And how it paved the way for future licensed games.
It’s usually expected for most popular television shows and movies to eventually get a video game based on the original media. However, more likely than not, most of these spin-offs are just low quality titles used as a quick cash grab to convince uninformed parents to easily gift their kids a game based on something they watch. And aside from the Atari 2600 title “E.T.” singlehandedly causing The Video Game Crash of 1983, one of the most notorious franchises for making terrible licensed games is The Simpsons.
The renowned television show has 27 installments of video games across game consoles, mobile phones, and PC starting back in 1991 with “Bart vs. The Space Mutants” on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It is worth mentioning though, a large quantity doesn’t necessarily mean good quality. Most of these installments, regardless of the amount of sales or what genre, were strictly to make a quick buck. Many games seemed to follow a similar pattern of putting together the formula of a mediocre experience, and inserting The Simpsons characters into it to cover up the mistakes.
However, The Simpsons’ team finally found a formula that worked in 2003 when Radical Entertainment developed their first Simpsons title “The Simpsons: Hit & Run”. Hit & Run is an action-adventure game designed for Windows, the Original Microsoft Xbox, the Nintendo Gamecube, and the Sony PlayStation 2 that is heavily inspired by the series “Grand Theft Auto”.
Hit & Run sets up every level in a sandbox-style format that emphasizes the player to drive and do minimal platforming. The way to progress further through the game is completing missions that revolve around racing other characters, collecting items on a time limit, and wrecking other cars. Aside from missions, the game also offered a plethora of racing challenges, bonus missions, and collectibles such as trading cards, vehicles, and gags.
After its release, the game received generally favorable reviews according to Metacritic with an average user score of 8.2/10. The game won “Favorite Video Game of the Year” at the 2004 Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards and sold up to three million copies as of July 2007. It was clear this game had become a highlight of the sixth generation consoles era.
But let’s discuss why this game was so successful. After many failed Simpsons games, what made this one stick?
Sure, the gameplay is fun, but it’s nothing new or groundbreaking considering it follows a similar setup to “Grand Theft Auto”. If you read some of the critic and player reviews of Hit & Run, many people will tell you the game is enjoyable. But where this game really shines is in the use of the source material.
What most game developers creating licensed games fail to do is thoroughly research the source material their game is based on. They make the game they want and put a new coat of paint on it with Spongebob Squarepants or Homer Simpson.
When it comes to “The Simpsons: Hit & Run”, the world created within the game perfectly embodies Springfield. Each level of the game is designed around certain areas and includes some of the most notable locations from the show include Evergreen Terrance, the Kwik-E-Mart, and Springfield Elementary School.
Playing through Hit & Run feels like you’re controlling a real episode of the Simpsons. The writing in between completing missions has the same tone and sense of humor as the show. The music fits the style of the game and the show perfectly. Most importantly, the game is filled with tons of collectables that are filled with references that serve the show justice. I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest Simpsons fan ever, but I can safely say after playing through the seven stages this game has to offer this is a must have for anyone who is a Simpsons fan. That is, if you haven’t played it yet for whatever reason.
If you’re someone who is a hardcore gamer, maybe you look at the gameplay before the graphics, style, and writing. But if you’re a gamer who is a die hard fan of a franchise, you may be looking at the use of the source material before the game. Of course, when developers are making a game, gameplay is the first priority. However, if you’re making a licensed game, you should probably do your homework.
Chances are the players who aren’t a fan of the source material are picking up the game either because A) they are collecting games for a specific system or B) they just want to play a variety of games (or both). What is important though, is the people who will be enthusiastic to pick up a licensed game on day one, are the fans of the source material.
They don’t need top notch graphics, intricate music, or hardcore gameplay. They want to play through the show, the movie, or the experience. They want to feel like they themselves are in the game with the characters they’ve grown to get to know and fall in love with. The gameplay should still be relevant to what is happening in the game, but how is it intertwined with the source material will determine whether or not it is a “good” license game.
All in all, take a second look at “The Simpsons: Hit & Run” and follow their example. Take a look at how the show is integrated into the game. This seamless transition from cable to game consoles will be the key to selling a licensed game that won’t become an infamous laughing stock of the gaming community, but rather be well respected.