Buy me GoldenEye or go to hell
The Simpsons has been on our screens for coming up to 30 years, becoming a cornerstone in comedy timing and how to make quality animated entertainment content. And it’s true that there are divides in the fandom: When did the show stop being funny? Season 8? Season 13? Are the Treehouse of Horror episodes the best episodes, or the worst episodes? Was the first season a load of old shite, or was it just a little rough around the edges? What should we do about culturally insensitive storylines written way back in the 1990s? Is Hans Moleman the sexiest man alive?
However, the fanbase is still going strong, with dedicated meme pages popping up all over the shop and syndication continuing into perpetuity. The Simpsons has even had a fair few video games devoted to it, some being rightly regarded as classics, while others are appropriately reviled as the worst of licensed content. (Not The Simpsons Wrestling, though – I have a strange fondness for that game despite its technical flaws, just like Homer’s inexplicable love of Sheriff Lobo.)
But, ignoring bona fide Simpsons games, which video games pair well with individual episodes, like a refreshing Duff with a Krusty Burger, or a crab juice with a stick of Khlav Kalash? I gave it a good try with my list below – which is apparently the first step towards failure.
Putting this list together was actually a lot more difficult than I had anticipated. Early Simpsons episodes are more like standard morality tales, which doesn’t always map well to video games. Sure, some of the biggest games of the last few years have ethical choices embedded in them, but it’s also often combined with violence or other characteristics that don’t fit well with a PG-rated show. For example, would I pair “Homer the Vigilante” with Manhunt, just because both involve the lead character getting back at criminals through equally questionable acts? No, it feels like a bit of a stretch. All the more reason for you to pipe up in the comments down below with your own favourite pairings of games and Simpsons episodes!
1. Bart the General (S1 E5), Bully/Canis Canem Edit
I thought I’d open with an early Simpsons episode – yes, I am one of those people who really enjoys the first season of The Simpsons. The animation is worse and the jokes may not land quite as well, but you can see the raw materials of something brilliant.
In “Bart the General”, Bart leads an army of his fellow students in a water-balloon-based battle against the school bullies. Grandpa Simpson and Herman Hermann, the one-armed gun shop owner, even get in on the deal, both seizing on their army vet knowledge to plan out strategies with Bart. It’s an early instance of the time-honoured Simpsons tradition of parodying film, with Full Metal Jacket getting a nod. In my opinion, it’s one of the more intelligent and deeply amusing Simpsons episodes, subtly lampooning the adult practice of war rather than going for instant belly laughs.
Bully came straight to mind when I was thinking about this episode. While Bully is not really a game about war, it is about a troubled teenager fighting against certain factions at his school. There are many parallels between Jimmy and Bart that go beyond this particular episode, but Bart actually fighting back made me realise how much they are cut from the same cloth. If you want the feeling of returning to school again, with no real struggles except the silly fights you pick for pretty spurious reasons, I’d advise watching Bart the General and playing Bully.
2. Bart on the Road (S7 E20), Final Fantasy XV
Full disclosure: Final Fantasy XV gripped me from the start, while other Final Fantasy games have not been able to get their hooks into me that easily. This is because it starts off with that bloody car scene and then the Florence and the Machine music starts playing and you know something bad is going to happen and things aren’t going to be this way forever and before you know it, you’re howling in anguish into a carton of ice-cream.
“Bart on the Road” reminds me a lot of those early days in Hammerhead, when things were going a little bit off the rails, but not quite as terribly as they do an hour or so into the game. In this episode, Bart forges a driver’s licence and goes on a road trip with his crew to attend the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. They discover that the fair has been abandoned and find themselves stuck in the middle of nowhere without a ride.
While the purpose of the road trip in this Simpsons episode is more frivolous – going to an expo versus getting married – and Final Fantasy XV is very rarely about innocent hi-jinks, it kind of tickles me to think of the two alongside each other. Maybe the crown prince’s squad had a few of these youthful, purposeless jaunts across Eos before shit got real.
3. Homerpalooza (S7 E24), Tony Hawk’s Underground 2
Homerpalooza is another highly memorable and meme-able episode, whether it’s Cypress Hill jamming with the London Symphony Orchestra, Peter Frampton’s lost inflatable pig or Homer’s confused exchange with Billy Corgan. The entire episode is based on the alt-rock scene of the late 1990s, which predates the skater scene of the early-mid 2000s, but is not so far removed from it.
What particularly made me think of Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 when watching this episode was the plot point of Homer catching cannonballs with his stomach. Homer is renowned for putting his health at risk for stupid ideas and schemes (see also “King-Size Homer” and “The Homer They Fall”), but it’s particularly egregious and to Jackass levels in “Homerpalooza”.
It reminded me a lot of the kicking that Phil Margera got in Viva La Bam and in some of the cutscenes in Tony Hawk’s Underground 2. Did Phil not tell his son to quit being a dick because it made them money? Because he was spineless? Or because, like Homer, he wanted to be cool and popular? I’m not sure, but while the set pieces in THUG2 have aged very poorly, “Homerpalooza” is more of a nostalgia kick for me. Well, as nostalgic as you can be for a scene that was thriving when you were barely out of nappies. But hey, I listened to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins as a brooding tween, so that surely counts.
4. You Only Move Twice (S8 E2), GoldenEye 007
This is an obvious one. The main plot of “You Only Move Twice” is about Homer’s new boss seeming like a nice chap on the face of it, but he is actually a Bond villain, with Homer of course remaining completely oblivious until late in the day. Hank Scorpio is a fan favourite, and for good reason: it’s very witty that Homer would escape one megalomaniac boss (Mr Burns) and wind up with another so nice and understanding that he loops back around to being evil too (Scorpio).
A silly yet great episode deserves a silly yet great game, and the iconic Rare title GoldenEye 007 answers that call. Not only is it a well-liked Bond game, but people sing the praises of its multiplayer and it’s listed along Perfect Dark as one of the best FPS games of its era. With less than a year between “You Only Move Twice’s” broadcast date and the release of GoldenEye 007 for the N64, you’d be hard pushed to find a more perfect pairing.
5. The Joy of Sect (S9 E13), Far Cry 5
This episode perfectly showcases the difference between the “dumb” characters in The Simpsons and those who are capable of critical thinking. When a cult (based on real-life cults, such as Scientology and Heaven’s Gate) rolls into town, the populace of Springfield get roped in en masse. While Marge and Lisa very quickly start pushing against the boundaries of what the Movementarians allow them to do, Homer is quite happy to go along with the simple teachings of the group. Marge’s escape scene even made me think of what I had read on people trying to traverse the no man’s land in front of the Berlin Wall, making an illicit journey from East to West. It’s an episode that feels well researched and keeps a good balance between comedy and tragedy.
A recent and notable game about cults is Far Cry 5. Joseph Seed is a more menacing and disturbing character than the Leader, and the Leader is more of a scam artist than a deluded and dangerous man. But the episode and the game paired with each other show both the ridiculous and the serious sides to fanaticism, which is a quite important contrast to take in. Even the funnier approach of this Simpsons episode does a lot to explain how everyday people can be lured into cults, even though most of us insist we would never be so gullible.
6. Trash of the Titans (S9 E22), Democracy 3/SimCity 4
Beyond the fact that the “Garbage Man” song is one of the catchier tunes in the Simpsons repertoire, and U2 (alongside R.E.M.) is my favourite cameo in the series, I love this episode. It’s the perfect example of Homer biting off more than he can chew, and of Homer being stubborn on principle. My other favourite instance of Homer being as stubborn as a mule is when he sues Captain McAllister after he gets kicked out of the Frying Dutchman for absolutely gutting the place during an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Homer leaps face-first into his new position as garbage commissioner in “Trash of the Titans”, abusing his office and the environment with equal gusto. In the end, the entire town has to be moved, as the original Springfield becomes a literal landfill site. This level of incompetence is hard to achieve by accident, but if you want to appreciate how hard it can be to make good-faith decisions in power, play Democracy 3. My multiple playthroughs of that game have always been incredibly short, because it can be very difficult to stick to your principles while running a fiscally sound country.
Likewise, the SimCity games (I’ve listed SimCity 4 as the most recent “good” SimCity game) back you into a corner a lot when it comes to running a town in a sustainable fashion. Think you can do better than Homer? Try your luck with these games, but prepare yourself for how easy it is to slip into unintentional or negligent incompetence.
Are you a Simpsons fan? Which episodes would you pair with a video game, and why? Have you played Bonestorm or Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge? Let me know in the comments down below!