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Bart vs. the Space Mutants

Year released: 1991
Company: Acclaim
Genre: Platformer

Remember when The Simpsons was marketed as more of a cartoon than it was a witty, satiristic comedy? In the early years of the cartoon, it was thought that the driving force of the show was perpetual miscreant Bart Simpson, and so all merchandising that took place regarding the show went through him. Times have since changed, and now Homer is the more popular character these days, but we still have remnants of a day when "Don't have a cow, man" was uttered (or is that "uddered"? Don't hurt me, please) by every 5th grader in the country. Bart vs. the Space Mutants is one of those relics, and it looked like the game may have had some legs. Seldom did Acclaim really capitalize on the vehicles it had in front of it, though, and this is yet another example of one of those missed opportunities.

The plot is actually kind of interesting. Taking a cue from the series' version of the B-level horror flick, Space Mutants, the game treats said mutants as if they actually do exist, have landed in Springfield, and are trying to rule the Earth. To do so, they have concocted a machine that will somehow take over the planet, but this machine needs special ingredients. Things that are purple, for example, or balloons. It's up to Bart to eliminate said special items, or at the very least, get them out of the mutants' view.

The concept is pretty inspired, if you ask me. All too often, platform games simply get caught up in the goal of getting from Point A to Point B without a whole lot of stuff going on in the middle. BvtSM employs the idea of forcing the player to find ways to capture the necessary targets. For instance, in the first level, the objective is to get rid of all the purple-colored items. Most of the time you'll use a can of spray paint to recolor the items in question, but there are other items that will require other means of completion. It's a puzzle-solving element to the game that few of its kind thinks to employ.

At first, I wanted to bash this game for its audiovisual beauty (or its lack thereof) but they do a decent job with what they have. The main problem graphically is that in some places, the background is so busy that it's hard to tell what's just scenery and what's something you need to collect (or, perhaps, avoid). Bart looks a little choppy, as well. The animation looks acceptable, though, and there are some neat effects (such as the Bowl-o-Rama sign in the first level). The music is not as agreeable, though; I love the Simpsons theme, and the game does a respectable job of translating into electronic form, but it just doesn't make good video game music. The music you hear in the second level is a little better, but the instrumentation is a bit off. The game includes a couple sound samples of Bart saying "Cool, man!" and "Eat my shorts!", and while they sound kinda gimpy (especially after hearing the latter for the thousandth time), they aren't too bad.

Unfortunately, one of the game's two fatal flaws comes in when we talk about play control. Bart's handling is, to put it frankly, quite sloppy and haphazard. Especially his jumps; you have to be really careful about your use of the B button or else he'll go flying all over the place. And since you only have a finite amount of spray paint or ammunition, you wind up wasting some of it to make the long jumps. Of course, the most egregious problem of all is that pausing your game is a major chore. Pressing Start at the outset uses your X-ray glasses; you have to scroll through your arsenal to get to the "Pause" option. Granted, the glasses are a major part of the gameplay and are probably more often used that pausing, but it doesn't forgive how cumbersome it is. Even a subscreen while paused would have alleviated some of the trouble.

The second major faux pas is this: At the start of each life, Bart can take two hits, with no way to heal yourself once you take the first. With all the cheap hits you'll be taking on account of the slippery play control, this can become a headache. You aren't allowed any continues either. The levels themselves would be manageable if both or even just one of these things was in play, but without them it really makes things a problem. I'm sure there are people out there who can overcome the bad handling of the game and do pretty well, but I sure can't, and this game isn't very welcoming to newcomers.

And to be honest, I don't really want to follow the game through. If I thought I had a fighting chance against this game, then maybe I would relent a bit, but the combination of a strict life meter, no continues, and bad play control really scares me off of this game. Simpsons fans may be a little more persuaded to give this game more of a chance, but I'm not really a Simpsons fan. It doesn't really stand up to other platform games, despite the interesting problem-solving elements.

As great a game as it looks on paper, Bart vs. the Space Mutants fails to deliver. One has to think what may have happened if Konami or Capcom had gotten their hands on this franchise; they probably would have made this game the romp it originally set out to be.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 10
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 14
Overall Score: 57%