Springfield. City on the move. Or is it? This once-bustling burb has been brought to a stand-still by the malignant magnate C. Montgomery Burns. The man who owns the nuclear power plant has bought out the Springfield Transit Corporation and is sapping the billfold of every Johnny Commuter and Janie Buspass in this fair town. The dastardly devil has even converted the buses to nuclear power and given his drivers free reign to wreak havoc on this hamlet’s otherwise sleepy streets.
But look out, Mr. Burns – the good people of Springfield are rising up to take on your transportation tyranny. They’re arming themselves with their cars and braving the bumper-to-bumper mayhem to provide shuttle service for the stranded citizenry. Will these chivalrous chauffeurs, these vigilante valets bring down Montgomery’s mass transit monopoly? Or will evil keep its grip on the wheel? Only time will tell…
Anyone who grew up during the 90’s can tell you two things that were unavoidable during the decade – 1) The dance craze known as the Macarena….sadly, and 2) The Simpson’s. It was impossible to go anywhere without seeing Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and little Maggie’s famous yellow faces plastered on any assortment of merchandise. As with nearly anything of cultural significance during the 80’s – early 2000’s the beloved franchise was shoehorned into countless video games, most of which weren’t particularly…good. However, there were a few exceptions to this as The Simpson’s Arcade Game was a classic beat em’ up. Another Simpsons game that I have a lot of great memories playing was The Simpsons: Road Rage, one of the very first games my younger brother and I received with a Nintendo Gamecube for Christmas in 2001. Does this 19-year old Simpsons/Crazy Taxi-ripoff hold up?
The Simpsons: Road Rage was first released in November of 2001 for the Playstation 2, and later that December as ports for the two newest gaming consoles – the Nintendo Gamecube and Microsoft Xbox. The game was developed by the now defunct Radical Entertainment and published by EA. At first glance one would assume Road Rage to be nothing other than a Crazy Taxi clone, but with The Simpson’s painted over it….which is mostly correct. It is nearly identical to Crazy Taxi, but set in Springfield and with the city’s residents behind the wheel. So identical in fact, that Sega filed a lawsuit against Radical Entertainment and EA which was later resolved as an out-of-court settlement.
As the excerpt from the instruction manual above details, Mr. Burns has taken over the Springfield Transit Corporation and converted the buses to use the nuclear(nuke-u-lar…it’s pronounced nuke-u-lar) energy from his plant. In an act of defiance, the angry Springfieldians band together to begin a guerilla taxi service…rather than relying on the remnants of the crumbling monorail. Players control one of five different members of the Simpson family( Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa or Grampa), with an additional twelve updstanding citizens being unlockable once you earn enough cash. There’s also four unlockable seasonal characters to use in the game. You are given a set amount of time to drive around Springfield picking up various townspeople and delivering them to their requested destinations as quickly as possible and collecting the fares. Occasionally a passenger will request you avoid collisions with other vehicles for an extra bonus, or sometimes request the opposite and encourage you to destroy a set amount of objects for a “Road Rage Bonus”. You will have time added for every fare you pick up, with another two seconds being added to the timer for every one of Mr. Burns’ bus stops you destroy. If you’ve ever played a Crazy Taxi game, you know exactly what to expect in The Simpsons: Road Rage in terms of gameplay.
The available game modes are: Road Rage, Sunday Drive, Missions and Head to Head. Road Rage is the primary mode as all of the cash earned will allow you to unlock further drivers and levels. Sunday Drive is simply a free-roam mode where you can drive around at your leisure without a countdown timer. A good way to learn the layout of the levels as well as discover the shortcuts scattered about. Missions mode offers ten different scenarios in which you are given a set amount of time to get from Point A to Point B, or a specific number of target objects to destroy. In one mission you will have to play as Bart as you escort Homer to the Power Plant before its discovered he is absent from work. Another will have you drive as Barney in a drunken rage as you run over the Springfield Isotopes mascot in various locations across town. Head to Head mode is simply Road Rage, but two players can compete for the highest score and amount of cash within two minutes. After collecting fares from playing Road Rage mode, you are given the option of unlocking a new character or a level containing a new area of Springfield in which to play. The unlocks are set at specific intervals, $15,000 and $30,000 for example, which meant as a kid I spent the majority of cash in unlocking new characters and endlessly replaying the first levels. The opening level is Evergreen Terrace, home to the Simpson family as well as the Kwik-E-Mart. The additional five unlockable levels are – Entertainment District, Springfield Dam, Nuclear Power Plant, Downtown and Springfield Mountains. The additional Springfield residents that can be unlocked are –
- Groundskeeper Willie
- Reverend Lovejoy
- Chief Wiggum
- Krusty the Clown
- Professor Frink
- Halloween Bart
- Thanksgiving Marge
- Christmas Apu
- New Year’s Krusty
Visually, the game has never looked overly impressive, especially when compared to other games released around the same time. Despite some rough textures and frame rates, the graphics are colorful and complement the color palettes of the series. Fans will also notice numerous locations referenced in the long-running show, such as Bart asking to be dropped off at the Kwik-E-Mart or Chief Wiggum, who requests you bring him to someplace where “an honest cop can find some donuts” as you hurredly drive over to Lard Lad Donuts….mmm…donuts. All your favorite Springfield locations are here – Moe’s Tavern, Krusty Burger, or even Noiseland Video Arcade.
Gameplay-wise, Road Rage has held up to a reasonable degree due to its simple premise. The steering controls are a little loose and there are some areas where the collision detection makes manuevering around corners and areas with other cars a tad frustrating, particularly as Mr. Burns will occasionally tail you in his luxury sedan trying to run you off the road as if he were holding a cease and desist letter from Sega . The game feels decent enough, though the controls don’t feel quite as polished as the game it was clearly
copying trying to emulate in Crazy Taxi. Another criticism of the game is there just isn’t much depth in terms gameplay or available game modes.
When compared to the iconic upbeat soundtrack featured in Crazy Taxi, Road Rage pales in comparison. The backing soundtrack isn’t anything remarkable, but the real area where The Simpsons: Road Rage shines through(finally!) is the fact all the in-game characters are voiced by the original voice artists – Dan Castellaneta, Hank Azaria, Harry Shearer, Nancy Cartwright, Julie Kavner, and Yeardley Smith. This provides the most memorable moments of the game as this was the first Simpsons game to feature the cast and writers of the tv show and uses many one-liners from the show. While the random quips make for some humorous “interactions”, it can start to become tedious…something witty at first, but seems less funny each time you hear it.
It’s pretty easy to see Road Rage was conceived as “Crazy Taxi, but The Simpsons”, making it impossible not to compare the two games; it borrows heavily from the Sega classic, yet could not replicate its polished gameplay. I don’t think The Simpsons: Road Rage is a bad game, but its overall sloppy feel prevents me from being able to call it a great one either. I still enjoy playing the game, but that mostly stems from being a long-time Simpsons fan as it provided the closest thing to playing an episode of the show. Since its release however, there has been several games that have more closely adapted the iconic tv show into a video game. D’oh!
Thanks for reading!