Hey, don’t jump the shark, man

The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants (1991)

If you’ve got anything about you, then we’ll already be on the same page regarding modern day Simpsons. Your eyes will have choked down the Kesha inspired intro – that’s one way of cementing a legacy for herself, I guess. And if that wasn’t enough to put you off your Butterfinger bars, then there was the Lady Gaga episode.

It’s not like The Simpsons never whored itself out to celebrities; they had the makings of a whole top tier baseball team in one single episode, for God’s sake. But when the Lady Gaga Express is pulling into town, and we’re all supposed to go wow… well, it’s little wonder that this is the lowest rated episode of The Simpsons on IMDB.

Even U2 couldn’t kill the series. But the Lady Gaga debacle was way back in 2012 – can you imagine how horrendous things have gotten now? And then you remember the eye-watering fees the voice actors charge per episode, as their ailing voices go through the motions, delivering guffer and guffer jokes, and the whole thing almost comes right back around to being funny again. There’s not many voice actors out there who get a 30 year career out of one vehicle.

Talk about bating a dead horse. But therein lies the interesting question: when exactly did The Simpsons die? A lot of people quote the Seymour Skinner / Armin Tamzarian fiasco, when the steamed hams merchant you knew and loved as Principal Skinner turned out to be a fraud.

It’s definitely a stupid episode, but I’d say it’s funnier than you might remember, and anyway insane revelations from a character’s past are nothing new – after all, Skinner was also part of a famous barbershop quartet with Homer, presumably after his stint in Vietnam. Interesting life that guy’s led, know what I mean?

Then others cite the infamous Frank Grimes episode, where a realistic, down-at-heel guy finds himself thrust into the make-believe fantasy world that Homer lives in. Again, I think it’s a great episode, but it definitely divides opinion. Nothing wrong with a bit of experimentation, I say.

Much of the series’ rot seems to lie in how Homer’s personality changed from him being a well-meaning baboon to a smug, annoying galoot, who is nowhere near as bumbling and lovable as the guy who went back to college and plotted against that lousy dean.

For me, the first blow was the episode where Homer makes an enemy of the city of New York, but things were definitely all over after an episode called All Singing, All Dancing – a Paint Your Wagon parody episode where everything was delivered through song. Oh readers, it was painful to watch, or should I say listen to.

I think it was around this time that they started trying to make Marge funny by giving her twee jokes, which would be a bit like expecting Sybil Fawlty to start smashing the car with a tree branch, or asking Wilma Flintstone to doink Barney Rubble on the head.

It was also around this time that every episode seemed to be prefaced with, “The Simpsons are going to…” followed by some location like London where they could conveniently meet celebrities for 10 seconds. They could also do some cheap culture shock comedy, squeeze in some other wacky adventures, and mispronounce J.K. Rowling’s name. All the characters began to do that awkward collar pull every ten seconds as well, which was just irritating as hell. Finally, and this is nobody’s fault but his pig of a wife’s, they no longer had the talents of Phil Hartman to call upon.

Anyway, this was all twenty years ago now. I’m still bitter and vindictive against the cartoon, however, and I’m not even the target audience anymore. In a way, I was never the target demographic for The Simpsons, especially those very early, even more awkward episodes.

I’m talking about Seasons 1 and 2, before the Simpsons Golden Age, when Mr. Burns had a different voice, Smithers was black and Chief Wiggum had black hair and a serious demeanour. To my eternal disgust, I was born just that little bit too late for Do the Bartman to have been Number 1 on my birthday, but you can rest assured that I am so 1991.

But The Simpsons was a huge phenomenon right from the off, you know, and we’re talking so long ago that it was George Bush Senior who denounced Bart Simpson in particular as being a bad influence on the youth of America. Gosh, how innocent does that sound? From Bush v Simpson to Trump v TikTok – we’ve fallen pretty far in the last 30 years, that much is certain, and it’s not just The Simpsons that felt it.

But back then, Bart was the most rebellious, emulated boy in America and the world over, and maybe even in outer space. And wouldn’t you know it, the NES had a heap of Simpsons games, four in total. As the breakout character, most of these games see you playing as Bart, or indeed Bartman.

Of course the NES had Simpson games, it had games based on Pictionary, Family Fortunes and Jeopardy for God’s sake, so the Simpsons was a tap-in – or should I say, a tap-out. We’ll look at Bart vs. the Space Mutants in particular, because although its sister game Bart vs. the World is also mutilating to play, I find Space Mutants to be more interesting.

First and foremost, as Bart himself might say, the controls suck. It’s no Bonestorm, put it that way, and it might not even be Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge – no power drives available here, but if Bart vs. the Space Mutants prompts you to play again, you can select ‘no’ by swiftly pressing your Nintendo’s power button.

If you decide to try sticking it out, then you’d better get used to the most moribund 8-bit rendition of the famous Simpsons theme tune that you’ve ever heard, alongside a jump that not only sounds awful, but is completely bereft of physics.

Bart will move upwards alright, in a manner reminiscent of Poochy when his home planet needed him, but where you land is another story – you’ll plummet to the ground like Homer failing to make it across Springfield Gorge. Whatever US State Springfield is in, they’d better put some money into renovations because, like Main Street, there’s far too many bottomless pits around here.

Your whole objective is to foil the aliens in certain distinct ways, not by beating them in combat or hitting them with a slingshot or anything. No, it’s more like making all objects purple, to use the example from the first level, because the aliens are afraid of purple things.

Purple eh? It might have been nice to play as Patty or Selma with purple moomoos on, or failing that Marie Schrader for that extra added purple, but otherwise, the developers were quite literally pulling this plotline from their butts – perhaps the modern day Simpsons writers are doing the same thing?

You don’t see many actual Simpsons characters either, although with your trusty X-Ray Specs you can the aliens lurking within human NPC bodies, which is absolutely freaky, although you’ll be too busy getting annoyed at them bashing into you in the street and costing your health.

You don’t got much health and you especially don’t got much in the way of lives either. And when you get that Game Over, which will happen depressingly quickly, it’s right back to the start for you, with no passwords to claw your way back in either.

This is the kind of game that would give Homer nightmares, making the poor man wake up screaming, before drooling over Warren Burger and going back to bed. Does Homer even drool anymore? Does he eat donuts still? You know, I’m starting to feel like the late great Adam West, when he cameoed in the incredible Mr. Plow episode and started to bemoan present day Batman for not dancing anymore.

On that occasion, Homer had to lead his kids away from this obviously insane man. But we have to be careful: the more people like you and I go on about how The Simpsons is dead and having Cardi B as a guest-star is a disgrace, the more you’ll find that we morph into pure West. Actually, that sounds great to me.

18 June 2021

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s