The first animated shorts featuring The Simpsons debuted on the Tracey Ullman Show in 1987. The characters got their own prime time series two years later. Over three decades later and the show has becomes longest running American sitcom and the country’s longest running scripted program in the prime time slot. For anyone born in the 1980s, it’s near impossible to remember life without Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie. For anyone born after that, such a world has never existed.
It didn’t take long for the show to become a staple of pop culture. The Simpsons appeared in comics, advertising campaigns and even relleased their own album (anyone remember The Simpsons Sing the Blues, or the song Do The Bartman?) So, it should comes as no surprise that the characters have appeared several times in the world of video games (more than several really. A total of 27 video games based on the franchise have been release). The first was the 1991 title Bart Vs. the Space Mutants, developed by Imagineering Arc Developments and published by Acclaim Entertainment. It first appeared on the NES, before becoming available for the Amiga, Commodore 64, Sega Master System, and eventually the Sega Genesis (among others).
The game was a side scrolling platformer. You played as bad boy Bart Simpson, and your mission was to stop the Space Mutants that have invaded earth before they gather the materials they need to take over the world.
Bart moved through Springfield on foot and on his trusty skateboard. He collected items as he moved through each of the five levels, and defeated the aliens (disguised as ordinary humans) by jumping on their heads. As Bart describes it in the game’s instructional booklet, “…yours truly is the only one who can see ’em ’cause of my X-Ray glasses – so it’s up to me to stop ’em! I’ve gotta spraypaint things, get radical on my skateboard, use my trusty slingshot and in general, behave like a nuisance, man.”
If you didn’t collect the required items on each level, a barrier appeared which forced you to backtrack through the stage until you found everything. You could also collect coins, which helped Bart buy things, play games, and gain extra lives.
At the start of each level you used the x-ray glasses to identify which humans were actually aliens. Defeating them helped reveal the name of a member of the Simpson family who would help you on that stage. Each of the first four levels had a boss. The final level involved returning the items Bart had collected to Springfield’s Nuclear Reactor, assisted in some way by every member of the Simpson family.
The game was notoriously difficult, a fact many reviewers noted at the game’s release. Despite this, it was wildly entertaining, especially for a fan of the show. Reference to gags and jokes from the show abound (particularly in the first level), all peppered in-between the game’s action sequences. As a kid, there was a certain giddy satisfaction that came from things like helping Bart prank call Moe’s Tavern or spraying grafitti on the buildings of Springfield. While it may not reach the loft heights required to be considered a “classic” or “masterpiece,” it was still a lot of fun to play.