Before the advent of modern controversies like loot boxes & DLC, licensed games were common for catching the ire of gamers. These games were often lambasted for good reason; typically being tie-ins, released to cash in on popular movies or TV shows. The majority fell between the goalposts of terrible to mediocre, but some did manage to break out of the traditional fate of licensed games; becoming a cult classic in the process. One such game was The Simpsons: Hit & Run.
When The Simpsons Hit & Run released in 2003, the show already had a long list of games under its belt. Most had been inconsequential, but around the early 2000s, the show started to gain traction in the gaming industry. This was accomplished by taking successful mechanics from other games and implementing them into The Simpsons universe. The Simpsons: Road Rage used the driving mechanics found in the arcade game Crazy Taxi. The Simpsons: Skateboarding borrowed heavily from the popular Tony Hawk series.
By the time 2003 rolled around, the gaming industry was in the throng of an open world obsession, brought upon by Rockstar Games’s Grand Theft Auto series. Once again, The Simpsons would take inspiration from another game, but this was different. The Simpsons universe with the makeup of GTA was the special mix needed to create a classic game; a mix that they hadn’t been able to achieve before or since.
In true Simpsons fashion, the story of Hit & Run starts simple; a new Buzz Cola with some mysterious ingredients appears to be causing some Springfield citizens to act out of character. Add this to the strange black vans that seem to be spying on people around town, it doesn’t take much for everyone’s favourite bumbling fool, Homer Simpson, to put two & two together. Although the game is sixteen years old, I won’t spoil the rest of the story because it’s just a really fun, extended episode of The Simpsons.
Due to the power limitations of the 6th generation consoles, it wasn’t possible to create a seamless, open world Springfield; instead, the town was split into several districts, including suburbia, the town centre and the squid-port; each district oozing with Simpsons lore & in jokes, just begging to be uncovered. In each chapter you play as a member of the Simpsons family (with the exception of Apu in chapter 5) all resplendent with their famed quotes & original dialogue spoken by their official actors, which only heightened the entertainment value of the game.
Simpsons Hit & Run isn’t a long game, but it is teaming with collectibles, costumes and, of course, cars. All but a few missions involve cars; some need specific vehicles, but most can be completed in your favourite cars from the show. Vehicles can be purchased from the characters who traditionally owned them in the show; for instance, you can buy the plow king from Barney. Others can be found in the market place run by Springfield’s unluckiest man, old Gill. Missions varied from collecting road kill for slack-jawed yokel, Cledus, to destroying cola stands in order to save the town from zombification; these madcap tasks easily match their madcap characters.
Not all nostalgia trips manage to recoup those feelings you had in your childhood & my recent playthrough of The Simpsons: Hit & Run was no different. The driving retains the arcade driving style of Simpsons: Road Rage, and this isn’t to its credit. It is far too easy to crash your car, failing a mission in the process, as most are timed or involve tailing another vehicle. Screen tearing is an issue, though it’s not irritating enough to get in the way of gameplay. There was one game breaking bug that involved your character falling through the world, leaving me with no recourse but to restart the game. This happened three times during my playthrough and remains just as annoying as it did in childhood.
These recurring flaws don’t do enough to detract from the enjoyable experience that is The Simpsons: Hit & Run. It remains the best Simpsons game created to date. Since 2003, the yellow family has seen two other games; The Simpsons Game in 2007 & Simpsons Tapped Out, a mobile game in which you can rebuild Springfield in your own image after Homer blows up the town. This has been a highly successful product for EA and may explain why we haven’t seen another original Simpsons game in over a decade. I continue to hold out hope for a remaster, but my hopes have remained in vain as the publisher, Vivendi, no longer exists, & the developer, Radical Entertainment, sadly closed after the release of Prototype 2 in 2012.
If you still own a 6th generation consoles or a PC, you can buy used copies of The Simpsons: Hit & Run for next to nothing. Regardless of its availability on previous console, it seems that the game that beat all the odds is fated to remain a happy memory for its fan base; still, hoping is what humans do best, so, I’ll continue to hold out hope for a remaster.