It’s Christmas 2004. After excitedly waiting for months, I had finally unwrapped my Nintendo Gamecube. Being a rabid Pokémon fanboy at the time (as opposed to the somewhat less rabid Pokémon fanboy I am now), I’d wanted it solely for Pokémon Colosseum. Naturally, as soon as I had unwrapped my presents I played Colosseum for a good few hours.
I eventually figured that I should try one of the other three games that came with the console. 007: Nightfire and Fifa 04 were not my style – my interest in James Bond was limited to Golden Gun matches with my friend on his N64, and I was never interested in sports of any kind, let alone football. The only game left was The Simpsons: Hit & Run.
I was (and I still am) a big Simpsons fan. By 2004 I had seen all of the first ten seasons of The Simpsons, I could quote word-for-word episodes such as A Star Is Burns, and even now the monorail song from Marge vs. the Monorail is a permanent fixture in my head. Despite this, I wasn’t crazy about the Simpsons video games. Bart vs. the Space Mutants was frustrating and awkward to control, while The Simpsons Wrestling was generally average despite the ability to annihilate naysayers using Ned Flanders’ power of prayer. “I doubt I’ll enjoy this”, I thought as I put the disc in the console.
And yet I was hooked for the rest of the day.
Why was I so obsessed? Even at 11 years old I was wary of TV and movie tie-ins, and yet there was something really addictive about this game. By the end of the day I hadn’t even finished the first area, yet I’d had more than enough fun driving around Springfield in a rocket car, taking part in street races and kicking Ralph Wiggum more times than I’d care to admit.
I could tell straight away that the game was charming. I’d spend hours running around Springfield in costumes such as muumuu Homer (from King Size Homer) or Bart’s alter ego, Bartman, discovering brilliant throwback like Jasper stuck inside one of Apu’s freezers. Buying the Car Built For Homer, with the La Cucaracha horn included, meant that for a long while I sped through the town honking my horn at every opportunity. Usually all this would hamper my completion of the game – instead of doing missions, I’d explore the area, try out new vehicles, maybe run Gil over.
When I wasn’t terrorising the residents of Springfield, I was out completing the game’s various missions. One early task has Homer locate some of Ned’s lost items, which unknown to Ned were borrowed by Homer and given away to other people. It’s such a simple mission, yet it’s full of hilarious lines (both original and from the show) and displays the strong humour that’s been injected into the game. The entire game is hysterical, whether it’s watching Abe attempt to be a functioning human being or just terrorising Comic Book Guy.
More than anything though, The Simpsons: Hit & Run was just flat-out enjoyable. Sure, the camera was poor and the characters moved bizarrely, but I was able to overlook these things because the game was pure fun. At 11 years old I certainly didn’t care, and despite being very conscious of what made a game great or terrible, I could appreciate that the good qualities far outweighed the bad.
It’s been almost 11 years since Christmas 2004, however the game still holds fond memories for me. I’ve played hundreds of games, and most of them have been wonderful, but for some reason what should have been a cheap TV tie-in has become an important game for me. It sounds silly to be enthralled by such a seemingly basic game, and yet it makes so much sense. It’s a game that’s so simplistic, one which doesn’t overdo anything, but it’s just flat-out enjoyable. And that’s the genius of The Simpsons: Hit & Run – even now in 2016, it’s still engaging. The gameplay is still addictive, the graphics (while not aging brilliantly) are still bright and vibrant, and most of all the game is still as fun as it was in 2004.
And besides, any Simpsons game where you can kick Milhouse off a cliff surely has to be fantastic, right?