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Joystiq impressions: The Simpsons Game

Zack Stern

This week, EA has been strutting The Simpsons Game (working title) with good reason; I sat in on a demo and was impressed with the style and visuals of the game. EA -- in collaborating with Gracie Films and Fox -- seems to respect the franchise and wants to deliver an authentic Simpsons game, citing 8,000 lines of original dialogue created by show writers and recorded by the original cast.

The Simpsons Game looked as good as I could imagine, with great graphics and a sense that EA understands the franchise, but there's always a caveat; EA only showed the style and basics, so I have little idea of if the "Game" part of the working title will be realized. Due Fall, 2007 for all current platforms besides PC, if it's fun to play -- and yes, that's a critical "if" -- The Simpsons Game could rate high compared to any title, not just franchise tie-ins. At the very least, it should be the best-looking Simpsons game yet.

Gallery: The Simpsons Game | 23 Photos

EA showed off the current Xbox 360 version of the 3D action/adventure title. The graphics, while only "70 percent finished" easily matched the look of the show; we've seen cel-shaded games for years, but this title maintains character outlines and other hallmarks of Korea's fine animation industry.

Beyond the look, the game is expected to be authentic in other ways. The Simpsons will embark on a new adventure unrelated to previous shows or this summer's movie. The game will feature the original voice cast -- the demo only had place-holders by sound-alike voices -- playing 100 of the show's characters. Guest stars and cameos were also mentioned, although specific actors were not named. EA even said that it could go back to old shows to pull dialogue; while the company didn't confirm any specific plans to do so, this method could bring Phil Hartman's old stable of characters into the game.

Another 100 characters will be new to the game. EA didn't elaborate on who they would be, but the addition of so many -- even if background players -- is one of the only known parts of the game that concerns me. We'll have to see what role those newcomers play; EA is rightly pushing this title to Simpsons fans, and new faces may make the muddle experience.

In addition to the new characters, The Simpsons Game will take other liberties. Early on, the Simpson clan realizes that it's living in a videogame, and EA uses that approach to embellish where needed. EA said that the title will lampoon the videogame industry, implying that posters at the event could be played out within The Simpsons Game. One demo also passed a "SequelStop" with the same logo as GameStop, and the title will also target greater pop culture beyond games.

The Simpsons world will clearly be rooted in the regular series, but some Treehouse of Horror-syle rule bending will be brushed on. Bart can turn into Bartman in order to float in updrafts with his cape and use his Batman-esque tools. Lisa can become Clobber Girl or meditate to direct the "Hand of Buddha," a literal hand that moves huge objects. Homer becomes Homerball, a blubbery homage to Katamari Damacy that rolls and bounces around stages. Marge nags bystanders -- including show regulars -- with a megaphone, assembling a mob of people to attack targets. And in certain situations, Maggie crawls out of Marge's backpack to navigate air ducts and other tight spaces. Plus she shoots a gun. Okay, EA didn't state that for sure, but the company said we should consider all the things Maggie has done in the episodes.

All of those Simpsons characters will be playable depending on the situation. The 16-episode structure will feature two characters working together to complete objectives. (Marge and Maggie will always be together and count as one character, but Maggie will crawl on her own at certain points.) For example, Bart will jump higher than Lisa, letting him reach a lever to open a gate for both of them. EA doesn't have any online plans, but instead, players will drop-in and -out of a split-screen mode. If gaming alone, players will swap between the two characters, and basic AI will control the unused Simpson.

All six versions of the game will have the same storyline, although EA promises specific customizations for certain consoles, like the Wii, DS, and PS3. EA wouldn't specify how those controls will work, but offered an idea for the Wii: in an eating contest, players might control Homer by raising the controllers to their mouth.

With the 100 new characters and 8,000 lines of dialogue, my biggest concern is that EA is making a Simpsons show instead of a game. The company even touted 60 minutes of new video interspersed into the title. At its events, EA has demonstrated mostly the setting and look of the game, leaving gameplay and other critical questions up in the air. But EA nailed the look and style of the The Simpsons Game, leaving me optimistic that the gameplay could live up to that standard.

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