Change The Channel – The Simpsons: Virtual Bart

In our Change The Channel series, we explore the history of video games that are based on TV shows, one game at a time. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1994’s The Simpsons: Virtual Bart for the Super Nintendo…

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The early 1990’s was somewhat of a golden-era for The Simpsons, with classic episodes such as “Cape Feare“, “Boy-scoutz N’ The Hood” and “Bart Gets an Elephant” premiering on TV and cementing themselves as some of the best episodes of the show ever.

This was also a time where we saw many video game spinoffs for Springfield’s most well-known residents, and to say that they didn’t match the quality of the show would be a vast understatement.

One of these tie-ins was Acclaim and Sculptured Software’s Virtual Bart, released in 1994 on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. The game follows Bart Simpson as he enters a virtual reality exhibit at Springfield Elementary’s annual science fair. He is then subjected to 6 different virtual worlds. Completing each virtual realm with all lives remaining wins the game, and there’s a specific mini-ending for each different mini-game.

It’s a pretty standard concept for a Simpsons spinoff game, and is similar to the game that preceded it, Bart’s Nightmare (stay tuned for a Change The Channel entry on this one!). Judging by the absolutely incredible popularity and high quality of the TV show, surely they could have made this a really fun companion piece?

Not quite…

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The game begins with a level selection screen showing Bart strapped up to the virtual reality machine. Levels are selected at random in a Wheel of Fortune-esque manner, and there are 6 levels to choose from (with a chance of gaining/losing a life at the top of the wheel).

There is an option on the main title screen to manually select each of the levels as a practice mode, but these don’t come with the respective endings upon completing them.

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The first of these mini-games sees Bart teleported back in time to the Stone Age. Players take control of a Bart-headed dinosaur, and have to make their way through a prehistoric Springfield, fending off several cavepeople iterations of famous characters from the show.

One of the standard platforming levels in the game, this is one of the most frustrating to play through. The prehistoric versions of the cast are pretty fun to look at, but damn near impossible to defeat without taking heaps of damage, due to some incredibly poor hitboxes and a tail whip attack that is substantially weak. Throw in some awful platforming controls and it’s easy to see why this is one of the worst parts of the game.

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The second of the game’s virtual worlds sees Bart as a baby, escaping the house in an effort to chase an ice cream van. Swinging from tree branches, throwing his pacifier as a weapon and balancing precariously on a washing line is a big part of this mini-game, and is one of the more challenging parts of Virtual Bart.

This area of the game is where Virtual Bart suffers the most in terms of poor sound effects and music. It is also where we see the single most frustrating example of platforming in the game too, as players must attempt to swing across the branches of the trees of the Simpson home garden. Wildly inaccurate and incredibly unfair, the lack of polish in this area brings the game down tremendously quality-wise.

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The third part of Virtual Bart sees Bart transformed into a pig, making a break for it from the Krusty Burger slaughterhouse. Pig-Bart must free his porky friends and avoid the clown workers of the factory in an attempt to escape.

In terms of gameplay, this Abe’s Oddysee-style stage is one of the more positive parts of the game, and definitely the better of the platformer levels at least. With easier to defeat enemies, tighter platforming and slightly more impressive graphics, this virtual world is a step forward in redeeming Virtual Bart.

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For the fourth world in the game, players take control of Bart as he launches a variety of food at his fellow classmates and teachers in the grounds of Springfield Elementary school, in an attempt to sabotage the class photo. This unique level requires very specific timing to hit the pupils of the school, who are inexplicably walking back and forth in front of the building. It plays out like a golf-game, but without the directional aiming, but relying solely on the timing of the shot.

While not perfect in any sense of the word, this section of Virtual Bart is actually one of the highlights of the whole game, as pelting Bart’s classmates with a sizeable amount of tomatoes/eggs etc. is pretty satisfying. It feels as though this is left over from the previous game, as the concept for it doesn’t feel quite as weird as the other levels, but I’m not complaining; a good level is still a good level.

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The penultimate level in Virtual Bart sees players guiding Bart down the waterslide of Mount Splashmore, avoiding obstacles and other characters, in addition to selecting the correct path to slide down at intersections.

This is the one that sticks in my memory the most when I think of Virtual Bart, and is by far the best level idea in the game. It’s also pretty tough, as not only are the obstacles (both living and inanimate) are approached at a breakneck speed, but the dead ends and fake exits put players at risk of losing a life, even if your reactions were on point.

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Finally, the last level in Virtual Bart is set in a post-apocalyptic Springfield after an explosion at the Nuclear Power Plant. In this Mad Max-style environment, Bart has to take on Nelson Muntz and the gang of bullies as he motorcycles through the ruins of the town.

This Road Rash meets F-Zero style level has a fantastic concept, but it is an ordeal to actually play. While the quasi-3D gameplay is commendable, the attack controls are awful, meaning that as soon as one of the bullies rides up near Bart, it’s difficult to actually get any offense in while trying to stay on track.

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The levels in the game are a mixed bag quality-wise, but that’s not to say that the game is absolutely unplayable. Some of the writing is quite funny, and the intro to the game, where we see Bart walk through the science fair, is well done too.

Overall, Virtual Bart has acceptable graphics and some interestingly decent concepts for its levels, but it ultimately fails to make them actually fun to play through. Several parts of the game feel rushed or unfinished, and the entire experience is marred by horrible controls, sound and music. While it is a slight improvement on Bart’s Nightmare, this is still one of the Simpsons titles that should be avoided unless you are a die-hard fan of the show.

Did you ever play Virtual Bart? Let us know in the comments below, or fire a tweet our way!

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