6th Oct 2007 | 06:00
It's the start of the Neverquest level, a parody of fantasy videogames and, in this section, The Lord of the Rings. Homer is decked out in Link's iconic outfit, complete with pointy ears, standing next to an 'elfed'-up Marge.
Homer: "You are one sexy MILF."
Marge: "The word is 'ELF!'"
Er, you had to be there? All right, it loses a bit in translation from videogame to preview copy but it's one of our favourite comedy moments that caused us to LOL during a recent check-out of EA's The Simpsons, which has graced CVG Towers in near final form.
In the past we've had to suffer the disappointment of seeing some of the world's greatest franchises being turned into mundane 3D platform action-adventures with the same old generic collect-'em-up scenarios, but thank goodness The Simpsons is taking a different angle and putting a unique spin on the genre.
EA's game parodies 30 years of videogaming, going right back to Pong and moving fun-pokingly forward through the ages. In fact, EA has unturned as many gaming stones as it can, even going out East to Japan and including cheeky nods to the likes of Katamari Damacy and Okami.
It drips The Simpsons too, not just with the art direction but with reassuringly good comedy, even if some of the gags will go way over the heads of the younger audience. 42 minutes of cut-scenes in the game have been created by Gracie Films, and the title features over 8,000 lines of dialogue. So far, we've not heard a line repeated.
It's littered with numerous tributes to episodes from the series, and of course there are more The Simpsons characters in it than you can shake Matt Groening's goatee at.
What the game boils down to is Homer, Marge, Lisa and Bart teaming up in pairs and working together to overcome puzzles, challenges and enemies. In the opening of the Neverquest level, it's the dynamic duo Homer and Marge and hobbits - Rod and Todd Flanders - battling to save a hobbit village from a massive two-headed dragon.
The dragon heads, aptly, are Marge's nicotine-guzzling sisters.
It's all silly, but funny at the same time, with Marge running around rounding up hobbits and sending them to beat up the dragon while Homer, using his helium ball special ability, inflates into a ball, lines himself up on the enemy and farts himself rocketing into the dragon to damage it. Parp.
Later on in the level, it flips into a 2D top-down view and, oh, hang on, that's Gauntlet! It boasts some very clever attention to detail, which, from what we've seen, is a theme that permeates The Simpsons game throughout.
As you jump and leap your way through the game, fighting using basic attacks plus a combo move which can be powered up, the four main characters unlock special abilities (like Homer's helium ball ability) and can pick up temporary power-ups to help them out too. Bart, for example, can pick up the RoboBart power-up, which makes him temporarily invulnerable and able to fire lasers instead of his slingshot. Lisa receives a temporary boost from a power-up that turns her into Clobber Girl.
PIMP MY PARODY
Each character has been designed to perform a particular role too, which introduces a bit of strategy. In the Grand Theft Scratchy level, for example, teamed up with Lisa, Marge is insistent on cleaning up disreputable town where pimped up Itchys and Uzi-toting gangster Scratchys walk the streets alongside hip-swaying hookers (which you can beat up).
Marge is armed with a megaphone and has to round up anthropomorphised dogs to re-paint buildings (as you do), while Lisa plays a defensive role and fends off attackers. Not only can the brainbox use her saxophone to temporarily turn enemies on each other, part way through the level a golden statue - aka the Hand of Buddha - spawns.
By interacting with the Hand of Buddha, Lisa's viewpoint flips into top-down and she can move a target around the screen and zap enemies with lightning, drop blocks of ice on their bonces and stuff. It also comes into play in puzzle-solving... but we don't want to ruin the surprise. It mixes up the play styles nicely, though.
TWO-PLAY, OR NOT TWO-PLAY
In single-player The Simpsons, you can switch at will between the two partners of parody adventure crime and the AI has proved particularly impressive in understanding what you wish it to do but never actually plays the game for you. However, we can't help feeling the most fun will be had in the drop-in/drop-out split-screen two-player mode.
It is, after all, much better laughing at a gag with a friend.
One of the key challenges EA will have had to face with The Simpsons is reflecting the show's appeal to both young and adult audiences with the gameplay. It's a game that has to be aimed at everyone and as a result the hardcore gamer will probably blast through the main event quickly. The hard bit enters play via finding all the game's secrets and collectibles.
WE ARE NOT AMUSED
EA admits it's been a challenge parodying videogame properties in The Simpsons, and there are games companies out there that have refused to see the funny side of things. As a result, content has been pulled from the game but, as lead designer Greg Rizzer has pointed out, other companies have fully embraced the idea.
"I don't know if you've seen Sitar Hero? We did Apu playing this 60-button controller and songs like Pour Some Curry On Me - we made this wonderful parody poster and the guys from Harmonix loved it and we sent them 20 copies of the poster. They just loved it so much."
We'll find out if the full game gets equal ecstatic loving come review time. The Simpsons is out next month.