Sometimes it's difficult to be objective. If you're a parent at a school nativity play and your child has just read the wrong line in the wrong place and has done so with all the conviction of a hypnotised robot, it's unlikely you're going to end the evening telling anyone who'll listen how crap the whole thing was.
In the case of The Simpsons Game, it's equally very easy to be blinded by both sheer affection for the licence and wanting it to be good. Then again, it's perhaps not entirely fair trying to imagine what we'd think of The Simpsons Game if it didn't have its four central characters and quality licence because, on the one hand, it does have them and, on the other, they're the foundations on which the game is built.
But we'll imagine it anyway. And when we do, we think the game isn't very good at all.
The characters provide the gags, they're instantly fun to play as, and running around the Land of Chocolate as any character other than Homer would just be pointless. Levels like this aren't good because they're particularly well put together or original – to be fair, this is more of a dream opening sequence than a level – but fans will appreciate them just because they're funny. And because, as Homer, you can eat enough food to burst into a big fat Homer ball and roll around squashing everyone and stuffing chocolate.
Likewise with Pet Homer, a Nintendogs-style Homer you can access in between levels. There's no gameplay value; it's just there as a gag. In terms of game mechanics, it's like a Tamagotchi but even more pointless. Yet it does make you smile, and completing Story levels gives you new items to feed and use on Homer as he slouches on the sofa. So you can throw balls at him or feed him hotdogs until his arteries clog up, then use the defibrillator icon to shock him back to life.
The levels themselves are 2D but do a great job of appearing sufficiently cartoon-like to replicate the TV programme, and the cut-scenes, which set the scene for each level, are quite impressive for DS. Crucially though, all of the characters are voiced by their real respective voice actors, and this obviously lends a lot of authenticity. There's enough one-liners here to further elevate the game beyond the substandard title it would otherwise be. Just make sure you play it with the volume turned up.
So far, then, we've established you need to be a Simpsons fans to get the most out of The Simpsons Game. Sounds obvious, perhaps, but that hasn't stopped past licensed titles from appealing to an audience wider than their fan base. It all comes down to how the game plays.
Every level in The Simpsons takes place in a different location – from the Springfield museum to a logging facility – and they're also played with different pairings of Homer, Bart, Marge and Lisa. Each character has their own special moves, so Homer has the Homer Ball ability, Bart can fire his slingshot and glide with his 'Bartman' cape, Lisa has the 'Hand of Buddha' power, which enables you to move big items around the screen with the stylus, while Marge can rally up Springfield citizens to do her bidding.
The majority of the action involves jumping, navigating dangerous moving machinery and fighting enemies. But there are also puzzles, some of which are obvious and very set-up, but others that will have you stumped for a few minutes.
Lisa's Hand of Buddha is a good example of where the puzzles offer variety but also stop short of being very impressive. So, you can pick up items on the screen in order to help your partner, but only put them down in certain places. When you drag cars, for instance, they need to be left in just the right position in order to trigger the next section of game. It's a shame, because levels such as Professor Frink's 'Video Game Engine' have good platforming sections that would have been elevated to 'great' status with more ingenious use of the Hand of Buddha.
Combat in the game is the biggest let-down, though. Punches from your characters never really feel like they're connecting and while you could forgive the lack of realism in a cartoon game, sometimes they actually don't connect and you die three times in a row as a result. Hardly fun.
As we said at the start of the review, it is difficult to be completely objective when it comes to The Simpsons. A lot of people will want to play this game and they won't be disappointed with its many details – like Pet Homer, and Comic Book Guy popping up with a sarcastic comment every time you find a 'video game cliché' like a smashable crate – and its gags. There are four multiplayer mini-games, too, which prove entertaining in short bursts.
Considered on its gameplay merits, then, The Simpsons Game barely constitutes an average experience. But as an overall package, it's better than that. Choose to buy it and don't expect a brilliant or original game but you'll at least get to smile quite a few times before you – quite quickly – reach its end.