Tag Archives: commodore 64

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

This is how reproduction worksIf you’re at all interested in videogames, you’ve probably heard of the horrors of game preservation. Videogames are, almost by design, ephemeral. They’re here on the current software, and, if a game is a hit, you can be sure you’ll see it return in the next generation (maybe with a HD remaster!). If a game is a “cult classic”, you might spy a few nerds getting really excited when it shows up on what passes for the next generation’s virtual console. But, if it fails to make an impact, and it fails to have a big name attached to it, then it is likely gone forever. There are literally thousands of games that have languished on their original hardware, never to be seen by an audience ever again.

And this is, without question, a bad thing. More than any other medium, videogames are iterative and absolutely rely on what has come before. Sure, we all like to look at “defining” games like Mario and Zelda to explain where gaming has originated (and where it’s going), but the failures are just as important as the successes. Krion Conquest shows us exactly how to make Mega Man wrong. Early Metroidvania titles (Goonies 2 comes to mind) exemplify what features should be left on the cutting room floor (like God damn birds that steal your items). And the early xeroxes of Doom and Final Fantasy 7 demonstrate exactly what can go wrong in a FPS or JRPG. A bad movie is generally just a bad movie, but there is so much involved in a bad videogame, that there is much to learn past “don’t do that”.

And then there are chunks of our history that are lost forever not because they were somehow unworthy, but because of the great equalizer of all mediums: the legal department.

Munching alongJr. Pac-Man is a Pac-Man arcade game from 1983. The title made it to the Atari 2600 in ’86 (four years after the initial, disastrous Atari Pac-Man), and DOS/Commodore 64 two years later. In other words, it made the rounds in its day. However, you won’t see Jr. Pac-Man past 1990. It did not appear on any of the “modern” consoles, like the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was not an unlockable in the arcade of Pac-Man 2. And, even today, when you score a Pac-Man collection on your platform of choice, it does not contain Jr. Pac-Man. The character of “Pac-Man’s son” might pop up from time to time, but his titular videogame is nowhere to be found. What happened?

Well, the answer to that is simple: Jr. Pac-Man never should have been born. Namco is the creator of the once and future Pac-Man, and merely licensed the property to Bally-Midway for release in the states. Then Pac-Man fever infected the nation… and Midway needed to sell more arcade machines. Everybody already had Pac-Man, and, thus, only arcade owners were raking in the quarters, not the arcade cabinet manufacturers. So, in a desperate bid to revitalize the Pac-Market, Midway released a slew of new Pac-Content. Ms. Pac-Man is the most famous example, but we also saw Baby Pac-Man, Professor Pac-Man, and the abhorrent Pac-Man Plus, a game that I’m almost certain is naturally haunted (not talking about the ghosts, they’re normal). And, from this bumper crop of Pac-Merchandise, we also saw Jr. Pac-Man.

So flashyAnd Jr. Pac-Man might be one of the best of the Midway Alterna-Pacs. It’s never going to dethrone Ms. Pac-Man, but it has some pretty interesting mechanics. For one thing, for better or worse, it’s the first Pac-Man title designed with a scrolling maze. This means bigger stages, naturally, but also a little more tension with monsters that could be doing anything when they’re off screen. And the bonus items now have much more of an impact on gameplay: an item (no longer just fruit, now we’ve got bicycles, trains, and… a cat?) will move around the maze of its own volition, and “fatten” the traditional pellets. A fat pellet will grant Junior more points, but they also slow this Pac down the tiniest bit… which can make a significant impact when there’s a ghost on your tail. But that’s not all! In a move that can only be described as a betrayal of everything a bonus item stands for, if an item comes in contact with a Power Pellet, both the item and the pellet will explode! And you’re down a Power Pellet! Oh, the humanity!

And, most bizarrely of all, Jr. Pac-Man decides to add to the Pac-Mythos. The round clear cinema scenes of Ms. Pac-Man showcased the pairing of two Pacs, and the attract mode of Jr. Pac-Man features the stork dropping off the new Pac-Bundle. Jr. Pac-Man scenes show another love story, but one between Junior and… a ghost! Yum-Yum is Blinky’s daughter, and it’s clear that he does not approve of these star-crossed lovers. Will Pac-Man Jr. run off with a tiny ghost with a bow in her hair (“hair”)? Play the game to find out!

Or don’t, because you can’t play the thing anywhere.

So verticalFor the sin of creating a licensed-but-unapproved Pac-Man title, Bally-Midway will no longer see any profits from the adventures of the second-littlest Pac. As a result, Jr. Pac-Man is not allowed to appear in any Pac-Collections, and, should you mention Jr. Pac-Man in polite company, the duchess shall be offended, and you will be asked to leave the premises. Jr. Pac-Man may be an interesting twist on the Pac-Formula, but it is nothing more than a redheaded step child to Namco, so it must be thrust out into the cold, never to be seen again (except maybe at Thanksgiving).

And more’s the pity.

Jr. Pac-Man isn’t the best Pac-Man game out there. It might not even be in the top three. But is it better than Pac-Land? Is it more of a Pac-Man game than Pac-Man 2? Does it have more to say about Pac-Play than Pac-Mania? There’s a clear “yes” to each of those questions. Jr. Pac-Man might not be an instant classic, but it’s unavoidably part of the Pac-Pantheon, and should be regarded as such. Jr. Pac-Man deserves a seat at the table, and that means someone born after 1988 deserves a chance to play it.

But it’s never going to happen, because of a licensing dispute from thirty years ago.

Videogame preservation is important, but it seems like the legal department is more important.

FGC #398 Jr. Pac-Man

  • System: Arcade, Atari 2600, DOS, and Commodore 64… and then never again. If you can’t tell, you’re seeing Arcade and Atari 2600 for this article.
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Does this means the Pacs have two sons?
  • Attempted Preservation: In an effort to find some version of Jr. Pac-Man, I managed to turn up a random flash version online.

    Not wakka

    It is… not great.

  • Continuity Issue: Actually, Jr. Pac-Man first appears as part of Ms. Pac-Man (the game… man, the phrasing on that sentence is weird) being dropped off by the stork as part of a later cinema scene. But then he arrives at the start of Jr. Pac-Man, when the Pacs have a home? Which is it, Pac-Authors?
  • Favorite Item: The final released maze is the “beer maze”. Let’s just go ahead and assume that’s a root beer, and Jr. Pac-Man is not trying to get drunk with his bad-influence ghost girlfriend.
  • What’s in a name: The orange ghost of Jr. Pac-Man is known as… Tim. Maybe he’s a ghost wizard?
  • Did you know? Ms. Pac-Man was a Midway hack, too, but Namco liked it. Go fig.
  • Would I play again: I would like to, but there’s no way I’m fighting the Atari into playing this cartridge anytime soon. I suppose I could always drop a quarter in this guy, though…

    WAKKA WAKKA

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Pocket Tennis Color for the Neo Geo Pocket Color! It’s going to be 399-Love here at the FGC. Please look forward to it!

FGC #376 Ghostbusters (NES)

Who you gonna call?Ghostbusters NES is an eternal plastic monument to how Goggle Bob was a stupid, stupid child.

It all starts with the Commodore 64. For anyone that missed it (because you’re not old as dirt), the Commodore 64 was basically the home personal computer before anyone could afford personal computers. It accepted (inevitably multiple) giant floppy discs, the printer was dot matrix, and it had roughly the same processing power as a bag of doritos, but it could help with work and games! Imagine! A device that mom could use for word processing, and Little Bobby could use for playing exciting games where one block attacked another block! And there were rudimentary programming applications available! Never forget Logo Writer, the “game” where you programmed a turtle to do whatever you desired… assuming you could master Logo programming language, a programming language never to be seen again.

If you haven’t already guessed from that glowing paragraph, the Commodore 64 was my secret origin in more ways than one. Before there was even a NES in the house, the Commodore 64 could (with proper supervision) be utilized by Wee Goggle Bob. And, while I abused the word processing program before I even really knew how to write (I lurned at some point, right?), my favorites on the C64 were always the games. There were many available (I’m not going to accuse my sainted mother of software piracy, but it sure seemed like our C64 library expanded faster than other systems where you couldn’t copy that floppy), but my top choices were always two games: Rampage and Ghostbusters. Rampage was pure Id, and often the choice for two players, but Ghostbusters was much more cerebral.

ZAPGhostbusters might have been my first “comprehensive” videogame. Mario Bros and Mega Man are amazing titles, but they only require you to understand the alphabet up to its second letter (the letter that lets you shoot). Ghostbusters on the Commodore 64 tried to do something different and much more complex. The plot of Ghostbusters is not that you are Ray and Egon, no, you’re you, and you’re starting up a Ghostbusters franchise in New York City. You’re responsible for purchasing equipment, you’re responsible for maintaining your haunted bank account, and, if a Marshmallow Man stomps a building to bits, it’s your ass that is getting fined. While the game does feature a lot of repetitive nonsense (driving to locations is almost entirely pointless, and catching ghosts doesn’t really warrant a half hour of the same gameplay over and over again), there’s enough planning involved that the whole experience could truly challenge players of all ages. Wee Goggle Bob just enjoyed hearing the theme song and getting slimed, but C64 Ghostbusters was borderline WRPGian in its complexity. Screw Dragon Warrior, this is where you could really learn about inventory management while fighting monsters.

And then, four years later, we were burdened with Ghostbusters on the NES. Good news: the car segments are now more interesting, as you can dodge other vehicles and score gas cans as you drive over to your next haunted mansion. Bad news? If you run out of gas, it leads to a “pushing the car” scene so boring, the concept would not be revisited in gaming for at least twenty years. And if you so much as nudge another car, you lose $400 (in 80s dollars!). Once you arrive, capturing ghosts is mostly the same, but 90% of the interesting “Ghostbuster franchise” gameplay has been dropped. Randomly forming giant gelatinous gentlemen are a thing of the past, and any sort of indication as to what you’re supposed to be doing or working towards is gone forever. And, should you survive the experience for entirely too long, you’ll be granted access to fight the final battle.

And that’s when the fun really starts.

The final stage of Ghostbusters is a trek up 25 or so floors of nothing but stairs. And you can’t just “walk”, no, you have to hammer the A/B buttons to get your Ghostbusters to scuttle forward. If you don’t have a turbo controller, please give up immediately, it’s not worth the permanent damage to your thumbs. But even with that (NES) advantage, you have to dodge a set of four ghosts with random patterns the entire time, and, three hits later, it’s game over, man. And the game over screen is depressing!

Loser!

Your only options to survive are outright cheating (say hello, Game Genie), or purchase a pile of helpful items from the shop… which would only require about an hour of ghost grinding. It is nearly impossible to conceive of someone beating this area “the right way”, left alone being ready for more after such a feat.

But assuming you scale those stairs, you’re still not done! The peak of the building features Gozer the Gozerian flanked by Zuul and Vinz, and you’ve basically got a bullet hell final boss. But that’s not all! The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is scaling the building, so, every once in a while, you have to retreat, zap Stay Puft down to the ground floor, and then, finally, resume your assault on Gozer. Lose at any point, and its game over. Actually succeed (against all odds), and you’ll be rewarded with one of the lamest victory screens in all of gaming.

Winner!

Thanks for playing the worst port of a licensed game ever!

But, for me, the “conglaturation !!!” screen is not the end of the embarrassment. No, the worst part of NES Ghostbusters is how I would have done anything to see that stupid ending.

I didn’t own Ghostbusters NES as a child, but a friend, Kevin, did have a copy. By about this time, the Commodore 64 had either been mothballed (I still have it!) or was just occupying the space in my head that said “that’s mom’s computer”, and it didn’t see any additional Ghostbusters time from yours truly. As a result, I had a fuzzy memory of “old Ghostbusters” to compare to new NES Ghostbusters. I recognized that you couldn’t buy a new car like in C64 GB, but, other than that, I assumed it was mostly the same game. And then revisiting the game at a friend’s house years (and many other games) later, I was determined to team up with Kevin and beat Gozer once and for all. Our parents didn’t let us sticky, clumsy kids take games out of the house, so I was unable to connect my Game Genie to Kevin’s Ghostbusters cartridge. Thus, thanks to horrible/prescient parenting, we were unable to cheat. But Kevin and I were in this together, and we were going to beat Ghostbusters if it killed us.

Spoilers: we are now both dead. Big twist: this article is being written by a ghost.

SexyIn all honesty, I think the friendship between Kevin and I couldn’t survive the mental strain of trying to complete this horrid NES game. But try we did! We couldn’t stop ourselves, and we were convinced it was our fault we couldn’t scale those damn stairs. How could there be a bad thing based on the Ghostbusters franchise? We love those guys! They’d never steer us wrong! And the Commodore 64 version was pretty fun! This is the version on the same system as Castlevania 3! It has to be good! What are we doing wrong?!

And then, decades later, ROB chose this ghastly game. And then I played it side by side with its C64 brother. And then, finally, after years of experience, I learned that Ghostbusters for NES is just the worst. I’m okay, Kevin is probably okay (we lost touch sometime after Sega Genesis), and it was Ghostbusters that was wrong all along.

So I only spent 30 years wallowing in ignorance. Could be worse. Could be 71 years…

FGC #376 Ghostbusters (NES)

  • System: A version more or less similar to this Ghostbusters appeared on the Commodore 64, Atari 2600, Atari 800 (don’t be confused by the lower number, it was the greater system), and Sega Master System. And, yes, NES, because there wasn’t enough pain in the world.
  • Number of players: Looks like we can get three Ghostbusters on the screen at a time, but only one player is allowed.
  • GrrrrJust play the gig, man: The Commodore 64 version starts with the Ghostbusters theme, and a “karaoke” style display of the lyrics so you can sing along to your favorite legally Huey Lewis song. This joy is mitigated somewhat by the digitized Ghostbusters theme being looped forever for the entire game.
  • Big Finale: There is no crazy staircase in the C64 version, but you do have to avoid a skipping Stay Puft Marshmallow Man before booking it upstairs to cross the streams and save the day. It is a tremendously more satisfying climax.
  • New Game Plus: And speaking of which, beating the C64 version will reward the player with a password that will allow the Ghostbusters to start with more money on the next playthrough. This might be the first “new game plus” feature in a videogame.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: All of these bullet points are about the C64 version because I never want to see the NES version ever again.
  • Did you know? The Commodore 64 version has four cars available for purchase, and one is a 1963 Hearse. This is the closest vehicle to the “real” Ecto-1 available, and may be purchased for $4,800. Strangely enough, the car’s model does not correspond with the movie’s Ecto-1, but the price is exactly what Ray pays for the vehicle. Take canon where you can find it.
  • Would I play again: Never. Never ever ever. There isn’t a ghost of a chance.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Dragon Warrior for the NES! Dammit! Is this because I insulted the title earlier in this article? I feel like I’m being punished with gaming history. Oh well. Please look forward to it.

This sucks

FGC #370 Mighty Bomb Jack

Mighty!Jack? Mighty Bomb Jack? You want to know about good ol’ Jack? Ha! Okay, pull up a stool, I’ll tell you about Jack.

First thing you gotta understand about this whole thing is that it was the 80’s. You’re probably too young to remember this, but back then, we had kind of this… fad going. Not some stupid fidget spinner nonsense or pants around your ankles or whatever, no, back then we knew how to make a fad. Back then we had style. Back then, this circular fella, he had an eating disorder, and he decided to make that some kind of noble thing. He got his yellow ass chased by some ghosts, and suddenly, everybody was callin’ him a hero. A hero! For popping pills! But it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that everybody was worshipping this round boy, and then a couple of other guys get it in their heads that they want to be heroes, too. Before anybody realized what was happening, everybody was claiming to be a hero, and, for a whole quarter, you could hear their stories. And it might sound crazy, but some men got rich off those quarters.

Now, back when it all first happened, it was just random yokels running and jumping. I knew this guy, simple guy, had a simple name like Harvey or Harry or whatever, this guy decides he’s gonna run through some jungles, and get rich doing it. And he did! But you look for Henry on the street, even when he was at his most famous, and you’d never recognize him. Green shirt, green pants, he’s just some average schmoe. And a lot of the other “heroes” noticed that. Some people, they’re cool with not being recognized, but people who were trying to earn barrels full of quarters through their own “brand” alone? Those were not the kind of people that wanted anonymity. Those were the kind of people that want to be known, nay, lauded for their deeds and style. So the big costume craze hit next, and by ’84, Jack was getting ready to hit the scene.

WeeeeeNow, I mentioned that whole costume thing for a reason. A few years before Jack, there was this Italian fellow. Word was this kid was a carpenter or a plumber or something, but what was important was that he made the whole “blue collar” thing work. Personally, I never cared for it, because, come on, you got your first initial monogramed on your hat? What? You couldn’t afford to stick your whole name up there? Need to collect a few more coins, champ? But who cares, you’re not talking to me for my fashion advice, and neither was Jack. Jack comes to me, I remember this was April of ’83, and Jack says to me, “This new guy! They’re calling him Jump Man! I’m Jumpin’ Jack! What am I supposed to do?” And you know what? Jack had a point.

See, Jack had one amazing skill: he could jump good. You see your basketball players nowadays, and everybody says “they’ve got the ups”, but Jack? Jack could jump the entire height of a warehouse. Guy could jump up to the moon if he had to, and, believe me, he thought he might have to. Jack had always been good at jumping, and now, out of nowhere, there’s this other guy, and everybody is calling him Jump Man. And the kicker? He couldn’t even jump that well! He could vault a barrel, which, don’t get me wrong, is pretty hard in a stressful situation, but could he jump up to the top and jump on that giant monkey pal of his? No! Everybody is calling this schmuck “Jump Man”, but he can barely jump, and our expert jumper Jack here is going to come out, call himself a master jumper, and everybody is just going to say he’s ripping off the other guy. I tell ya, Jack was distraught.

So I says to him, I says, “Jack, look at this loser. He’s wearing overalls. Give it a couple years, nobody is going to remember this dingus. He’s a nobody, and you’re a somebody. You, you’re gonna bring class back to this whole operation. You’re not a ‘Jump Man’, you’re a Mighty Man! You’re gonna jump, you’re gonna jump the best out of all of ‘em, and they’re gonna call you Mighty Jumpin’ Jack! Totally different guy from that mustachioed loser. And you’re gonna let ‘em know it, too! You’re gonna wear a circus strongman getup, strap on a cape, and wear an awesome helmet with horns on the sides. Nobody is going to mess with you.”

Hey hot stuffJack was a good guy, and, while I know I might have gotten a little crazy with that hat idea at the end, he immediately went for it. He was excited, and you could see it in his eyes. He started talking about how he was going to go to Egypt, and beat back an army of mummies, and save everybody from the pyramids, and, God, I think back on it, and it was like watching a man get born all over again. Now he was a man with a mission, and Mighty Jumping Jack was going to be the world’s next biggest hero.

Of course, things got a little complicated for Jack along the way. Every hero needs a villain, and this scoundrel by the name of Belzebut stepped up to challenge our boy. Seems it wouldn’t be enough for Jack to collect treasures in the pyramids of yore, nope, he also had to collect the million or so bombs that Belzebut had strewn about the place. That Belzebut had this whole “if I can’t have it all, I’ll blow it all up” thing going on, and, yes, we all needed a hero to save our priceless Egyptian monuments. Jack collects the bombs with his jumping skills, saves the day, and we’re all set forever. You really think about it, the whole situation should have made our jumping pal an international star. But you see Mighty Jumping Jack on any t-shirts lately? No, no you do not.

I blame those stupid bombs.

I want to say this again, and I know I just said it, but you’ve gotta pay attention to this: Jack collected bombs. He dodged mummies, nabbed treasure, and gathered bombs so he could defuse them. Jack never, not even once, used those bombs. Bombs were Jack’s enemy. No like bombs. Very straightforward. Bombs bad.

What is even happening hereBut Jack saves a international monument, comes back to the states, and starts telling his tale to these blokes at Tecmo. Jack goes through the whole rigmarole, mentions the bomb thing like, once, and what do they call him? Mighty Jumping Jack dies, and Mighty Bomb Jack stands in his place. Mighty Bomb Jack! I tell you, nobody reads Bat Joker Man comics, and nobody is going to see the latest movie with Luke Deathstar Skywalker. You don’t put the enemy in the title! Everybody thinks the exact wrong thing! They expect a guy that is gonna use bombs, and they get a guy that is good at jumping! No bombing involved! What is the audience supposed to think, huh? I’ll tell you what they think: they think that they got ripped off! You want mighty bombs, you go deal with that bomber git, not our pal Jack. Jack is for the jumper in us all, and nobody remembers that thanks to those fat cats at Tecmo.

Well, you know the rest of the story. Mighty Bomb Jack saved a pyramid or two, rescued a royal family, and hung up his horned helmet shortly thereafter. People enjoyed Jack’s antics, but it was a crowded market back then, and Jack started off on far too wrong a foot to ever survive. In time, other trends started to take over, and, by about the time “rodents with attitude” started being a thing, ol’ Jack had been completely forgotten. Sunrise, sunset, I suppose.

But don’t worry about Jack. You know that royal family he rescued? Well, he married a princess, and I hear that they’ve got a grandkid coming any day now. Can that plumber fella say that? I don’t think so. And, while Jack might not be the best known American hero, Egypt hasn’t forgotten Jack’s contributions, and they got him a modest statue in one of their big cities. Cairo? I’m sorry, I’m not much for geography. Point is that Mighty Bomb Jack, terrible name and all, is remembered some places. Oh! And he donated most of that treasure stash to orphans! So there’s a lot of good in this world now thanks to a guy that just really, really knew how to jump.

What’s that the kids say nowadays? He’s the bomb? Yeah, maybe you were just ahead of your time, Jack. Jack, you were a mighty man, and the bomb.

… Ugh, that sounds terrible.

Now pour me another pint, and I’ll tell you what really happened to Alex Kidd.

FGC #370 Mighty Bomb Jack

  • Good biosphereSystem: Mighty Bomb Jack was originally a NES game, but then appeared on nonsense like the Atari ST, Commodore 64, and Gameboy. Only one of those things qualifies as a real system. Oh, and Wii Virtual Console, too.
  • Number of players: There was a Vs. version that had two players, but it’s single player on the NES, so we’re going with that.
  • Who put the Mighty in Mighty Bomb Jack: The original Bomb Jack was a single screen, hop around affair for the arcade. Mighty Bomb Jack added fully scrolling stages, and relegated the “single room” areas primarily to bonus rooms. … Or at least they felt like bonus rooms. Point being that this is basically the same difference between Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros., except Nintendo expanded that property into a gigantic, sprawling franchise, and Tecmo did not grant Bomb Jack the same boon.
  • Favorite Confusing Moment: Mummies are Jack’s primarily antagonists. Mummies are capable of transforming into parrots, skulls, and bugs. Life is like fighting a mummy, you never know what you’re going to get.
  • Did you know? If you collect too many powerups in Mighty Bomb Jack, you are sentenced to the Torture Room, where you must survive for a set amount of time before being granted an exit.

    What?

    Could you imagine if this feature was implemented in other videogames? Could you imagine if it was implemented in a Wario title? It would change the face of gaming. … For the worse.

  • Would I play again: Oh yeah, this game is really boring. And annoying. Sorry, Jack, you’re going back into retirement.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Taz-Mania for… Let’s make things interesting! All next week, we’ll be pitting SNES and Genesis titles against each other in a no-holds-barred battle for supremacy. So we’ll be kicking it off with Taz-Mania for the Sega Genesis vs. Taz-Mania for the Super Nintendo. And we’ll wash it all down with a refreshing glass of OJ. Please look forward to it!

FGC #363 The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants

Here come those SimpsonsThe Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants is either one of the most clever, innovative licensed games of the early 90’s, or it’s a steaming pile of garbage.

It’s The Simpsons!

TS:BvtSM was the first Simpsons videogame. At the time, The Simpsons was a bonafide cultural phenomenon, having premiered (basically) a year earlier (technically The Simpsons started [as an independent series] in 1989, but it was December 17, so that barely counts… there, satisfied, nerds?), and setting the world ablaze with that whacky Bart Simpson and his lovable catchphrase… uhh… it was something about eating cow, I think. It was a long time ago! Regardless, at the time, there was more Simpsons merchandise than you could shake an officially licensed Groundskeeper Willie protractor at, so a videogame was just a matter of time. This title scooted out the door before… let’s see here… the game was initially released the same week as the premiere of Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment, Season 2, Episode 13, Production Code #7F13. This means the game was likely planned and produced before the second season even aired. Imagine! A time when there were only thirteen episodes of The Simpsons! John Swartzwelder had only written four scripts!

This, naturally, led to the game being written while Springfield still had a pretty shallow pool of characters and quirks. Lisa Simpson, for instance, had barely been established as the smartest little girl in town, and was hardly more than Bart’s sister. Maggie did not possess her love of firearms, and Homer still only sounded brain-damaged, as opposed to actually being brain-damaged. Realize that Bart Simpson (who the hell are you?) was the most developed Simpson, and this game starts to take shape.

On the other hand

Did any of these versions even get the colors for our favorite family right?

It's Bart!

Don’t tell me the NES couldn’t support Marge’s usual green! Maggie got it for some reason! And the Genesis has absolutely no excuse! 16-Bits of raw power! And nobody look at Homer’s shoes! They’re weird! Basically, pick your version, but everyone is just off model enough to be recognizable, but completely wrong.

And that’s before you get into the actual usage of The Simpsons characters. Homer is known for dropping black sludge and hanging out at the museum, right? And who could tear Marge Simpson away from the mall? It’s nice that someone tried to wedge the whole family in there before their personalities were completely solidified (and then fossilized), but Maggie randomly shoving bowling balls at Nelson Muntz… doesn’t make the most sense.

The Plot ain’t Bad!

Here he comes!Bart was the pint-sized star of the show back in the 90’s, so naturally he was featured in an adventure where he… fought aliens?

That sounds a little crazy for a typical cartoon sitcom family, but it’s not that absurd. The whole point of a “side story” like this is that it is something you wouldn’t normally see on a “mundane” series until about the 562nd episode, so fighting aliens seems like fair game. After all, it’s an excuse for Bart to get out there and do something good. In fact, it plays into the whole “Bart the scamp” narrative, as it gives our lovable hero an excuse to commit mischief, but, ha ha, he’s doing it for the good of the human race, and no one must ever know. He’s not spray painting trash cans because he’s a lil’ bastard, he’s doing it for the world. Hey, look, this whole thing is a lot more believable than the entire family beating up Homer’s boss in a giant mecha suit.

On the other hand

This is the exact same plot as Fester’s Quest.

Sitcom protagonist learns there’s an alien invasion, gets some help from his family, and ventures forth to save the day.

It's Bart! It's Fester!

They’ve probably even got the same stupid glasses!

And, yes, for anyone wondering, Fester’s Quest was released two years prior. Is this some popular trope I’m missing? Am I out of touch? No, it’s the producers who are wrong.

The Gameplay ain’t Bad!

So the aliens are going to take over the world, and they need particular objects to achieve their global dominance. In each level, Bart is tasked with stealing and/or destroying every one of these objects he can find. For instance, in the first level, the aliens are using objects that are purple, so Bart must do everything in his power to mask or destroy all purple objects in Springfield. And you, Bart-troller, have got options!

There is a lot of purple in Springfield, and this leads to a number of different techniques and tricks for repelling the purple menace. Spray paint is the first and most obvious option, but outright destruction through cherry bombs and firecrackers is allowed. And sometimes you can even find ways to make the purple come to you, like by crank calling Moe’s Tavern and spray painting his signature purple apron (?) when he comes out to murder the ten year old. Honestly, the whole situation, complete with a talking statue imparting sage advice, becomes almost indistinguishable from King’s Quest and other adventure games. And we needed more creativity like that in gaming at the time! We still do! And Mario should have access to firecrackers!

On the other hand

UGHEvery other level sucks.

The first stage presents this huge, expansive Springfield where you have to solve riddles and interact with the denizens of our favorite stink town. And, from that point on… it’s just a lousy platformer. The second level is all floating platforms (over “wet cement”, the lamest of all bottomless pit substitutes) and mini bosses. The third level seems like it might be returning to the “town” atmosphere of the first stage, but then it turns out it was just a few mini games that quickly devolve into more lousy platforming hijinks. The museum of the next stage is an excuse for rejected levels from other videogames (which would later become the theme of 16-bit Simpsons titles), and the final stage is a maze. This is not to imply that the last level is a fun maze; no, this is more akin to “find the right path” castles from the original Super Mario Bros. They were not fun there, and they are certainly not fun in a labyrinth featuring space aliens.

And this all wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if Bart didn’t control so absolutely terribly. For reasons that can only be described as a hate crime, Bart’s “run” button is the same as his jump button, so you must hold jump to build momentum, and then… press jump to jump. It’s a little unintuitive. And it also makes some of the smaller platforms nearly impossible. This wouldn’t be noticeable if more of the game was like the introductory level, but instead we’re dealing with nearly impossible gaps seven seconds into the second stage. Oh, and if you want a little more momentum while jumping, then you press the action button, because that makes perfect sense and wastes whatever limited ammo item you might have for the stage. Everything is coming up Milhouse!

The Bosses ain’t Bad

It's Moe!Okay, the levels might suck, but the bosses are cool. The first level sees Bart battling Nelson, just like in Bart the General. The second stage is versus the Babysitter Bandit, who nearly stared in the first Simpsons episode! Krusty Land is dominated by Sideshow Bob, and Dr. Marvin Monroe is employing shock therapy at the head of the museum. There’s no boss for the final level at the Nuclear Power Plant, but one would assume that’s only because C. Montgomery Burns was getting ready for his big beat ‘em up premiere in the arcades.

On the other hand

None of these boss fights make any sense. Okay, maybe Nelson gets a pass, but hopping on a psychiatrist’s head is just confusing. And Bart and Lisa may have discovered the nefarious Ms. Botz thanks to her suitcase, but reversing gravity on bags while Marge chucks bowling balls is a little unusual. Sideshow Bob almost makes sense with the foot stomping thing, but if you somehow missed that episode, it’s nearly impossible to realize what you’re supposed to do during that battle. Is there a single other spot in the gaming universe where foot stomping is the right answer?

And that’s basically The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants in a nutshell. It’s unique among its videogame peers… but it’s also kind of terrible. No fun, and no satisfaction. And no fun and no satisfaction make Goggle Bob something something.

FGC #363 The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants

  • Thanks, GrandpaSystem: I always think of this as a NES game, but it’s also available for Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Game Gear, Master System, and Sega Genesis. The screenshots for most of this article are from the Sega Genesis version.
  • Number of Players: It’s Bart! He’s alone.
  • Port-O-Call: I’m not going to try every version, but I can safely say that the Genesis port has more faithful graphics (though not completely faithful graphics), but less official Simpsons music than the NES version. This is probably for the best, as you can only listen to the Simpsons Main Theme so many times before mailing dead lemmings to Danny Elfman.
  • An End: The finale features Bart Simpson defeating the Space Mutants, and then, in an act of contrition, they paste Bart’s head on Mount Rushmore. Depending on the version, Bart’s head is either erected on the far left or far right side of the monument. Does… that mean something?
  • Favorite Simpsons character (this game): Krusty the Clown is the icon for 1-Ups, and he’s got his own carnival, and you explore a giant version of his head, but I don’t think he actually appears anywhere in the game as a proper human being. So I think he wins by default for just providing a pile of off-brand merch in his absence.
  • HAW HAWDid you know? Bart fights aliens in this title, but they are notably not Kang and Kodos. And, for that matter, the space mutants don’t look consistent between their bipedal and tiny-tentacled forms. And they look totally different between different versions of the title, too. Weird aliens.
  • Would I play again: Nope. Don’t have a cow, man, but this game kinda sucks to play. It’s an interesting curiosity, but I’m not touching it again.


What’s next?
Random ROB has chosen… The Adventures of Bayou Billy for the NES! I guess it’s suddenly very hard NES games week! Or something! Please look forward to it!