Pros: At least we know the concept works; generally playable
Cons: It's a Simpsons game that rips off Crazy Taxi
The Bottom Line: It's still a Simpsons game.
This is another in my series of preserved reviews.
In the immortal words of George Costanza, we live in a society. In fact, we live in a society that has done great things. We’ve put a man on the moon. We’ve built the Sears Tower, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Hoover Dam. We’ve produced the hammock, the donut, and drive-thru coffee. We’ve cultured ourselves with the likes of Charles Dickens, Tennessee Williams, The Beatles, and countless others. So will somebody please tell me why in the world we can’t produce a Simpsons video game that rates better than slightly above average? I’ve said it before: Simpsons role-playing game! Hello! Square Enix? Are you listening? Is there anybody in there?
I have to tell the truth here: The Simpsons Road Rage is the finest Simpsons game I’ve ever played. Of course, those familiar with the license realize this high praise for a Simpsons game and not exactly high praise as high praise. The two are mutually exclusive. With the sole exception of an arcade exclusive from the show’s earlier years, the Simpsons license has been roundly condemned as possibly the worst to ever be bestowed onto the video game industry. I myself have questioned whether the poor quality of the games has contributed in any way to the show’s steep decline in quality. I try to fire up new video games with an open mind, but having never forgotten the pain of worst-game-ever contender Simpsons Wrestling, my expectations were less focused on whether or not Road Rage would suck and more on just how badly it would suck. To my pleasant surprise, Road Rage did not both suck and blow. It was not craptacular. It was, in fact, fun in short stretches. But my praise for this Simpsons-themed rip-off of Crazy Taxi will not exactly be glowing.
The mechanics, structure, and technical details of Simpsons Road Rage are all a complete mess. It’s as if Electronic Arts announced the game and then forgot about it until a week before its scheduled release date. Take the three modes types of game, for instance. You get to choose between Road Rage, Sunday Drive, and a mission mode. The effort was clearly concentrated into the Road Rage mode because it’s where the game as advertised lies. It’s the mode where you go around various Springfield locales, picking up Simpsons regulars and dropping them off at different destinations to earn money. Although this is really the only fun mode in the game, it pales in comparison to Crazy Taxi because you always start out with a minute and fifteen seconds on your clock, whereas in Crazy Taxi you had the option to start with a small variety of times up to ten minutes. The Sunday Drive and mission modes try to give the game a little depth, but they weren’t thought out enough. Sunday Drive is the same thing as Road Rage but without the timer. While it’s useful for getting to know a new area of the game, it gets old quickly because without a timer, you can’t make any money. The missions may be fun at first, but most of them revolve around going around and knocking over a number of certain items within a time limit. "Missions" is a very broad term, and whole games have been created on the premise of running missions in cars. Was "knock things over" really the only idea EA could come up with?
The game would have been a lot more interesting if EA had made Springfield into a massive infrastructure connected by a series of highways, with certain areas being closed off until you make a certain amount of money – think of the Grand Theft Auto series. But you do get six large areas of Springfield, so there’s little room to complain about the stages lacking variety. No, what you can really complain about is how poorly put together they are. Your customers are not spaced out very evenly. You’ll frequently go through level stretches in which there are no customers at all, then hit a stretch where customers are everywhere. With such a layout, you’re not only punished by the timer but you also get smacked because you can’t pick up more than one customer at a time. Furthermore, in two stages there are actually jumps which you have to successfully make in order to access certain destinations. If something that ridiculous doesn’t reek of desperation, I don’t know what does. The most grating part of the stages is that Burns and Smithers try to stop you by ramming you with their car. If they’re not around, a giant yellow bus is there to attempt the same task. Most of the time they’re easily evaded, but if you hit them, they can be so persistent it’s annoying. If they corner you, good luck getting them to back off. I can appreciate EA trying to bring up the challenge factor, but these battering rams ramp up the sadism factor as well.
When you pick up a customer, you follow directions in the form of a finger at the top of the screen pointing the way to your next destination. In a way, this form of navigation actually tops Crazy Taxi’s arrow. While you don’t get a sign telling you you’re headed the wrong way (like in Crazy Taxi), the finger in Road Rage is a lot more precise because it shows you the path in a direct sense. When you come to a fork in the road, the finger shows you which way to turn. The bad design rears its head again here because the finger sometimes doesn’t show you which way to go until it’s too late, but that’s easily corrected because some of the stages are on grids where you don’t get too far off a path unless you’re really trying. Occasionally, the game offers you bonuses for destroying things or avoiding traffic. These really don’t add anything to the game, and in fact they show that someone had a weird sense of balance because in the destruction game, the number of objects you have to destroy to get the bonus varies depending on how far you have to drive. In the safe driving game, you get to ram into all of three cars to fail, no matter how far you’re driving. And that includes the two vehicles sent to attack you.
The cars you can choose have more distinct handling differences than the cabs in Road Rage’s big spirit brother do. You can choose from a sizeable number of Simpsons regulars who all have their own vehicles. Some of the vehicles are very clever Simpsons references: Reverend Lovejoy drives his Book Burning Mobile, Professor Frink uses his flying car, and Snake drives ‘Lil Bandit. EA apparently watched old Simpsons tapes to get these obscure references. But while each car has its own handling style, the handling is a curse in most cars. Bart drives the Honor Roller soap box racer from the "Saturdays of Thunder" episode, which shows that there’s such a thing as turning too tightly. The Book Burning Mobile is just a UPS truck with a bunch of burning books in it, so its handling will be familiar to anyone who’d used the same type of vehicle in the Grand Theft Auto series. While most of the cars handle pretty much the way you would expect them to, there are more poor-handling cars than good ones.
Compared to Crazy Taxi, money and extra time are dispersed generously. But this is a grain-of-salt compliment. Crazy Taxi gets a free pass for having no plot. Road Rage does give you a plot: C. Montgomery Burns buys the Springfield public transit and jacks up the prices. The people begin their own cab companies to raise a million clams and buy back the public transit. Now let’s do some number crunching: Most of my runs end around the time I’ve made between four and seven thousand dollars. The top ten screen has a default top spot of ten thousand dollars. My best score is just over eight thousand. I’m assuming there’s a way to top the ten grand mark in a single run, but for that to happen I also have to assume an extraordinary set of circumstances would have to fall into place. It doesn’t take an accountant to figure out getting the coveted mil note will take some serious time and effort. Think you can run the same six courses while the aforementioned yellow bus appears in your dreams trying to eat you until you make a million? You’d have to really, really like the game to beat it.
Say it once and you’ve said it a thousand times: The Simpsons do not belong in three dimensions. The rendering is done very poorly. All of the characters look like either anorexics or tennis balls. And their movements are very stiff and awkward-looking. When Ralph Wiggum shows up for a ride, I wasn’t able to recognize him because the ultra-thin hair he has from the show seems to have grown in to the point where it makes his head look like a black palm tree. The vehicles have an unusual condition which makes them look cel-shaded from overhead but rendered everywhere else, and there are several vehicles missing their tops. While the rendering of the graphics looks far better than the connect-the-dot cel-shading from Simpsons Wrestling, they don’t look good on a massive general scale. Lest we forget, we live in an era in which Disney characters are also rendered in 3d and look just fine that way.
The sounds fare pretty decently at best, and you’ll smile upon hearing some classic Simpsons lines like Ralph Wiggum mentioning his old invisible friend, the pyromaniac leprechaun. The voice actors from the show were all hired by EA to give Road Rage the usual Simpsons authenticity that’s been in every Simpsons game since the 32-bit era. But two things I noticed about the voices were: 1) The lines are limited and repeated ad naseum and make absolutely no sense when strung together in pathetic attempts at conversation and 2) Simpsons actors being hired to voice-act for Simpsons games is so commonplace that I’m sick of seeing the bullet point that mentions it on the back of the package. As for music, the Simpsons theme gets a hot jazz rendition at the title screen but the game music is unobtrusive and forgettable. Same goes for other sounds – how are cars not making sounds in this game?
I’ve heard many complaints about the gameplay, but I found it to be just fine myself. There are a few cars which take corners too tightly and others which don’t corner tightly enough, but these can be chalked up to intentional design. Since I don’t play many driving games, I thought the control layout was just fine. It puts the accelerator on the GameCube's big green A button and the brake on the B button while giving you a full-time reverse button in Y. Using the shoulder buttons for the accelerator and reverse buttons while using A to brake might have made a little bit more sense because of the design of the GameCube's controller – a design like that would have given those three buttons equal emphasis, which is important because those are the only three you’ll be using.
The Simpsons Road Rage is fun for short stretches of time, but it’s a definite rent-first title. While it’s the best Simpsons game I’ve ever played, that doesn’t mean it deserves a rating over "decent." To put Road Rage to the desert island test, I will say that if I was stuck on a desert island with only The Simpsons Road Rage to play, I wouldn’t be compelled to make a desperate swim for it (as would be the case with most other Simpsons games). But it wouldn’t take me very long to build a raft.
THE SIMPSON'S ROAD RAGE starts off really fun and exciting. The premise of the game is that Mr. Burns has bought the Springfield bus transit system and it's causing more chaos in Springfield than normal. So, the citizens (led by Homer) decide to fight back and buy back the bus system. They start their own taxi service and need to raise a million dollars to buy the buses back from Burns. There are a total of six levels, five of which can be unlocked as you earn more money. Also, as you earn more … more
Mr. Burns is up to his greedy ways, purchasing the Springfield buses and jacking up the fares. Now Springfieldians must turn their cars into cabs and make enough money to buy back the buses before the clock runs out. No time for donuts, Homer.