If ever a TV character deserved his own video game, it’s Bart Simpson. A first-season episode of The Simpsons concentrated on a video boxing duel between Bart and his dad, Homer, and series creators Matt Groening and James L. Brooks are reportedly big video game fans. Given the ubiquitous licensing of the Simpson characters, the arrival of a Nintendo cartridge was merely a matter of time. Happily, this particular piece of merchandising is a neat little game that preserves the cheerfully sarcastic spirit of the show.

The premise of The Simpsons: Bart Vs. The Space Mutants is appropriately wacky: Bart has discovered that aliens are invading Springfield, and only he (thanks to a set of comic-book X-ray specs) can see them. Unfortunately, the only way he can stop them is by committing acts that look — to supposedly sane postadolescents — like vandalism. For example, at the beginning of the game, the aliens need purple objects for fuel, so Bart has to spray-paint every purple thing in town. Is this all just a demented excuse for our hero to wreak havoc? Well, a peripheral task is for Bart to convince his family he’s telling the truth — by collecting evidence that some citizens of Springfield are indeed aliens in disguise.

In fact, the biggest drawback of this game is its brutally difficult opening section. However, what makes it challenging are clever strategic puzzles rather than thumb-bruising acrobatics. Bart tests reflexes and imagination in a way all too rarely seen in video games.

Parents put off by Bart’s rebellious, anti-social attitude won’t find comfort here. But those who remember what it was like to be 8 years old — and who enjoy Bart’s animated adventures — will find that this game offers an amiable respite from the mayhem endemic to popular Nintendo titles like Double Dragon and Contra. B