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Bart's Nightmare

Year released: 1992
Company: Acclaim
Genre: Action

You know, there are times that I wish I could be a softy when it came to reviewing these games. Sometimes, I wish that I could be more lenient on one or two titles, since they appear to have the right idea; they just fall victim to a fatal flaw. Bart's Nightmare is one of those games that I wish I could be more accomodating to. This is a game that, if not for one major problem, would probably rate in the high 70s or low 80s. It's an imaginative, enjoyable game that executes its technical components well. Sadly, I have to be equally judgemental to every game in my collection, which causes this game to lose some major points in the process.

The object of the game is to recover 8 pages of a report that Bart had been writing the night before it was due. Apparently, Bart has fallen asleep in the middle of writing the report, and he dreams that the pages blow out the window, leaving him to search for them. The more pages you retrieve (and the higher your score), the higher your eventual grade on the paper. This is an interesting concept, but there's one problem: it just doesn't make sense. How could the papers escaping in Bart's dream affect his grade in the real world? I know, perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but this discrepancy does annoy me a little bit.

Another thing that concerns me regarding the storyline is how much it waters down the Simpsons universe. As most of us know, the show is highly regarded for being one of the most satiric television shows to ever be created, and yet whenever the show gets made into a video game, it always focuses on Bart - probably the shallowest, "cool-dude" character in the show. Using Homer as the protagonist once in a while (as opposed to a nemesis, in the Bartzilla game) would probably give the series a little more freshness. However, I will give the game credit for including dozens of Simpsons references into the game. From the Jebediah Springfield heads to the bus driver to Smithers & Burns, there are countless appearances by the supporting characters, and that's really what saves the Plot score from dipping under 5.

The audiovisuals of this game are really where Bart's Nightmare shines. Whoever designed the graphics to this game must lick toads or eat Magic Mushrooms or something. They're some of the most vivid and colorful visuals ever put out by the SNES. Particularly the Infection World game; the background to that game is utterly mesmerizing. The animation also shows some polish, such as in the Temple of Maggie. One complaint, though - the graphics to Windy World look a little blocky, especially if you pay close attention to the bushes and trees. They look a bit too much like green blobs than foliage.

The music, however, is quite good. Not every mini-game has a background theme, but those that do, do an exceptional job. The music to Windy World is developed and long enough to be listened to for as long as you'll spend in this region without going crazy. The Bartman theme is also very well composed. Heck, even the music to Itchy & Scratchy fits the scenery adequately well. The sound effects can be a bit loud, but they can be dealt with.

Unfortunately, that's right around where my praise stops for the game's technical efforts. The play control suffers from a problem that's common among SNES offerings: the programmers felt an obligation to give each button a separate command, and use the buttons that would otherwise be reserved for auxiliary purposes too often. In Windy World, you have three different weapons at your disposal, and each of them requires their own button to activate. Also, I find it a bit unfair that simply stepping onto a sheet of paper in Windy World isn't enough to trap it and pick a mini-game; you must jump onto it in order for that to occur. Finally, using the whip during the Temple of Maggie stages takes a little bit of getting used to.

Getting relatively far in this game isn't too tough: out of the 8 pages you need to collect 6 of them can be retrieved with some ease, or at the very worst, with a decent amount of practice and skill. Unfortunately, those 6 pages is about as close as you'll get to completing your goal using ethical means. The other two are held hostage by the single most abominable mini-game in the cartridge: The Itchy & Scratchy game. This is because the play control is almost unbearably sloppy, with Bart skidding all over the place (especially on the kitchen floor). Often, attacks are fatal, sudden, and cause the forfeiture of whatever weapon you may possess at the time, forcing you to find a clumsy sledge hammer to defend yourself. Also, the final battle against an animated furnace takes about five straight minutes of shooting, with every projectile it breathes at you causing instant death if they touch. This is what causes Bart's Nightmare's score to tumble so far down; it's such an atrocious inclusion that it drags the Play Control, Challenge, and Thrill scores down. Aside from this major, major problem, I have little complaint with this game's learning curve: only that as time goes on, it becomes increasingly more difficult to escape the "gang" in Windy World once they ensnare you.

You might think, from what I've said above, that Bart's Nightmare is not a fun game. Actually, it's a romp. If you avoid the yellow door when picking the mini-games, you'll find that the other four challenges you have to choose from are quite inspired, each offering a different, inventive task. Using the letter grades to rate your performance was a cute idea, as are the reactions of the family at game's end when Bart's paper gets stuck on the refrigerator. The ending could have used a little bit more pizzazz than a simple credit roll, but I can live with it.

In short, if I were to count Itchy & Scratchy as a mulligan and simply grade on what else was there, we'd see Bart's Nightmare poke into the 80% range. With Itchy & Scratchy, however, it barely scratches the 70% line.

Overall Ratings:

Play Control:
Technical Score: 13
Challenge: (Hard)
Thrill: (Frustrating)
Aesthetic Score: 17
Overall Score: 71%