''The Simpsons Game'' offers much to diehard fans of the classic TV show; ''Guitar Hero III'' is yet another worthy installment in the best-selling franchise


(Electronic Arts; Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PSP, Wii, and DS; Teen)

The year-long Simpsons onslaught (The 400th episode! The hit movie! The real-life Squishees sold at 7-11s!) continues with this videogame virtualization of the truly iconic TV series. And more so than previous Simpsons titles — which mostly fell into genres (including racing, skateboarding, and wrestling) — this game mines the rich legacy of the show’s 19 seasons. Here’s the set-up: after Bart realizes he’s trapped in a videogame (and now endowed with super-powers), clan Simpson bands together to (literally) meet their maker and escape from their console confines.

Although you only get to play as Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Bart (and, to a lesser extent, baby Maggie), you’ll spend plenty of time with the upstanding citizens of Springfield. And we don’t just mean Krusty, Ned, Mr. Burns, Moe, Nelson, Apu, and Principal Skinner but also such beloved second- and third-stringers as Üter the German exchange student, one-eyed aliens Kang and Kodos, Poochie (of Itchy & Scratchy fame), and some guy named Matt Groening. You also get to walk around town and take in such landmarks as Moe’s Tavern, the Kwik-E-Mart, the First Church of Springfield, and, of course, a certain nondescript home on 742 Evergreen Terrace. And for those Simpons obsessives — the ones who cite episodes by their production number — the game teems with esoteric references. The Land of Chocolate that Homer daydreamed about in 8F09? Got it. The killer dolphins from ”Treehouse of Horror XI”? Check. The forbidden chili pepper of Quetzlzacatenango that made Homer nuts in 3F24? In there.

As purely a videogame experience, The Simpsons Game is more of a mixed bag. It’s a next-gen game that certainly looks the part, but for some reason you can only play as two Simpson family members in each level instead of having access to all five. Also, some of the family’s in-game super powers are kinda lame. Marge, for example, has a magic megaphone that turns neighbors into maurading mobs. Bart’s powers make sense for the most part — but the game inexplicably makes no use of his signature skateboard.

Another inconsistency is its tongue-in-cheek, sometimes smarmy premise, which declares open season on the videogame medium, lining up its satirical crosshairs on the likes of hits like Grand Theft Auto, Dance Dance Revolution, and Medal of Honor. Comic Book Guy also gets in some sardonic jabs by tallying up the number of game design clichés, e.g. broken crates, constantly re-spawning enemies, and double-jumps. The real problem here is that when you come across a cliché that’s not acknowledged by CBG — say, game protagonists that miraculously reanimate after drowning — you ask yourself: was that meant to be ironic or is it also part of the joke? Whichever the case, we can safely prounounce this thoroughly entertaining title: Best. Simpsons Game. Ever. B+Gary Eng Walk

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