Game companies love to create games based on licensed properties, but they sometimes don’t think of the possible consequences; Making tie-in games based on books, movies, and TV programs is not necessarily a bad idea, but one small mistake (Technological or otherwise) can ultimately relegate them to bargain bins and mediocre review scores. Many popular cartoons are very aware of this stigma, and The Simpsons is no exception. The inhabitants of Springfield were featured in a poor attempt at a pro-wrestling game, a Crazy Taxi clone that resulted in a patent-infringement lawsuit, and a highly unpopular clone of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. The Simpsons: Hit & Run (Which was developed by Radical Entertainment and published by Vivendi Universal) tries to be a fun parody of Grand Theft Auto; And despite the sketchy track record that I mentioned, this 2003 action game gets the job done and will appeal to all fans of Matt Groening’s masterpiece.
The Simpsons writers penned down the game’s story, and they have succeeded in giving us an engaging plot. A swarm of camera-holding wasps descends from the sky, one of which is destroyed by Homer; After it litters coins hovering above the floor, our donut-loving hero sees a TV ad of Krusty the Klown promoting a “new and improved” Buzz Cola. Being the glutton that he is, Homer makes a beeline for the Kwik-E-Mart, completely unaware of the crazy thrilling adventure that awaits the Simpson family (And Apu) and the crazy situations that will soon plague the town of Springfield.
Being a Grand Theft Auto clone, Hit & Run‘s levels are open worlds filled with tasks to complete. You venture through Springfield by foot or by car, completing missions that involve things like doing favors for the residents, following/destroying/evading enemy cars, and even street racing. Speaking of racing, each level has three bonus races to complete; Time trials held by Milhouse, circuit races run by Nelson, and checkpoint races set up by Ralph. Winning all three in the level gets you a bonus car, which (Along with every car you’ve unlocked/purchased) is accessed via the payphones. If you’re up for some gambling, wager races are there for you; They’re similar to time trials, except you must beat the time to avoid losing the money you bet.
Speaking of money, you earn coins by completing missions, finding level gags, destroying those wasp cameras, and crashing into things like lights, trees, hydrants, and Buzz Cola signs. Once you earn enough, you can access and buy new outfits from the clothes shops hidden inside houses and buildings. Now that I mention destructibles, it’s important to note that if you do too much damage to people and objects, the police meter will reach the top and you will be chased by cops. If they successfully bust you, you’ll lose 50 coins. You will also litter coins on the floor if you destroy your car, and will have to pay 10 to fix it; So keep your driving under control and look for wrenches on the road. One last thing to note about each level is that seven collectible cards are scattered all over the place; If you can find every one of a level’s cards, you’ll unlock said level in the four-player bonus game, which is a top-down racing minigame.
Not only does Hit & Run feel and look like the TV show, but it certainly sounds like it too. The iconic theme song’s chorus is integrated into nearly every song on the game’s soundtrack, which also changes in genre and tone depending on which character you’re playing as; Neighborhood music for Homer and Marge, jazz for Lisa, Indian music for Apu, and (My personal favorite) skate punk for Bart. Not only are all of these tracks very catchy, but more importantly, they really give you the feeling of being on the show. Another part of the audio that will impress every Simpsons junkie is the official voice actors/actresses reprising their roles from the show and giving us a terrific script full of hilarious one-liners that might just have you rolling on the floor and laughing out loud (And yes, you’ll hear the famous “D’oh” quite a lot).
Writing all of these sentences puts on a smile on my face, because even simply mentioning it brings back so many memories of me enjoying this highly-underrated game based on an iconic cartoon. If you’re a fan of The Simpsons and don’t mind imitations of Grand Theft Auto, The Simpsons: Hit & Run is a charming action game with more missions and hilarity than you can shake a can of Duff beer at.