Marge, may I play Devil’s Advocate?
Hi, I’m The Industry’s Chris Moyse, you might remember me from articles such as 10 Best Lawsuits Filed Against Activision Blizzard and Juri’s Soles: Delicious but Deadly, but today I’m here to talk to you about America’s favorite animated, non-prehistoric family: The Simpsons.
In the 35+ years that The Simpsons has been on television — only 12 of those being years being Good — Captain Wacky and his family have taken a delightfully satirical stab at practically all forms of art, entertainment, and global services. From comic books to movies, cartoons to pop music, and even services such as Uber and esports in episodes that you haven’t seen because you tuned out years ago.
Of course, video games were another medium that did not escape the satirical eye of The Simpsons’ writer’s room, and even the earliest of seasons feature a veritable treasure trove of arcades and home console releases, at once completely original and highly familiar. And while all of these titles might not actually exist in the real world, in many cases, they probably should. I’d sell my soul to Milhouse for the opportunity to visit the Noiseland Video Arcade, or for just one round of Robert Goulet Destroyer.
No mom, you idiot…
When “Simpsons-mania” first kicked into high gear in the early 1990s — an era defined by either Bart Simpson or Michaelangelo’s face slapped onto every single purchasable item in existence — the gaming community was hit with a tidal wave of frankly rubbish Simpsons tie-in video games. But while writing “The 15 Best Simpsons Games of All Time” would be something of an oxymoron, I’m far more interested in looking at the fictional titles that, for the most part at least, only exist within The Simpsons universe.
So, pour yourself a Frosty Chocolate Milkshake, and let’s take a look at The 15 Best Video Games that Exist in The Simpsons Universe — Each and every one of them is worth up to and including $70, while all being a darn sight more entertaining than Bart vs. The Space Mutants…
…or Escape from Kamp Krusty,
…or Bart vs. The Juggernauts,
15. Triangle Wars
First Appearance: “Please Homer, Don’t Hammer ’em”
Video games had to start somewhere, even in The Simpsons universe, and when Bart visited the run-down arcade center “Captain Blip’s Zapateria”, he was greeted with some of the formative video games of his generation, including Click Clack, Unipede, Remington Steele: The Game, and Triangle Wars; a thinly-veiled clone of real-world classics such as Asteroids and Joust.
Bart, a filthy casual, is non-plussed with the vector graphics and simplistic sound effects, ultimately bemoaning the fact that he wins a free game and is forced to keep playing.
“Now my ship is pooping more triangles!”
A fun side-note, this scene also features a glimpse of the legendary urban myth arcade, Polybius.
14. Halloween Hit ‘n’ Run
First Appearance: “Special Edna”
When The Simpsons visited the EFCOT Center to attend an award ceremony for the show’s best and hottest character, Mrs. Edna Krabappel, her beau, Principal Skinner, also tagged along, hoping to prevent Edna from becoming too successful and thus growing “out of his league”. Hoping to entice Bart into sabotaging the award ceremony, Skinner surreptitiously meets his nemesis in a sit-in cabinet for coin-op Halloween Hit ‘n’ Run.
We don’t see much of the game in action, but gameplay seems to consist of simply driving through the suburbs on Halloween night, mowing down as many costumed Trick or Treaters as possible. “Oooh, this game is going to receive some disapproving clucks” intones Skinner. Interestingly enough, the similarly titled Simpsons Hit ‘n Run launched in the real world the same year this episode aired. And while it isn’t quite as violent, it is considered one of the best-ever Simpsons video games.
13. Kevin Costner’s Waterworld
First Appearance: “The Springfield Files”
Kevin Costner’s Waterworld is an arcade adaptation of the staggeringly expensive movie of the same name, which premiered in 1995, and was the highest-budgeted film of all time to that point, costing somewhere in the region of $180 million USD. The film famously bombed at the box office, failing to recoup its costs for many years, only making back its stratospheric budget after years on the home video market.
The arcade version costs Milhouse 40 quarters ($10) for a credit, and only sees the protagonist take a couple of steps before the game demands more cash from the player. A series of real-life Waterworld games existed on SNES, Game Boy, PC, and, bizarrely, Virtual Boy.
Today, much like the Star Wars prequels, revisionist history states that Waterworld was misunderstood, but, also like the Star Wars prequels, it’s actually Just Rubbish.
12. Grand Theft Walrus
First Appearance: “The Simpsons Movie”
Appearing in the Focus-Grouped-to-Death big-screen release, The Simpsons Movie, Grand Theft Walrus is briefly seen during Homer’s trip to, sigh, “Eski-Moe’s” in Alaska. In the game, a sports car drives Walrus pulls up to the curb, where he is entertained by a Happy Feet-style dancing penguin. The Walrus then blows the penguin throw the window with a shotgun.
Speaking of Blows, this scene says a lot about The Simpsons Movie‘s methodology compared to regular TV Simpsons. Grand Theft Walrus isn’t stylized to look anything like an actual video game, with the clip essentially being a Family Guy-esque “cutaway”, shot with standard animation. Additionally, rather than be a bespoke title, it’s simply a full-on Grand Theft Auto spoof, complete with Rockstar font.
As those who have studied the development of The Simpsons Movie can attest, producers were obsessed with ensuring that every single joke/reference would be fully understood by every single member of the audience, everywhere. This led to a nightmare production of endless producer notes, constant character redesigns, frequent scene rewrites, and a thoroughly miserable experience for everyone involved.
Spider Pig. Brilliant.
11. Panamanian Strongman
First Appearance: “Boy Scoutz n’ The Hood”
This bizarre, but awesome title puts the player in control of what appears to be a King Kong-sized version of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, as he battles World War II biplanes while scaling the Panama Capitol Building.
Despite Bart’s mantra of “Be In the Game, Not Of the Game”, the Panamanian Strongman falls from the tower, where he is kicked repeatedly by a digitized George Bush, who delivers the solemn and iconic arcade slogan of the ’80s: “Winners Don’t Use Drugs”. Bart declares out loud that he is out of quarters, which leads to the activation of a high-security system of alarm bells and electric doors, culminating in the Squeaky-Voiced Teen informing the friends that they must leave.
No Es Bueno.
10. Let’s Make a Baby
First Appearance: “This Little Wiggy”
Unfortunately, we don’t get to see any gameplay footage of this particularly extravagant game, which is played by both Homer and Krusty the Clown during a visit to the Springfield Science Museum. We have to include it purely for its top-tier theme and hi-tech cabinet, however, which sees the player operate a fully mobile, raised chair, firing digi-sperm at a screen in the hope of helping the target to conceive.
“Ovulate, Damn You! Ovulate!”
Sadly for Homer, a sultry voice informs him that he is out of sperm, and he sadly slinks away from this wonderment of physical game design. Of all the games on this list, this is most assuredly the one that this writer would be particularly terrible at. Well, that’s decades of SSRIs for you.
9. Earthland Realms
First Appearance: “Marge Gamer”
In 2007, someone in The Simpsons writer’s room heard that World of Warcraft exists, and thus set out to dedicate an entire episode to MMO culture, less than a year after South Park had already pulled the same gag (even roping in developer Blizzard to help with the episode’s production). The Simpsons’ take on MMOs sees a bored Marge dive into the fantasy world of Earthland Realms, an obvious pastiche of the WoW/Everquest-style online RPG.
We soon discover that almost everyone in Springfield is an Earthland Realms player, all of whom live in fear of the terrifying Shadow Knight, who has been killing off their characters with reckless abandon. It turns out that The Shadow Knight is, in reality, Marge’s Special Little Guy. Marge is accidentally killed by Bart’s character, who then expends his own health in order to revive her. Though The Shadow Knight is then killed by the other players while in his weakened state, the resurrected Marge goes on a vengeful rampage of her own.
Wow, The Last of Us was right, revenge is cyclical. You’re deep, Druckmann.
8. Touch of Death
First Appearance: “When Flanders Failed”
After Bart decides to take up karate classes, he quits minutes into the first lesson once he realizes that he isn’t going to be trusted with throwing stars and death blows anytime soon. Instead, he takes a trip down the mall concourse to the arcade, where he indulges in a few rounds of ninja battler Touch of Death. After landing a few blows, Bart hits the titular Touch of Death button, which immediately kills his opponent and sees his soul leave his body.
Later, when asked what he’s learned in Karate class, Bart tells the family he learned “The Touch of Death”, demonstrating the made-up technique on Lisa, (“Bart, don’t use The Touch of Death on your sister.”) Bart’s lies catch up with him later, however, when he gets his ass handed to him by Dolph, Jimbo, and Kearney. It’s funny how sometimes two wrongs can make a right.
While Touch of Death appears to be a Mortal Kombat pastiche, Midway was still two years away from releasing the violent scrapper, so ToD is more just an amalgamation of various fighting games.
7. Larry the Looter
First Appearance: “Radio Bart”
During Bart’s brilliantly shit 10th birthday party at Wall E. Weasel’s pizzeria, (“You’re the birthday boy or girl”), we get to see him play a round of Larry the Looter. This pretty simple and anarchic title sees the player indulge in a spot of smash and grab, breaking into store windows and stealing goods, unfortunately, just seconds into the game, Larry is taken down by a heat-packing street vendor, who blows the thief’s head clean off his shoulders with a double-barreled shotgun.
Larry the Looter is a pretty important title in The Simpsons universe, as it would define the show’s general approach to satirizing video games, depicting them mostly as overly violent, short-lived, expensive, and generally rewarding the player for committing criminal acts. Additionally, Australian indie developer GumpyFunction recreated Larry the Looter as a Flash title in 2014.
6. Cat Fight
First Appearance: “Bart Star”
As a dedicated Skullgirls player, Cat Fight might be my favorite fighting game to appear in The Simpsons universe, located at the Local 7/11 We No Longer Talk About, Cat Fight sees two young women battling it out at the local mall, complete with deadly maneuvers such as slapping, (with nails, obviously), hair pulling, and biting. The game also features some pretty radical cabinet art, as well as some surprisingly clear digitized speech.
The graphics and animation shown here are a massive step up from other fighters featured in the series. Just look at it, this is Street Fighter 6 to Touch of Death‘s Kasumi Ninja. And one can only imagine the awesome roster, consisting of a Soccer Mom Grappler, a mid-range Stage Mom, as well as the particularly aggressive rushdown character, High School Clique Girl.
5. My Dinner with Andre
First Appearance: “Boy Scoutz n’ the Hood”
Man cannot live by shooters and GTA clones alone, and that’s why we have cerebral titles like Disco Elysium, Superliminal, Papers, Please, and My Dinner With Andre. Based upon Louis Malle’s 1981 drama, this video game adaptation has Wallace Shaw and Andre Gregory settle down for a deadly battle of wits and entrees, with the player conducting the flow of conversation via a unique control system that includes “Trenchant Insight”, “Tell Me More”, and an ice-breaking “Bon Mot”.
This is one of Noiseland’s least popular games, as demonstrated by the lack of a queue behind Martin Prince, but that’s because all of you just want to play Fortnite and Candy Crush Saga all the fucking time. What do you want? It’s not my job to broaden your horizons. Sorry your parents didn’t do better.
4. Dash Dingo
First Appearance: “Lard of the Dance”
When Lisa finds herself too sick to go to school, despite pleading otherwise, (Stupid Lisa Science Queen), Marge suggests that she instead play some video games to pass the time. Choosing into-the-screen platformer Dash Dingo, Lisa is initially disgusted by the game’s DownUnderVerse setting and Nunchuk-wielding koalas, “What?! Those aren’t even Australian!”.
However, Dash Dingo‘s compelling gameplay kicks in, and Lisa finds herself borderline addicted to this suspiciously familiar adventure, ultimately abandoning her reading assignment in order to continue our hero’s quest to find and devour the Seven Crystal Babies. I mean it was only The Wind in The Willows: Toad steals a bunch of motor cars and everybody gets really middle-class about it. The End.
3. Super Slugfest
First Appearance: “Moaning Lisa”
One of the best-remembered arcs from The Simpsons’ terribly-voiced first season sees Homer desperate to beat his son at the ultra-violent boxing title Super Slugfest. Having failed to land a single punch in the pair’s many matchups, Homer goes looking for professional help, hitting the local arcade and asking Springfield’s best Super Slugfest player for some advice. It’s essentially The Simpsons predicting MetaFy.
Returning home, Homer proceeds to pound the tar out of Bart, exposing him as the total fraud we all know he is. Sadly, however, Marge pulls the plug just as Homer is about to deliver the death blow. Bart then retires from the game “undefeated”, setting a standard for all those FGC players who frequently fail to turn up to nationals once they get word that folk who beat them online will be in attendance.
Super Slugfest itself is a real icon of The Simpsons, well remembered for its ridiculously violent approach to the sport of kings, complete with uppercut decapitations and in-ring grave dancing.
First Appearance: “Marge Be Not Proud”
Notable episode “Marge Be Not Proud” gave us what is arguably THE two best video games from the entire Simpsons canon. Bonestorm, a clear Mortal Kombat clone complete with Pit stage, Goro-alike, and techno music, is considered the must-have title for all video game fans in Springfield. Even Bart’s best friend Thrillho has a copy, such is the mass appeal of this violent one-on-one fighter.
Buy me Bonestorm or Go to Hell.
Unable to purchase a copy for himself, and egged on by Mario and Sonic, no less, Bart indulges in a spot of five-finger-discount and steals the game from the local Try and Save, leading to an encounter with security guard Don Brodka. Don’t smart mouth him, smart guy. Jesting aside, this episode is a pretty good satire of pester power marketing, FOMO, and Hype vs. Quality, (Thrillho quickly gets bored of Bonestorm, choosing instead to dedicate his spare time to Cup and Ball).
Marge Be Not Proud is rightly remembered for its good pacing, sharp scripting, and genuine heart. But what this famous episode is best remembered for isn’t Brodka, or Thrillho, or even Bonestorm…
1. Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge
First Appearance: “Marge Be Not Proud”
There is no more iconic title in the world of The Simpsons than the iconic, imitable, and endlessly iconic Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge. It is a game Marge mistakenly buys Bart thinking that it is the must-have title of the season, and while Bart does a good job of hiding his disappointment, he has no idea that he has actually received a true piece of gaming history.
This GOTY-contender features a series of incredibly simplistic golfing putts, guided by none other than Lee Carvallo himself, who offers the player club suggestions and other general tips — Many of which revolve around “feather touch”. A ton of work has gone into the title, including the implementation of pointless clubs and drive strengths, as well as the full rendering of the course’s parking lot, where your ball will most assuredly end up. Plus you get a Scoring Pencil!
Still referenced by fans decades after its debut, Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge would be recreated in as a real-life Flash game by developer Aaron Demeter. An adaptation that would receive promotion on Twitter from no less than long-time Simpsons writer Bill Oakley. Given its cultural impact, the constant referencing by fans of both The Simpsons and video games, and the fact that people are still finding out today that Lee Carvallo is, in fact a fictional character…
Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge is, without a doubt, the best video game in The Simpsons‘ universe.
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