In our Change The Channel series, we explore the history of video games that are based on TV shows, one game at a time. For part 14, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1993’s The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare for the Super Nintendo…
Year of Release – 1993
Developer – Sculptured Software
Publisher – Acclaim
Platforms – Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis
It’s already well known that the early 90s saw a massive boom in video games based on The Simpsons, and we’ve already taken a look at a couple of them here at Pet Wolf Gaming (check out our thoughts on Krusty’s Fun House and Virtual Bart!), so it was only a matter of time before we revisit the backlog of digital adventures starring Springfield’s wild and wacky residents.
Much like the majority of Simpsons games from this era, Bart’s Nightmare centers around Bart Simpson. The game opens with Bart working hard on his homework assignment (yeah, the early seasons of the show saw Bart actually want to do well in school), but gradually getting more and more tired as the day progresses. He falls asleep while studying the night before the deadline and starts to dream that several pages of his work have flown out of his bedroom window. Bart must retrieve these pages or else he’ll face humiliation and a big fat F grade on his work. The more pages he collects, the better his final grade will be.
The first world that Bart finds himself in is referred to as “Windy World” (but looks incredibly similar to the street where the Simpson house can be found, Evergreen Terrace). This long, unending stretch of pavement is littered with strange obstacles such as sentient mailboxes, rogue basketballs and robotic television sets, and enemies that range from an old lady blowing kisses, a fairy Lisa that can turn Bart into a frog to Otto’s speeding school bus, Principal Skinner wandering around trying to dress Bart in his Sunday suit and Jimbo and the gang of bullies trying to coerce our hero into following them and getting up to no good.
Upon first glance, this somewhat varied selection of characters and objects seems like it would spice up what is essentially an overworld section for the game, but they’re so repetitive, it quickly become one of the worst aspects of Bart’s Nightmare. Coupled with some really poor jump controls, the infinite nature of this entire section will see Bart constantly trip up over mailboxes, get run over by Otto or just lose health by getting kissed by the old lady more so than usual.
The enemies aren’t much better either. While the attempt to add interesting challenges to the controls after interacting with each character is somewhat admirable, it ultimately falls flat after a few minutes. For example, bumping into Principal Skinner changes Bart’s appearance and slows him down considerably. A nice touch, but ultimately pointless when you consider that it serves no purpose other than making what was already a poor platforming section even less pleasurable to play through.
Littered sporadically across Windy World are the missing pages of Bart’s homework, and upon encountering each one, Bart must jump on top of them, which teleports him to a set of coloured doors.
Behind each of these doors lies a different minigame, and upon completing each of these unique challenges, Bart’s homework grade will improve.
The first of these minigames, situated behind the green door, is “Bartzilla“. This two-part experience allows players to control a giant Godzilla-sized Bart Simpson stomping around Springfield, firing lazers from his eyes at tanks and helicopters. Making it through this section and reach the Springfield State building, Bart gets shrunk to a relatively smaller size and must climb the tower of the building to battle “Homer Kong” and “Momthra” (no prizes for guessing who these are based on). This is one of the better minigame concepts in Bart’s Nightmare and boasts some interesting graphics and a memorable set of boss fights (I’ll admit it, I’m an absolute sucker for anything kaiju-related), but the awkward controls make it a massive pain to actually play through, especially during the first half of the game.
Next up, we have “Indiana Bart“. Clad just like Hollywood’s most daring professor of archeology, Bart must make his way through the “Temple of Maggie”. Players must attempt to cross a set of rapidly deteriorating platforms while avoiding projectiles fired from the walls, using a whip to defeat demons and collecting egg powerups. The level is immensely difficult, mainly due to the sheer unpredictability of the platform behaviour, as they fall at different speeds and are pretty much impossible to determine whether or not they can be reached with a normal jump or not.
Entering the yellow door drops Bart directly into an episode of Itchy & Scratchy, television’s most murderous cat and mouse duo. Bart must use the weapons and items scattered throughout the stage to defeat the titular characters while also avoiding other household items that have turned into lethal obstacles. Again, this is an incredibly tough section of the game. It only takes a few hits from either Itchy or Scratchy to decimate Bart’s life gauge, and actually managing to hit either of the bosses with the provided weapons is infuriatingly difficult, as the hit detection on both characters are wildly inaccurate.
Behind the violet door lies “Bart’s Bloodstream“, a journey inside Bart’s body that sees him pumping an air-pump to defeat a small army of Smilin’ Joe Fissions (a callback to the very first season of the show!), as well as two virus enemies known as “British Tommy” and “Von Got-U”. This section is one of the best looking bits of Bart’s Nightmare, and probably the most unusual section in any of the 16-bit era Simpsons video games.
The last minigame in Bart’s Nightmare can be accessed through the blue door. “Bartman” is a side-scrolling shoot-’em-up where Bart dons his superhero persona and faces off against enemies such as Sherri & Terri in a hot air balloon, Barney Gumble riding atop a pink elephant and Waylon Smithers in a blimp. The minigame’s boss? Mr. Burns in a 1920s-style biplane. Aside from the “Bartzilla” section, the concept for this section sounds like it should be the best area of the game, as it includes several characters from the show in a simply fantastic manner, with a highlight being Apu popping up now and again to provide energy-replenishing soda bottles. It’s such a shame that the section is one of the biggest disappointments in Bart’s Nightmare.
Simply put, Bart’s Nightmare isn’t really worth your time. It’s infuriatingly difficult at times and much of the game just feels like it lacks any clear sense of direction. The minigames that make up the bulk of Bart’s Nightmare are interesting conceptually, but are completely uneven in execution.
While the graphics and overall presentation of Bart’s Nightmare are factors that save the game from being completely terrible, they are not enough to bring it back from the point of painful mediocrity.
The game’s follow-up, Virtual Bart, is marginally better, but it would still be a stretch to recommend either game to anyone other than the most hardcore fans of Springfield’s most famous family.
Have you played The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare? Leave a comment below, or let us know via Twitter!