Game Review: ‘The Simpsons Tapped Out’
Hand-held devices and tablet computers have become a boon for imaginative and creative game developers. Minimalist games like Angry Birds and Temple Run have been a delight for people looking for a pick up and play game and plenty of new designers have made their splash. It is, sadly, beginning to feel as though the best of the new innovations are behind us with the popular genres and mechanics being repeated again and again.
When we went shopping for games on a newly acquired tablet we were happy to find that The Simpsons: Tapped Out had been returned to the app store. Having been released last year the Springfield simulator/SimCity clone had to be pulled for six months after the insane popularity of the game caused the EA servers to crash. Now it’s back with a number of gameplay tweaks and an enhanced display for the new high quality screens.
The game looks great. Animation is slick and impressive, perfectly evoking the style of the show. Every building and character is detailed and perfectly realised and it’s tonnes of fun watching the cast of the show wandering the streets of you town. The audio is on par with the visuals with classic lines from the show and a fun animated intro. Storywise the game is simple – Homer is distracted playing ‘Happy Little Elves Village’ on his myPad and causes a meltdown that levels the town. The player is now tasked with rebuilding Springfield and bringing back the residents by building experience points and money through having the characters complete tasks.
That concludes everything nice we have to say about this ‘game’.
Let’s take a look at some features of the game. It gets your attention by promising something interesting, it then tries to con you that you should be putting money into it without any discernible reward and then it convince you to get your friends to do the same for a pay-off. Does that sound like a chain letter pyramid scam to anyone else? Because that sounds a hellava lot like a chain letter pyramid scam. The promise of a free game that gives you a Springfield to play with sounds like a good deal but before long it starts trying to fleece you for money to get the good parts of the game unlocked. It then offers you an additional route to get these locked off aspects by convincing your friends to play the game as well. Let me explain.
The Simpsons: Tapped Out follows on from games like Tiny Tower and Smurf Village by having two sets of currency. One is the basic dollars that you use to by houses, decorations and the like. Then you have donuts. Donuts can be used to speed up tasks and building times – an optional bonus for the impatient. They are also used to buy awesome things like Duff Brewery and Frink’s Lab. What separates Tapped Out out from Tiny Tower is that the items that are purchased using Donuts can not be purchased for any amount of dollars. If you don’t have Donuts then you don’t get those items. So, logically, you want to get Donuts. The game explains that by cleaning up the town and completing tasks you may ‘find’ a Donut, but that only happens once or twice in the course of an entire game. You also get two Donuts for going up a level, or score five for getting a friend to join the game.
After your first day playing you may have earned one or two donuts. So how many do you need to buy Scorpio’s Volcano Lair?
Two hundred. Two hundred Donuts.
Sure, you can earn them in the game but that’s going to take several months after which you are either sick to death of the whole damn thing or you have turned OCD into an artform. Plus your friends are sick of you hassling them to play this fucking game. Every now and then the game will helpfully remind you that you can use your real world money to buy some Donuts.
In order to buy enough Donuts to buy this one item? $19.99.
Now defenders of the game will be quick to point out that you don’t need these items to play the game. You don’t…unless you want to enjoy it. This is a game that allows you to build Springfield in your own image. After two days of fairly consistent play all I can build is a ‘Brown House’ and a ‘Pink House’. Those items do not fit into my ideal Simpsons playground. I want to build a pair of Duff Brewery’s on either side of Frink’s Lab with Scorpio’s Volcano towering over the Nuclear Power Plant while Duffman rules from the Capitol Building. All of these items are fully available in the game. Although I own a copy of the game I would have to plonk down a completely fucking ridiculous sum of $109.99 in order to use them.
Even if you have these items the game is mind-numbingly slow to play. Every task, building and crop takes a downright bizzare amount of time to complete. For example, you can grow crops at Cletus’ farm. To grow Tomacco (a very low earning group) will take a few hours real time. For something like Moonshine you need 24 hours. If you want to grow a top earning item – Corn – it will clock up NINETY DAYS real time to produce. A month and a half! Setting the characters to complete tasks will initially make it look as though they’re doing funny things like Flanders powerwalking or Homer lounging in a kiddie pool. Then you discover that only their first task is done in out in the open and the rest takes them inside the buildings and out of sight.
After setting up the game you find yourself looking at a piddly street with a few brown and pink houses, waiting another 16 hours for Lisa to finish her homework and re-appear so you can send her back inside to earn you more experience. Or, as the game so frequently reminds us, you can open your wallet to make something happen.
At the beginning of the game they actually poke fun at games using this mechanic. Homer is playing on his myPad and complains loudly that the game makes you wait hours for anything to happen before he inadvertently spends thousands of dollars buying in game currency. The game tries to remain tongue in cheek about this for a while, but making a reference to game designers being bastards doesn’t stop you from being a bastard yourself.
What really makes me grind my teeth about The Simpsons: Tapped Out is that it’s actually a fun game that I would play the hell out off. I would plunk down some of my hard earned cash in order to buy this game with all the features available. I would pay the upper end of the app store price range for this game and I wouldn’t regret it for a second. Instead what I have is a mildly interactive screen-saver that keeps trying to nick my wallet. Fox and EA are so eager to scam money from easily addicted casual gamers that they let the entertainment factor slide out of view.
Heck, I might still be playing it. Forcing myself to be patient and resist the temptation to buy Donuts because I want a Volcano Base. But after two days the game has irreversibly crashed and won’t move past the company logos. And I’m kinda pissed at those companies so I don’t feel very motivated to start again from scratch.
Final recommendation: fuck this game, and fuck everyone who decided to turn this into a money spinning episode instead of a piece of entertainment.