reviews\ Nov 24, 2002 at 7:00 pm

The Simpsons Skateboarding - PS2 - Review

The widely popular animated show The Simpsons is as much a part of American pop culture as Brittany Spears or Pepsi--and with a legion of viewers, it is no surprise that game makers are inspired by all the hilarious characters featured on the show.  However, even with this long list of great characters, seldom does a good game come out of simply sticking a few elements from a hit show to a not-so-well thought out concept.  Will The Simpsons Skateboarding prove me wrong despite past failed attempts?  Read on, but be prepared to be really disappointed.


The Annual Skate Tour has come to the city of Springfield and the Mega-bucks prize is a juicy $99.  This is enough to attract a collection of skaters such as Bart, Homer, Lisa, Marge, Otto the bus driver, Nelson and even Krusty the Clown.  Dusting off their skateboards, they prepare to shred through various locations in the city including known landmarks such as the Springfield Mall, Mister Burn’s Manor or Springfield Elementary.


There are three different modes: Skillz School, Skatefest and Timed Trick Contest.  The Skillz School is a good place to learn many of the tricks found in this game beginning with the basics tricks--and you can even earn some money (although, in this game, you practically earn chump change).  Timed Trick Contest has players pulling off tricks before the timer runs out to unlock new skaters.   Skatefest, the game’s main mode, takes gamers through a series of objectives in the same vein as those seen in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater games.


Gamers begin by selecting the available skaters--in this case, the Simpson family (Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa Simpson).  Naturally each skater has his or her own attributes that you can improve upon once gamers earn enough money to purchase an n attribute boost.  Bart, for example, can really pick up speed but is slow when sharp turns are needed.  His father, Homer, is not so fast but is great at making sharp turns.  Gamers can remedy these problems by boosting up the appropriate levels in the Shop.  Of course to earn money, gamers have to earn them by completing the challenges in Skatefest but this is where the problems start showing up.


Almost immediately gamers will notice that the controls are not as responsive or as smooth as the game it is trying to be.   There are a slew of skate tricks from the most basic (grinds, ollies, board flips and nose manuals) to the more complex (crooked grind, Jasper, nose grab and tail grabs).  The problem is that executing them successfully is an extremely difficult because the controls are a burden in and of itself.  There will be many times when even with enough speed; your skater won’t be able to make it past a simple hurdle.  Thanks to the not-so-smooth controls, gamers will find themselves colliding with the pavement pretty often.


To make matters worse, the challenges in Skatefest have that been-there-done-that feel to them that is difficult to ignore.  You start the mode in Springfield Elementary and work your way through several other locales that fans of the show will recognize--such as the power plant where Homer works.  The challenges can be found scattered throughout each location and they consist of limp versions of good challenges.  At one point you try to pick up stray kids to send back to class or collect character specific items (Lisa collects saxophones while Homer collects donuts). 


What’s disappointing, however, is that even if the challenges are unoriginal, they could have at least spiced things up with the show’s unique humor.  Sure you’ll find several of your favorite characters scattered throughout the game, but none of them really add much except for the occasional sound byte.   It would have been more satisfying if there was more character interaction or perhaps an extra challenge issued by one of the wandering characters.


You would think that it’s easy to bring the lush cartoon world of an animated series to a game--after all, the PS2 is capable of it.  Unfortunately, the visuals in this game do not even come close to matching the show’s design when it comes to Springfield as a 3D environment.  You’ll find recognizable places, such as Moe’s Tavern, but the odd shape of each building takes the fun out of playing in the Simpson universe.  While the environments are extremely bland, it’s fun to see the decent-looking characters in full 3D form. 


Another unfortunate aspect of the game is the sound that features a few uninspiring compositions and a mutated version of Danny Elfman’s signature main theme from the show.  The problem is that instead of growing on you, the score can actually become quite an annoyance to the point that gamers will just push mute on their television screens.  And the actual voices of many of the characters can be found throughout the game as voice clips, but they are unfunny and often strange. 


Failing to offer an amusing and humorous skateboarding romp, The Simpsons Skateboarding just isn’t fun enough to please those fans of both the show and skateboarding.  Sadly, with so many faults, this game should be avoided altogether.    


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 3.0
With a solid framerate, the game moves along nicely, alas this is the only good thing that can be said about the gameplay.  Control-wise, Skateboarding is just too awkward to control properly and too unresponsive.  There is no doubt that gamers, especially the much younger ones, will find nothing but frustration with what should have been a more simplified version of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater controls.  Even the most basic move can end with disastrous results.


The modes offer up unoriginal takes on the usual challenges found in recent extreme sports titles and many of them are not bad at all.  The problem is that many of these challenges require gamers to pull of complicated trick combos that are even harder thanks to the rough control scheme.  The result is more frustration.


Graphics: 3.6
Springfield would have been much more impressive as a 3D world had the game’s designers been more true to the show’s animation.  While the key locations and landmarks will be instantly recognizable by long-time fans of the show, the intentionally crooked angles and plain textures do take away from the overall experience of moving around the Springfield from the show.   Half pipes and things such as cars look boxy and plain looking whereas at least the show add a little more details to plain scenery.


The characters are not bad, though.  Their 3D forms are at least more like the animated versions and they even move as smooth as animation.  It would have been nice to have seen them move their mouths as they spout out something, but at least they blink and move their limbs naturally.


Sound: 3.4
Rarely does a game’s score become so annoying to me that I am forced to put the game on mute.  While the show’s main theme music occasionally crops up, it’s intermingled with the rest of the unpleasant soundtrack. 


The voices are done by many of the show’s cast members and would have been wonderful had there been phrases worthy of being heard.  Fans of the show expecting each character to say something in the same funny and witty manner as the show will only be let down.  And if that wasn’t enough, many of the phrases said become quite repetitive.


Difficulty: Medium
Whether it’s knocking over a series of signs or trying to score X amount of points to beat the clock; the game’s challenges are tricky events.  The challenges aren’t made any more easier due to the awful controls that complicate the challenge that requires players to successfully pull off a series of combos.


Concept: 3.0
Overlooking the fact that The Simpsons have been featured in games before, often with unsuccessful results; this is the franchise’s first real foray into the skateboarding realm.  The unfortunate result is attempting to emulate the far more superior Activision O2 skateboarding titles by featuring the same type of objectives and adding several prizes and areas to unlock.  All of this does sound good, but the manner in which it is presented is what counts and this game’s presentation feels both sloppy and rushed.  There’s not interesting or highly original challenges found here.


Multiplayer: 3.5
Up to two players can skate in split-screen fashion and there are just enough characters to choose from here.  The Timed Trick Contest mode just feels a lot more challenging when you’re going up against a friend and the clock--and the player with the most points by the end of the time limit wins the game.  There’s also the ever-so popular Play Horse mode.  Here one player performs a trick and the second player must try to beat the score and if somebody fails to surpass the other’s score, then a letter is given to that player (if a player receives enough letters to spell the word HORSE, that player loses).  While the multiplayer modes are sparse, they are better than having nothing at all.


Overall: 3.0
It’s sad that a widely popular and much-loved franchise is attached to such a poorly designed game that does not offer any real thrills or laughs.  If you’re looking for Tony Hawk Pro Skater for a much younger crowd or really love the show, Simpsons Skateboarding will surely disappoint.


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