Nadia's Midboss Musings: Learning About Capitalism the Bart Simpson Way

To love video games as a child was to quickly discover that some game-makers weren't obligated to offer you a fun experience for your cash.

Article by Nadia Oxford, .

The Simpsons is 30 years old today. On April 19, 1987, the world met the titular family through a series of shorts delivered by the Tracey Ullman show. The jokes were very un-Simpsons-like and the character models shook like cubes of solidified chicken fat, but those bulbous eyes and those murmuring, gravelly voices kindled a spark in America's soul.

I grew up with The Simpsons. My school would buzz with excitement every Thursday (for the brief period when Fox aired The Simpsons on Thursday night instead of Sunday to assassinate The Cosby Show). I guess growing up in the shadow of the cartoon phenomenon warped my sense of humor a little bit. Well, that and learning to read via my father's MAD Magazine collection.

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The Simpsons and the video game industry matured together; they're bosom buddies. You'll find Simpsons games of varying quality on most major consoles, starting with Bart vs the Space Mutants for the NES. Space Mutants' baffling premise, slippery controls, and infuriating level design made it clear about three minutes into the game that Acclaim had no idea what to do with the Simpsons license. The publisher seemingly figured if the game had the Simpsons name, and if Bart could move left-to-right without devolving into horrifying NES tile garbage, people would buy it.

Depressingly, Acclaim was right. I attended a lot of sleep-over parties as a girl, and whenever the host's Mom and / or Dad rented a game for the evening, it was invariably Bart vs the Space Mutants. Well, not invariably, but it sure feels like I gave up way too much of my childhood watching my friends stagger through the game, mumbling "Wait, am I supposed to—?" while trying to suss out Bart's goal in the very first level.

Though I've mostly lived a good life, I've experienced my share of small, relentless disappointments that gradually formed my Patronus (a chain-smoking fox). Bart vs the Space Mutants was one such disappointment, and it was a significant one. I've already talked about how video games captivated me when I was a kid, but Bart vs the Space Mutants quickly taught me some people were interested in making games for a quick buck, and not much else. They didn't want to tell cool stories, or offer you a fair challenge. You just handed them your cash and got a piece of garbage with Bart Simpson's face on it. Boo-urns.

Don't give me that look. You *know* this game sucks.

But as tempting as it is to climb a cross and weep for the naivety of my schoolyard chums, I can't really claim any kind of superiority. Though I detested Bart vs the Space Mutants, I played the hell out of its sequel, Bart vs the World. I finished it. Then I collected all the secret items and got the best ending.

Though Bart vs Za Warudo's level design is a touch better than Space Mutants', the game is by no means good. It's playable. That's the best compliment I can offer it. It also changes the Simpsons' title theme to match whatever part of the world Bart mucks around in, so that's something. I guess.

Thanks for the memories / hard lesson about corporations' thoughtless pursuit of profit, NES Simpsons games. I'm off to rinse my mouth out with some Ducktales.

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Comments 18

  • Avatar for Roto13 #1 Roto13 11 months ago
    I liked this game, though. The different ways you could interact with the environment to get rid of all the purple things in the first level was pretty neat. It got a lot simpler in the subsequent levels, though.
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  • Avatar for nadiaoxford #2 nadiaoxford 11 months ago
    @Roto13 The platforming in the mall level is nearly impossible.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #3 donkeyintheforest 11 months ago
    I never had an nes, but i did have one of these:

    It played a lot like the Parachute Game & Watch. Pretty fun if you've gotten tired of tiger's Sub Wars and Jordan vs. Bird hahaEdited 4 times. Last edited April 2017 by donkeyintheforest
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  • Avatar for Roto13 #4 Roto13 11 months ago
    @donkeyintheforest Ha, one Christmas my parents gave that game to my cousins but gave me the Bartman one instead. Good times.
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  • Avatar for Vaporeon #5 Vaporeon 11 months ago
    Wow, you beat Bart vs. the World?! As a kid, I never made it past the North Pole Ice Cave. Just glanced through a YouTube play-through. Nostalgia overload! The sounds, the Great Wall of China stage... the sounds! Thanks for sending me down memory lane :-)
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #6 donkeyintheforest 11 months ago
  • Avatar for LBD_Nytetrayn #7 LBD_Nytetrayn 11 months ago
    Watching a play through on YouTube (I think it was Cinemassacre's Mike Matei), Bart vs. the Space Mutants actually seems kind of brilliant. It just needs more polish, and I'm surprised that no one has hacked it to do that as they have with E.T.
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  • Avatar for pdubb #8 pdubb 11 months ago
    Yeah, I remember being really pissed at this game cause it was awful. Thanks for reminding me about it. Not all of these old NES games were good.
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #9 riderkicker 11 months ago
    So Nadia, did you get the Fox Signal from Buffalo or something or was Fox a presence on regular Canadian airwaves?

    Now that I think about it, the only way for me to watch Simpsons episodes legally these days is to pop in my DVDs. I feel sad for kids today who never had the chance to watch the show six times a week. At home, I would hurry up with my homework by 6:30 for an entire hour of those anthropomorphic globs of chicken fat, watching the eight seasons over and over until my brain is addled with the psychic ability to predict the night's rerun. Darn you FX!!
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  • Avatar for riderkicker #10 riderkicker 11 months ago
    @donkeyintheforest I had the one that had Bart skating behind a truck while dodging Nelson Muntz. I sold it pretty quickly though. Acclaim actually made a decent Knight Rider game.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #11 donkeyintheforest 11 months ago
    @riderkicker right on! i basically played those games until they disintegrated. For some reason my parents didn't let me buy videogames when I was little, even when I saved up enough of my own money! That probably led me to my obsession with them as an adult haha.

    The most impressive one-off handheld to me was Donkey Kong 3. It had multiplayer! two controllers kinda like the switch! I also loved the Mario Bros game and watch which was dual screen. I wonder what old gimmick nintendo will use for their next change up system haha
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #12 VotesForCows 11 months ago
    I played a PC port of this and can confirm that it was also crap. But I didn't even like the Simpsons, so I had nothing to soften the horror of it...
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  • Avatar for Frosty840 #13 Frosty840 11 months ago
    Had the game, even though I don't think the series itself came to UK terrestrial TV until many years, even a decade, later (IIRC it was used to pump up sales of the Murdoch/Fox-run Sky satellite television network).
    Bart Vs The Space Mutants is such a *weird* game that I almost have to give it credit. It's a Sierra-era adventure game in platform-game format, with all the horrors that entails; It was filled with missable level goals, routes through the level that would leave it in an uncompletable state, stuff that would inevitably murder you if you didn't know their bizarre, unguessable secret...
    And yet, there was so much going on in the game that was wildly inventive. There were some thirty or so goals in the first level's collection of purple objects that needed to be eliminated, and at least ten or twelve unique solutions in amongst them. Sure, subsequent levels (especially the second) never really got as interesting as that one, but Acclaim attempted a huge amount throughout BVTSM, and it certainly should get all credit for that.
    That said, they tried hard and *failed* with a lot of stuff, and it's certainly a largely pointless use of the Simpsons license (probably inevitable given the NES's graphical limitations).
    As a piece of pure early era gaming weirdness though, I've still gotta love it.
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  • Avatar for garion333 #14 garion333 11 months ago
    Hmm, another interesting article on USGamer that feels like it could be expanded on to be longer and more affecting.
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  • Avatar for matt-b #15 matt-b 11 months ago
    @donkeyintheforest My brothers and I didn't have that handheld but we did have the awful Castlevania II Simon's Quest handheld, and the Double Dragon handheld and at least a few others that I played until my fingerd about fell off and the buttons caved in.
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  • Avatar for Stepout #16 Stepout 11 months ago
    I used to rent Bart's Nightmare quite a bit. I enjoyed it even though some levels felt impossible (Maggie's temple). I remember really liking that level where you float around and kill germs by pumping air into them? I might have the details wrong, but the graphics in that level amazed me.
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  • Avatar for donkeyintheforest #17 donkeyintheforest 11 months ago
    @mattb0527 seriously, you take what you can get when youre a kid haha! thinking about how limited some of those games were, and how much i played them regardless, it helps me understand the free to play market a bit. But only a bit haha
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  • Avatar for ericspratling56 #18 ericspratling56 11 months ago
    "Capitalism" is also the main reason we even have The Simpsons franchise in the first place. And video games in general. Individuals and entities pursuing profit by selling products people are willing to pay for.
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