are infamously bad, a collection of half-assed titles most of which were designed more as cash-ins and commercials than a gaming experience you were destined to remember. As easy as it is to criticize the motives of The Simpsons corporate overlords who seemingly insisted on releasing as many games as they had ideas for games, maybe it makes sense that it took a while to figure out what exactly a good Simpsons game could look like. I mean, it’s easy to decide what phrase Bart should say on a T-shirt (top two are “Don’t have a cow, man” and something supporting the first Gulf War), but it’s a little harder to decide what kind of interactive adventure best suits the greatest satire of the 20th century.
So they did Bartman stuff for a while. Then eventually as games were able to do more, the bad games started getting graced with (sometimes) better graphics and more importantly, the ability to include voice acting. Most of them still weren’t great, but it helped, damn it. It’s not that hearing Kent Brockman or Principal Skinner pipe in a funny little quip makes a crappy game good. No, it’s not that far from crappy. They were just… less crappy.
Personally, I’m endlessly fascinated by video game adaptations, the more ill-advised the better, and I am always looking out for sleeper hits among them. It’s definitely a rough batch of games when taken in all at once, and there’s only a few worth a full blown recommendation, but I was pleasantly surprised to find a lot of redeeming qualities or moments in the games that occupy the middle of the list.
I’ll try to keep the Simpsons references to a minimum here, so as not to be too insufferable. Instead of relying heavily on quotes and references, I’ll just try to write a good piece. I’ll just be honest, I’ll be truthful, and I’ll be sharp. (Be sharp, get it? Heh heh…. well, you can’t blame a guy for trying.)
Note: I’ve excluded certain Mobile and PC games, mostly because they’re tricky or impossible to access today. I still really want to check out Virtual Springfield sometime. It’s gotta be more fun than a lot of the stuff I played. And to my knowledge, it’s the only one of these with Phil Hartman in it.
Another note: I played this weird soccer game at an amusement park several years ago where you kick a soccer ball at Homer. Worth a mention I figured.
20. The Simpsons Wrestling (PS1)
This game is the shits. The art looks like prison tattoos came to life. The wrestling rings are a square mile large. There’s no refs and your character counts their own 1-2-3 when they do a pin. It’s absolute fucking madness yet somehow it’s all very boring.
I won’t make fun of this terrible game’s terrible premise, as nonsensical as it is. The Simpsons wrestling makes as much sense as the Simpsons doing anything else they’ve done in a video game. In fact, any genre that lends itself to a wide variety of characters is indeed a potential good fit for a Simpsons title, as the cast of Springfield is easily the finest crafted ensemble in television history. Give me a half dozen of them and let me get to work on unlocking the rest, and I’ll assuredly give your awful game a few more hours than it deserves.
So no, this game isn’t atrocious because it makes no sense that The Simpsons would wrestle. In fact, the plot is not bad. Springfield is having wrestling tournaments to figure out who is the strongest one to send up into space to fight the strongest alien. Actually kinda funny! No, this game is atrocious for just about everything else. Namely the graphics, the floaty controls, the mechanics, the inexplicable jumping, and oh hell, it’s probably worth mentioning the graphics again. Also, this wrestling game doesn’t let you do very many wrestling things, like climb the turnbuckle, take it outside the ring, or stick your entire bare ass into a guy’s face. Nope, this is all just rope running and button mashing. Yawn.
As with a lot of the lesser titles on this list, any highlights to be found are the little fun things. I laughed out loud when I won a match with Krusty and he said “That’s they how do it in the Catskills, baby!” Also, Bumble Bee Man literally flies around the ring, and that’s wonderful. However, these are just momentary breaks from the sheer agony of what I am declaring the Worst. Simpsons Game. Ever. Boy, I really hope someone got fired for that blunder. Boo-urns!!
Fun fact: Since WWF WrestleMania: The Arcade Game was also available on the PS1, The Simpsons Wrestling isn’t even the best fighting game posing as a wrestling game where you can be a clown and whack your opponent with a giant mallet on the system. Sorry Simpsons, Doink the clown did it!
19. Bartman Meets Radioactive Man (NES, Game Gear)
¡Ay, caramba! After an opening cutscene that I actually quite liked, with surprisingly evocative visuals and music, everything just goes to hell here. This is the last of the NES games they made, and somehow the very worst. Levels are overly long, the challenge is unfair, and the muddy graphics cause foregrounds and backgrounds to blend together, making the world hard to navigate. There’s enemies and jumping and all kinds of platform-y things happening, it’s just that none of it is very fun. If you have a soft spot for these dogshit NES adaptations with grotesque color palettes and screeching tones passing as a soundtrack, then put this one on your Must Play list. You’ll be thrilled by the stiff controls, offensive music, and poor design. Hell, there’s even some impossible underwater stuff for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fans! For anyone else, however, you’re better off playing just about anything else besides that stupid wrestling game I just told you about.
18. Bart vs. the World (NES, Game Gear, Sega Master System)
A very unmemorable collection of minigames stitched together to cash in on the hottest property of the time. I mean it when I say this game is unmemorable. It was in my “I haven’t played this one,” mental pile when I started writing this article and researching games, and then when I started playing it I said to myself “Oh yeah, I’ve totally played this; it’s the video game that makes you play the 1-15 slidey square game like you’re a fifth grader in The Great Depression.” I had played this before. Very unmemorable. Anyway, there is some technically okay video game-y stuff in here. Bart goes all over the world collecting powerups and fighting bosses. But man, there’s also a lot of just the least fun minigames you’d ever want to spend your time on, like the aforementioned sliding square game, trivia questions, and a card matching thing. It’s all boring and no part of it is a relief from any other part. Released just seven months after Bart vs. The Space Mutants, this game will have you asking yourself, “What did they do with the other five months?”
17. Virtual Bart (SNES, Genesis)
I don’t know why it was agreed upon that the first few waves of Simpsons games would largely be big messy collections of minigames, but here’s another one. It’s one of the worst ones, in fact! The vibrant SNES graphics look way better than the NES games we’ve seen so far here, but it’s a shallow collection of busts without very many redeeming qualities. The plot makes even less sense than most of these games. Bart wanders into Martin’s virtual reality science project presentation and now he has to game his way out or something? I don’t know. At least Bart vs. the World let you select what order you played the games in. Here you just watch Bart spin around and play whatever game he lands on. None of them are very good.
Bart as a dinosaur sounds fun until you get one look at the laughable creature you control. Bart as a baby is a whole minigame based on that one time you saw Bart swing around on a clothesline in a flashback. These are both downright terrible. The game where you’re a pig trying to free other pigs from Krusty’s slaughterhouse is a strange choice and not very fun either, if you can believe it (although that sure looks like the pig from The Simpsons Movie, so that’s fun). The first-person level where you are going down the waterslide has the graphics and originality to be a winner, but it’s probably the most unfair game of the collection.
The two not-fiascos are a little Road Warrior style racing game that plays like the speeder level from Super Star Wars and a game where Bart chucks tomatoes at his classmates to ruin picture day. Nothing too outstanding, but man they feel like Chrono Trigger compared to the other ones here. I give you personal permission to never play this game.
16. Bart vs. the Space Mutants (NES, Genesis, Game Gear)
This bizarre console debut of The Simpsons fancied itself too good to be a straight up platformer or brawler and is a frustrating mess because of it. Aliens that are not Kodos and Kang are invading Springfield and posing as humans. And do you know what they need to build their big weapon? Purple shit. Alas, the graffiti skills of one El Barto could be just the thing to save the city. Bart roams the town of Springfield aiming to turn every purple thing red. That mechanic alone could’ve been a nice layer to a game like this, a twist on standard platformers that has you seeking out red trash cans and awnings to spray paint. On paper it doesn’t sound terrible. Or a screen or tablet or however you’re reading this. Probably a phone. Thanks by the way.
Anyway, it sucks. It adds a layer of indecipherability to an already frustrating platformer. It’s hard and unfair and shitty, but also you’re expected to figure things out like a kid in a purple shirt comes out of the 200 and 400 movie, and that those showtimes correspond to your counting down timer, and that his shirt has gotta get tagged. So you have to go back to the movie theater that’s at the beginning of the level. Backtracking. It’s like Metroid! They should call those games Metroidbartvanias.
The fact that it looks a little better on the Genesis lands it a few spots higher than Bart vs. the World and Bartman Meets Radioactive Man, but all these games so far are very rough upon revisit. There’s been a disturbing internet rumor for years that says this game has a second level and beyond where you do other stuff besides spray painting red things purple. Don’t believe it. It’s a hoax.
15. Krusty’s Fun House (GB, NES, SNES, Game Gear, Genesis, Probably Some Other Things)
It’d be easy to start most of these with the sentence “this game makes no sense,” but that’s not really a fair assessment of video games, is it? Does Mario “make sense”? Nah. Just gimme some fun and we’re good.
That said, this game makes no sense and isn’t very fun.
I swear I’m not looking for too much. Just gimme a good excuse to screw around with these characters that I love! A lot of these Simpsons games are a drag, but come to life at times when a joke lands or the game features a nice ode to the show, when it briefly captures the spirit of The Simpsons, even if just for a moment. Krusty’s Fun House accomplishes this zero times.
I have and will keep complaining about how so many of these games are some hodgepodge collection of minigames, but when you have half a dozen different set pieces and game modes, there’s bound to be some personality that pokes its head out. Krusty’s Fun House on the other hand, is a deflated puzzle game with no variety from moment to moment. Walk around some fucking house as Krusty the Klown and help Bart or Homer or Sideshow Mel or Corporal Punishment kill every mouse in the room by way of leading them to that level’s torture machine. It’s, uh, a hoot?
There’s way too many levels, it isn’t fun, and again, it just doesn’t feel at all like The Simpsons. In fact, it’s almost as if this was some game called Rat-Trap on the Amiga that someone slapped Simpsons characters onto and released for every damn system around in 1992. That’s sort of what it feels like is happening here.
Fun Fact: Was called Krusty’s Fun House on the NES, and Krusty’s Super Fun House on the SNES and the Genesis. They should’ve called the Genesis one Krusty’s Sega Fun House.
14. Bart & the Beanstalk (GB)
This might be the Simpsons game that feels least like The Simpsons, even more so than the European rat game that they slapped Krusty the Klown onto. This is Bart Simpsons going through the ol’ banstalk fairytale. The gameplay is boring and feels super loose. Bart comes to a sliding stop when you release the d-pad, like the whole game is an ice level. Additionally, it’s way too hard. There’s cheap deaths and the levels are confusing. Is this one of the clouds that I jump on and it holds me, or not? There’s some fun stuff and some weird stuff (level design in the Giant’s castle and fighting Mr. Burns If He Was A Cloud respectively), but none of it makes more of an impression than the overall blandness on display here. I was very pleased to discover some sleepers among The Simpsons’ Game Boy games. This is not one of them.
13. The Itchy & Scratchy Game (SNES, Game Gear, Genesis)
You know a franchise is out of control when the side characters start getting full blown games. This one has a weird set up, and I appreciate what they were trying to do, but it just really doesn’t work. At first glance, the game looks like one of those big SNES platformers with levels that feel like airplane hangars filled with things to jump on. The twist here though is your goal isn’t necessarily reaching the end. Instead, you’re meant to run around and collect power ups as Itchy and fight off Scratchy when he pops up once in a while. Once you beat the cat to death, you progress to the next level. It didn’t take me long to figure out that not only could I just stand perfectly still and wail on Scratchy when he ran up to me every few seconds, but it was actually the easiest strategy at times.
A pointless game that nobody was asking for that is a little broken, and it’s also not very violent? I’m not some sicko that needs games to be violent to enjoy them, but I am gonna need my adaptations to resemble the thing they’re adapting in some way. Itchy and Scratchy cartoons are bloodbaths, ingeniously creative displays of death and carnage on par with Mortal Kombat and early Peter Jackson films. The Itchy & Scratchy Game feels like you’re playing a Tiny Toons game or something. You squish Scratchy with a mallet over and over and he doesn’t scream in pain or break any bones or anything. Like, come on. I don’t care about farting in video games, but if they made a Terrance and Phillip game and there was no farting I’d be just as outraged. You just expect a certain amount of commitment is all.
FUN FACT: The whole time I was playing this game, I was asking myself “Where’s Poochie?”
12. Bart’s Nightmare (SNES, Genesis)
Bart’s Nightmare – I had this one in my house as a kid*, and I absolutely hated it. It doesn’t make sense, it’s a bunch of unfinished, unfocused ideas that don’t add up to a cohesive game, and it’s way, way too hard. That’s all still true, but imagine my surprise when I played the rest of the Simpsons games I’d missed and discovered that this one is just as bad as I remembered it, yet might be an above average Simpsons game?
The story is insane. Bart is working hard on his homework, and then he falls asleep, and has to recover the scattered pages in his dream by beating a different little game for each page of it he successfully finds and stomps on. At the end of the game, Bart receives his “score” via letter grade. The grade is better based on how many pages of homework you collected in the dream. Why would that matter? Beats me. Maybe he went to class and described it all to Mrs. Krabappel.
The thing about this game that struck me while playing it this time around is the overworld you return to in between games. Bart walking the streets of Springfield in his sleep feels weird and fucked up like an actual dream! It’s not like a graphic Freddy Kruger nightmare, it’s more of an odd and cold dream world, like something out of The Sopranos. You wander the familiar but different streets (left or right, it doesn’t matter here), seeking out scraps of paper, hoping to not be turned into a frog by your sister or to trip over one of the wandering mailboxes. If you jump over a basketball, it turns into a skateboard. It’s a bizarre and unfun world to return to repeatedly between games.
Those games are the expected range from shitty shit to kind of okay. The Bartman game here is decently fun, has great graphics, and would’ve been a better basis for a game, to be honest. The game where you swim around in blood (ew) has a neat visual style and was the only one I could regularly beat in my youth. The Godzilla and Indiana Jones ones play like shit but have cool graphics. There’s probably some more I’m forgetting.
Overall, this game is as bad as most of the early to mid 90s Simpsons games. It just had the good sense to label itself a nightmare for you.
Personal anecdote: I borrowed Bart’s Nightmare from a friend of mine in middle school, and while I was never that angry of a gamer, it did make me so mad that I ejected the (again, borrowed) game and threw it against the wall. The back of the cartridge broke off, but it was just cosmetic damage. I was able to scotch tape it back together and it played just fine. Still though, I felt awful. What was I going to tell my friend? “Hey, here’s this game back, I busted it up and taped it back together.” I felt so terrible and embarrassed. There’s a happy ending, though. My friend didn’t even want the game back!