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Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare

Genre: Action Developer: Sculptured Software Publisher: Flying Edge Players: 1 Released: 1993

You know, if I were to complain about one aspect of the plethora of Simpsons games to come out in the early ’90s, I don’t think I could sincerely take jabs at how misguided the games seemed to be. Sure, the majority of them did indeed fall to bad design and questionable game play mechanics, but there was another factor that played into making these games feel empty. Even the cream of the ’90s crop, The Simpsons Arcade Game, had this unfortunate truth weighing down upon it.

Quite simply, there was a clear lack of identity to The Simpsons in its early years, and this shines through in every single video game outing the dysfunctional family (well, mostly Bart) had in the early ’90s. Again, some of the games managed a level of fun, but with the world of Springfield utterly devoid of many now classic characters and locales, there was little to make any of the titles feel like an authentic Simpsons experience. The material just wasn’t there to be drawn upon. On the contrary, many of the games seemed grab bags of half-baked ideas and ripped-off classics, everyone’s favorite yellow-skinned family slapped on just to move units.

Enter Bart’s Nightmare, yet another Simpsons game from Flying Edge, a company directly held by Acclaim. In fact, almost every Simpsons game to come out before 1995 (a whopping eleven unique titles) had the Acclaim name on it. Konami developed two titles (including the only one of any real note, the aforementioned arcade game), but Acclaim was clearly driving this cash cow onward until it died of exhaustion.

Now I apologize for the history lesson, but this all has a point. With so many games coming so fast, and with quite little material for them all to share, it’s not hard to see why Simpsons games early on felt so very unlike, well, The Simpsons.

On to the game at hand. Bart’s titular nightmare is a strange one. This time around, the young rapscallion has had a change of heart; in the face of failing his fourth grade year, Bart decides to make the effort on his homework. Unfortunately, he can’t manage to stay awake, so he’s got to find his homework pages and complete the assignment – in his nightmare!

In Windy World, to be exact, a land plagued by… a gentle breeze? That, and enemies of both the generic and strange varieties. While traversing the straight road of the “over world,” a term I use rather lightly, Bart faces mailboxes, a school bus, multiple heads of Jebediah Springfield, TV sets with legs, and basketballs. Hmm. See the lack of identity I mentioned? “Hey, look, we referenced “The Telltale Head.” It doesn’t help matters that almost every enemy can be avoided simply by walking down the middle of the road.

Of course, the real meat of the title is the various mini-games that Bart must complete if he’s to complete his assignment. As Bart meanders aimlessly along in Windy World, he’ll come along a piece of his homework fluttering about. If he’s to retrieve it, he must jump onto the page (there are eight total) and play one of five games. Said games, referred to by the manual as “The Other Worldly Worlds,” are:

Bartzilla: Probably the worst of the bunch, this game fails due to some questionable hit detection. For the most part, you’re just lumbering along in a straight line, blowing stuff up. Each button (and I mean each, all seven buttons on the standard controller) is used for a separate attack, while one stops you. What’s problematic is you’ve got no health bar to monitor, and whenever you try to attack enemy units, you’ll more than likely miss. This is frustrating, as you’ll see lasers shoot straight through an enemy helicopter before it effortlessly kamikazes into you. Granted, the climbing section allows you control, and therefore the ability to dodge, but it’s nigh impossible to get past the first run.

The Temple of Maggie: Decked in full Indiana Jones attire, Bart must traverse yet another long stretch in his quest for the top grade. Honestly, this is probably the number three spot, as it’s not an atrocious game, but simply whipping and jumping Q*bert-style gets monotonous quite fast.

Bart’s Bloodstream: With a problem similar to the last mini-game, this one is made worse by the fact that there’s even less for you to do. You simply bob around on screen and attack viruses by latching onto them and pumping them full of air. Right, so this is just Dig Dug without the digging or the old school charm.

Itchy & Scratchy: This game really could’ve been the best of the collection. It’s pure action from beginning to end, Bart has a bit more speed to him, and more than any other game, it uses characters from the show in the way you would see them act on TV. However, the number two slot must be settled for in this case, as this game is simply too easy. From start to finish, all that you have to do is grab the mallet and pin yourself to the back wall, avoiding the occasional environmental hazard. The enemies all stay at the middle of the screen, and while they can’t hit you, you can effortlessly mash the attack button and kill most baddies the second they appear on screen. A shame that yet another good idea wasn’t capitalized on.

Bartman: The best is saved for last, but that’s sadly not saying much. Basically, a shmup, though watered down quite a lot. Still, there are multiple bosses to fight, a radiated cloud section to dodge through, and enemies that can aren’t as easy to dodge. Watered down? Unbelievably so. A glimmer of shmup genre greatness? Surprisingly, yes.

Altogether, the games in this collection are just not that endearing, original, or, most importantly, fun. Add to that the fact that this title has little that tries to make it feel like The Simpsons, and you have just another of the many forgettable mini-game collections of the early ’90s. Unless you’re a diehard collector and/or Simpsons fan, save yourself the couple of dollars, few and measly though they may be.

SCORE: 5 out of 10

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