In case you didn't already know, I'm a big Simpsons fan. Like...a really big Simpsons fan. But videogames haven't always been kind to Springfield's First Family. In fact, videogames have been downright cruel to them. There have only been a handful that are passable, and even less that are considered good. The Simpsons: Hit & Run, however, is great. It's not just great for a Simpsons game, it's a great videogame, period.
I received this game as a present for Christmas in 2003. I had watched a friend of mine play it a couple of months prior, and when he said "It's basically Grand Theft Auto, but you're in Springfield," that's what sealed the deal. That sounded like everything I wanted in the world. In fact, this was the first (and only) open-world, GTA-style game that I completed 100%. Every mission, every race, every costume, every gag, everything. I loved this game that much. You couldn't go ten seconds without noticing a reference from the show, and a lot of the references aren't just from the episodes during the era the game was made, a lot of them date back to the first few seasons. For instance, every level has 7 cards that you can collect, they don't serve a purpose other than increasing your completion percentage and giving you a little information about what the image on the card represents, but the very first card you find is Homer's football from "Homer at the Bat" from season 3 (which took the #5 spot on my all-time most essential episodes list). For younger fans who may not have been around during the shows first few seasons, there are probably some things in there that they don't understand. Lots of subtle and obscure references that only obsessive fans like me will remember. I went back and played through the game again as research for this article, and the game still holds up great, I went through the story in just a couple of nights.
The game is also very self-aware, it definitely knows it's a videogame, as the very first thing that happens, even before the game starts, you're treated to a loading screen which features the spinning newspaper gag from the show, and a small headline in the corner that reads: 90% of Games Start with Easy Tutorial Level. I chuckled the first time I saw that, and I chuckled again when I revisited it. The first level is the residential area in Springfield. This is where you'll find Evergreen Terrace, featuring the Simpsons' and Flanders' home (complete with bomb shelter). After spending a few minutes driving around, you're constantly bombarded with familiar buildings and areas: Springfield Elementary, the church, Krusty Burger, the nuclear power plant, the Springfield Retirement Castle, and so on. The elementary school even features the oil rig on top, referencing the classic "Who Shot Mr. Burns" episode. Do a little bit more exploring and you'll find locations that aren't as well known to people who aren't big fans, like Chester Lampwick's solid gold house and rocket car, the Stonecutter's secret meeting place, and I couldn't tell you how tickled I was when I first came across the tomacco field.
Over the next week or so, I'll be posting a small blog every day explaining why I love this game so much. Obviously, I'm a bit biased, and the title of the blog is a matter of opinion, but when it comes to licensed games it's hard to deny that The Simpsons: Hit & Run deserves a spot in the upper echelon. It has solid gameplay as well as being true to the source material, which I feel is what it takes in order to make a licensed game great. Some have the great gameplay but will deviate from the source, or vice versa. This game, however, has both, with plenty extra to go around.