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Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bart vs. The Space Mutants

It's the second Saturday of the month, which means that I'm going to be peeking through the vaults of classic video games and selecting one at random to talk about today.

And I'm going to warn you ahead of time.  This particular video game is one that some of the younger generation may not know even exists, but is also one that people my age or older may not have played.  And even though it's been nearly a quarter of a century since this game was released, this game still gets mixed reviews.  Some people loved the game when it was first released, but others claimed it to be the worst video game they've ever played.

To be fair, I think that's a bit as an exaggeration.  I can think of several games that are worse.  "E.T.", "Where's Waldo", "Stretch Panic", etc...

Anyway, we're going back to the year 1991 for this one.  And, certainly 1991 was a year of transition in the world of video gaming.  The Super Nintendo was beginning to make its presence known, the Sega Genesis was really making an effort to compete, and even the Turbo Grafx 16 had its moment in the sun.  And some really fantastic titles were released in 1991.  "Sonic The Hedgehog", "Super Mario World", "Final Fantasy IV", "Streets of Rage", and "Battletoads" were just some of the most talked about games that year.  And, yes...I have played all of these games.

But 1991 was also a year in which a lot of television cartoons and movies were adapted into video games...and in a lot of cases, these video games were often scrutinized as being boring, unimaginative, and flawed. 

And, certainly today's video game was under that scrutiny.  When this game was released in 1991, some of the reviews were not that great.  The game was called "relentlessly unforgiving", "frustrating and generic", and "insanely difficult".  At the same time, some defenders of the game praised the fact that it was "fast", "had clever strategic puzzles", and stayed true to form of the television series.

Which I suppose was easy to say, given that the television series only debuted two years before the game did.  But who knew that "The Simpsons" would have so much staying power at that time? 

Now, there have been dozens of Simpsons video games that have been released over the years.  Some have been really good (such as "Simpsons Hit and Run" and "The Simpsons Game").  Some have been passable ("Bart's Nightmare", "Simpsons Road Rage"), and some have just sucked ("Bart vs. The World").

But "Bart vs. The Space Mutants" kicked off the whole shebang.  And, my personal opinion?  I loved it...even though it took me...get this...a full year before I even beat the first level!  Let's just say that the critics weren't kidding about the difficulty level!

However, over time I did manage to beat the whole game.  And once I had, I wore it like a badge of honour.  After all, if anyone could beat that game, they were considered a real video game master!

And, of course, the game features some of your all time favourite Simpsons characters...well, at least the ones who existed around the time of the show's second and third seasons.  Aside from Bart, Homer, and the rest of the Simpsons cast, you have guest appearances from Moe, Jimbo, Nelson Muntz, Krusty the Clown, and even some former Simpsons villains making a cameo!

The version that I played was the one for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  But would you believe that it was actually ported to no less than NINE different consoles including the Sega Master System, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and the Sega Game Gear between 1991 and 1992?

So here's the plot of the game.  You remember those two space aliens that pop up in the occasional Simpsons Treehouse of Horror specials each year?  I believe their names are Kang and Kodos?  Well, it turns out that they are trying to take over the world one city at a time (or at least I think they're Kang and Kodos...their colours are different in the game).  Springfield happens to be city number one.

The only problem is that the method in which they plan on taking over the world is not quite finished yet.  Their "ultimate weapon" is not yet completed, and they need to borrow a few household items from all over the city.  In each level, they need a specific item to complete their machine.  Here's the full list.

LEVEL 1 - Collect 24 purple-coloured objects
LEVEL 2 - Collect 25 hats
LEVEL 3 - Collect 40 balloons
LEVEL 4 - Collect 6 exit signs
LEVEL 5 - Collect 16 plutonium rods

OBSERVATION:  Okay, so I can understand the plutonium rods, and I can even maybe see the balloons being important, as latex could have been used for the construction of the machine.  But what the heck do hats and exit signs have to do with it?  And, do the aliens really need purple things, or do they just like the colour?

Whatever the case, it's up to a ten-year-old boy named Bartholomew J. Simpson to stop the aliens from taking over the world once and for all.  As it turns out, he's got quite a few weapons that he can use to fight back.

First thing off the bat, he has a pair of X-ray specs.  But they allow you to do more than see people in their underwear.  They allow Bart to tell the difference between real humans and aliens posing as humans.  If Bart attacks the aliens at just the right angle, he'll kill them and the aliens will leave behind a glowing orb.  These come in handy later on, so stay with me here.

Bart also holds some other gadgets on him as well - particularly during levels one and three.  He has red spray paint canisters, firecrackers, cherry bombs, and magnets that he can use to make his quest a little bit easier.

And, by the way, remember how I talked about those glowing orbs earlier?  If you collect enough of them, you can spell out the name of one of Bart's family members and they will help you battle the boss at the end of each level.  Maggie will appear in level one, Marge in level two, Lisa in level three, and Homer in level four. 

So, what exactly are the levels?

LEVEL ONE:  Streets of Springfield

Okay, so you know that you have to either grab or destroy 24 purple objects.  And there are a lot of purple objects to be found in the game.  The problem is that actually collecting them is the most difficult part of the whole game, and this was the main reason why I struggled for a whole year with the first level.  Some of them were simple to grab, but it took me a while to realize that you needed to use the items you were given to get the purple objects needed to move ahead to stage two. 

For instance, if you were coming across a pedestrian who was wearing a purple sweater, all Bart would have to do is spray the person with a red can of spray paint to change the colour!

Just move out of the way!  Part of the difficulty of the game is that Bart can only get hit twice before losing a life.  Luckily there are plenty of 1-UP Krusty the Clown decals to keep Bart playing for a little while.  And, collecting the head of the Jebediah Springfield head will grant Bart temporary invincibility.

Other ways you can collect purple objects is by shooting rockets at them, turning on fire hydrants to wash away wet paint, hanging around the movie theatre when the timer reaches 200 and 400 seconds to spray purple clad pedestrians.  Heck, you can even phone Moe and spray him red if you like!

At the end of the level, Nelson Muntz will try to stop your progress.  But if you collected enough orbs, Maggie can help you out.

LEVEL TWO:  Springfield Mall

Of all the levels in the game, this one is probably my favourite.  You have to collect hats from all over the mall.  Four floors of shopping goodness awaits you with Ms. Botz at the top of it all.  If you get enough orbs, Marge will provide you with assistance.  But the trip won't be easy.  At the end of each floor, there's a mini-boss that you have to defeat, and each mini-boss has a specific theme that you will automatically notice as you pass by the mall.  The first floor will try to destroy your sweet tooth as you pass by candy obstacles.  The second floor kicks you when you're down by launching an army of killer shoes.  The third floor is all about the power of magic as you try to avoid killer wands, carnivorous bunnies from a hat, and floating handkerchiefs.

LEVEL THREE:  Springfield Amusement Park

Mind you, this game was released before "Itchy and Scratchy Land", "Duff Gardens", and even "Mount Splashmore", so this stage is just a generic amusement park filled with dozens of carnival games, and at least 40 balloons that you have to pop.  You're armed with a slingshot to get all of the floating ones, and believe it or not, there's even a pop a balloon win a prize game.  There's even a fun house and a gigantic Ferris wheel in the level!  If you get 40 balloons, you face Sideshow Bob.  And, if you get enough orbs, Lisa will team up with you to defeat Krusty's sidekick gone bad.

LEVEL FOUR:  Springfield Museum

I.  HATED.  THIS.  LEVEL.  And, rather than write about why, I'll show you a video of this level taken from YouTube.

NOTE:  You may as well just run into the laser beams and let yourself die the first time around.  There's a glitch that only gives you 300 seconds to beat the level - which unless you're a speed demon is impossible.  When you die, the timer will reset itself to a more reasonable 800 seconds.  Dr. Marvin Monroe is the boss here, and Homer will hide behind the paintings to lend a hand - provided you have enough orbs.

And, this takes us to level five.  

LEVEL FIVE:  Springfield Power Plant

And, well, all I'll say about this level is that all four members of the family will help out in some manner, there's lots of donuts to be found, and it's probably one of the most confusing levels to navigate.  Enjoy!

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