D'oh! Our first look at The Simpsons Game at the Leipzig Games Convention wasn't too favourable, but we recently gave it another spin at Electronic Arts' annual Studio Showcase, and things seemed to have been much improved. Most likely, the European version was just a Duff build.
As with the main console versions of the game, the DS iteration feeds into the concept that the Simpsons are revolting against being forced to participate in a yet another lacklustre movie tie-in, and so decide to fight their way through a crazed digital recreation of Springfield.
But while the main storyline, characters, and dialogue are consistent with the console versions, the DS game does feature some key differences.
First, 2D side-scrolling gameplay replaces the conventional 3D presentation. The D-pad enables movement left and right across the screen, whereas jumping, special moves and various attacks can be carried out with the face buttons. This brings a certain nostalgic, arcade feel to the game, as well as being something that reinforces EA's deliberate effort to make The Simpsons Game as clichéd as possible.
Another significant difference is that not all of the 16 episodes packed into the console version will make it onto DS. Expect a dozen episodes in total, each being a parody of an existing video game franchise. A Springfield map serves as a hub for the adventures, which boast titles such as Bartman Begins, Medal of Homer, Sitar Hero and Grand Theft Scratchy.
Navigating through each episode involves a combination of platform-hopping and beat-'em-up action. It's all presented in a tongue-in-cheek style, with a heavy layer of sarcastic humour laid over everything. EA and developer Amaze are well aware of the game's derivative form, even going so far as to reward you for particularly clichéd moments.
So whenever you complete a typical game task, such as collecting a set of objects, Comic Book Guy pops up to award you with a cliché medal. Collect enough and you can unlock bonuses from the Springfield map. Of course, it could be argued such gameplay skates close to being a double parody that reinforces rather than sends up such behaviour, but perhaps that's a discussion for another time…
The first stage you'll come across is Bartman Begins, which gives you control of Bart in the guise of his superhero alter-ego. Every episode grants control over two preselected characters with the option of switching between them on-the-fly. As you'd expect, each character possesses unique abilities. For example, Bart can glide across platforms using his cape, while Homer has the ability to turn into a giant ball of fat, rolling over enemies and slamming down on them with his rotund belly.
Unfortunately, wireless co-operative play won't be supported, but you can compete against friends by playing four mini-games. The multiplayer mode supports up to four players locally, either using multiple cartridges or a single game cart – the difference being single-card play drops the recorded dialogue due to data constraints.
We watched two of the mini-games in action: Golden Krusty and Golden Donut. In the former, the goal is to nab an idol modelled after cracked-out Krusty the Clown. Whenever you're holding the idol, you earn points, with competitors obviously attempting to hit you and take the idol. The objective is to earn the most points before the end of the match.
Golden Donut, meanwhile, puts you in control of Homer in the midst of an eating contest. Your task is to eat as much as possible, hopping about the level to reach food that has been scattered about. Naturally the winner is determined by the player who has stuffed their face the most.
Joining these mini-games is a Nintendo DS-exclusive Pet Homer mode. While we weren't able to get out hands on this intriguing little simulator, it allows you to care for a virtual Homer Simpson. Similar to a Tamagotchi or other virtual pet, you're charged with feeding Homer and keeping him happy. Certainly not primed as the selling point for The Simpsons Game, it nevertheless should prove a nice bonus for DS owners.
The Simpsons Game is due to be released at the end of October in the US and November 2nd in Europe.