The Simpsons premiered when I was in second grade, and, honestly, I didn’t really consider all of its “pieces” until I was in college (about when the DVD collections started being released, incidentally). Until I really started analyzing The Simpsons, every random bit of the show seemed perfectly mundane, and, in some cases, much more original than I thought. Even when The Simpsons called out its own foibles, I never noticed characters like Chief Wiggum or Fat Tony were archetypes at best and blatant rip-offs at worse. It’s similar to the “Nintendo Age” syndrome I described in regards to Rygar: when you’re a kid, everything is pure and “natural”, so of course there are four fingered yellow guys running around, and they’re simultaneously completely original and generationally established. Dad probably watched something just like The Simpsons when he was a kid.
That is true… kinda. The Simpsons is often compared to The Flintstones, a cartoon sitcom that premiered almost exactly thirty years before The Simpsons. The Flintstones was an unrivaled hit, and existed, in either spinoff or syndicated format, right up through The Simpsons’ premiere. It’s no wonder the two shows were compared to each other, as both defined cartoon sitcoms for a generation.
But The Simpsons was a little different, because it brought friends. While there were a number of just plain cash-in imitators to The Simpsons’ throne, there have also been a number of true “Simpsons heirs” in the last (nearly) thirty years. Between The Flintstones and The Simpsons, there was like one other well received animated sitcom (The Jetsons). Now, in that same time period, there has been The Critic, Family Guy, American Dad, South Park, Futurama, and Bob’s Burgers. All of those shows have become hallmarks of television history (“Everything stinks.”), and that list is even ignoring the fringe, “limited” programs like Duckman, Clerks: The Animated Series, or Comedy Central’s repeated animated sacrifices. Oh, and the entire Adult Swim network. In short, The Simpsons ushered in a new wave of “Animation Domination”, and now “cartoons” well and truly aren’t just for kids.
But that’s not the world that birthed The Simpsons. The Simpsons premiered as an animated short on a sketch comedy show, because who would make an animated sitcom? Cartoons feature Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse. Sure, they’re funny, but they’re madcap funny. Nobody is ever going to have an emotional moment when a cartoon person is talking about a cartoon dog, and the concept of Taz the Tasmanian Devil having a family with relatable situations? Preposterous. Cartoons are for Tom and Jerry… and The Simpsons remembered that.
Ichy and Scratchy is a part of The Simpsons. In the beginning, Itchy and Scratchy seemed to be an excuse for The Simpsons writers to goof off and lampoon The Simpsons’ violent cartoon ancestors. By the second season, Itchy and Scratchy was a stand-in for The Simpsons itself: The Simpsons was a source of controversy when it was young (hard to believe now), so the episode Ichy & Scratchy & Marge featured the Simpson matriarch protesting violent, immoral cartoons (… like The Simpsons). By Season 4, Itchy and Scratchy was an excuse for Bart and Lisa to go “behind the scenes” of the animation world, and mock The Simpsons’ production with some inside baseball cracks. From about that point on, Itchy and Scratchy continued to be a sendup of the entire world of animation, transcending its roots as a parody of olde tyme cartoons and becoming something much more modernly meta. While Itchy and Scratchy has dropped off the radar more and more in recent years (Seasons 17 & 18 didn’t do the Iggy at all), it still pops up from time to time, usually as a lazy parody of some random pop culture trend (see “The Social Petwork” from Season 23).
Now, I could easily make some jape about modern The Simpsons episodes being comprised of only “lazy parodies of some random pop culture trend” anyway, but, with Itchy and Scratchy, that is and has always been the point. Itchy and Scratchy was always meant by the Yalies in The Simpsons writing room as some kind of affectionate insult to everything that had come before in the animation world. The Simpsons is new and different, and here’s a reminder of the bad old days. Even when Itchy and Scratchy sunk into the meta bog, it still maintained the “ain’t we cool” veneer of “this is what the other guys do”. Even now, painting the Griffins into the typical Itchy and Scratchy short would create a (slightly) more violent Family Guy cutaway.
In short, Itchy and Scratchy is, and always has been, a parody.
The Itchy & Scratchy Game, thus, could have some potential. It was released in 1995, the rough pinnacle of the 16-bit era (when was Chrono Trigger released? There, that’s the pinnacle). It was also a time that the gaming universe seemed to grow a little more aware of itself. We were still a few years from Conker lambasting fifteen years of gaming tropes, but… well… someone had to notice that they made a video game out of friggen Home Improvement, right? That really deserved some mockery in its own medium. What’s more, there had even been a pretty alright Itchy & Scratchy segment in The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare. Yes, it was a deeply flawed experience, but it did approximate a basic Itchy and Scratchy “feel”. Three years had passed since Bart’s Nightmare, and that was more than enough time to flesh out a fully-realized Itchy and Scratchy game…
Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen. The Itchy & Scratchy Game really sucks.
It’s one of those… aggressively bad SNES platformers. You control Itchy, and you have to defeat Scratchy in a boring, haphazardly designed 2-D environment. You’ve got a mallet, and there’s a variety of better weapons around… but you only get one or two opportunities per level to actually acquire those weapons, so… what’s the point? And then each level ends with a boss fight against Scratchy in some kind of vehicle. Couple slippery as hell controls with boss fights that often subscribe to “stand here to not die” thinking and you don’t get a fun time. Basically, the tiniest good ideas in this terrible package are instantly obliterated by extremely bad ideas. This is the day the violence died.
And it’s a shame, because even a terrible Itchy and Scratchy game could have had at least something to say. For instance, each level is a different, wildly lame “era”. You’ve got Prehistoric, Medieval, Pirate, Atlantis, Western, Modern Construction Site, and Future. Right there, the game could use these environments to comment on gaming tropes or… nope, just boring excuses for slightly different weapons. Oh boy, a bow and arrow in Dinosaur Level, and mace in Knights Level! This… is every generic video game ever.
So that’s what we’re left with. The Itchy & Scratchy Game is everything The Simpsons ever mocked: it’s a cheap, fast, cash-in. It’s thirty years of cheap Hannah Barbara cartoons. It doesn’t stand for anything, it’s just “Hey Hey I’m talking Krusty”. There was promise here, but now it’s a mere cat skull that was devoured by ants.
… But at least there’s no Poochy.
FGC #127 The Itchy & Scratchy Game
- System: Available for Super Nintendo and Game Gear. Oddly, there was supposed to be a Sega Genesis version, but someone caught a case of the s’pose’das, and it was never released.
- Number of Players: You are Itchy. You may not be anyone else.
- Port o’ Call: The Game Gear version is just like its console big brother, but it drops the boss stages. Considering the boss stages are terrible, I have a hard time seeing this as a bad thing.
- It’s a spectrum: There is a difficulty slider for the game, from Easy to Normal to Hard. All it seems to do is modify the damage values for you (easy = more health) and your opponent (hard = more health). This is the absolute laziest way to incorporate difficulty settings… but at least it makes the game more tolerable.
- Just play the gig man: The music for this game is… something. Presumably to avoid paying royalties to a random writer, the actual Itchy and Scratchy theme is not included. Boo. That said, the rest of the music always seems to be erring just shy of becoming something copyrighted, but then pulls back. For instance, Theme from Juracid Bath gets really close to being The Flintstones theme enough times that I’m sure GiIvaSunner would be proud.
- Favorite Level: They’re all so nonspecific! I guess the Pirate Stage, aka Mutilation on the Bounty. It’s the best stage, because that’s where I turned that damn thing off.
- Did you know? In The Simpsons (and certainly not this voiceless game) Itchy is voiced by Dan Castellaneta and Scratchy is voiced by Harry Shearer. Within The Simpsons universe, both characters are voiced by June Bellamy, a parody of real-life actress June Foray, but voiced by Tress MacNeille. June Foray did actually guest in The Simpsons Season 1 finale as random receptionist. The world is a complicated place.
- Would I play again: “Well, Simpson, I must say once you’ve been through something like that [with a game], you never want to see that [game] again.”
What’s next: Random ROB has chosen… Metroid Fusion for the Gameboy Advance. Looks like dem wily metroids are at it again, and dis here bounty hunter’s gotta go rustle ‘em up. Please look forward to it!