1991 was an excellent year for quality video games. We got Sonic the Hedgehog, Street Fighter II, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and the Simpsons arcade game! Also released in 1991 was The Simpsons: Bart vs. The Space Mutants, a lackluster platformer from Imagineering and Arc Developments and released on the NES by Acclaim, who was primarily known for localizing mediocre imports and aggressively acquiring otherwise-talented developers such as Iguana (NBA Jam and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter). They closed down in 2004 after shifting the focus of operations primarily to sports games, a fight it obviously lost to EA, and one it probably shouldn’t have ever picked in the first place.
As for Bart vs. the Space Mutants on the NES, Acclaim’s title of “First Company to License and Release a Simpsons Game” didn’t last very long as Konami’s aforementioned Simpsons arcade game was released months later and made Space Mutants look like Space Invaders by comparison. Bart vs. The Space Mutants is a fairly traditional platformer for the time, and while it showed promise with its idea, the execution left much to be desired.
Aliens have invaded Springfield and it is up to Bart to rescue his family and thwart the interstellar aggressors’ very, very stupid plans. Each stage is a collectathon with a quota and once that number is achieved, you walk right for a very long time, and fight a boss. It’s simple on paper, but playing it is another story. This game is hard; very, very hard. Bart’s hitbox is insanely big given some of the obstacles with moving objects lined up so perfectly you can barely fit under them and jumps that are clumsy and easily misjudged. Getting items is also a crapshoot as they are often hidden in strange places. Good luck ever beating this game without a guide. Possibly with some trial and error you could figure parts of the game out, but it is designed with no clarity as to what you have to do much of the time.
The worst of all of the stages is the very first one. The mission laid out for you is to get rid of all of the purple objects in the world. Sounds simple, right? Well, Iguana decided to be jerks, adding special items to use to clear certain objects out. For instance, an unreachable bird in a tree can only be scared off by using a bottle rocket that you have to buy from a store using coins you collect in the world. You have to prank call Moe from a payphone and you have to walk across clothes lines to drop hanging sheets over purple toys in backyards. It all resembles a point and click adventure game at times, and while I would say that is a good thing, it just doesn’t fit with the style of game that frames the concept. To make matters worse, the first stage is really the only level like this as the rest of the levels are just straightforward collect quests with objects you have to pick up strewn clearly throughout each stage. The decision to make a cryptic puzzle platformer for only one stage is baffling to me.
Other problems exist as well, such as wonky, floaty controls that simply do not feel right. Jumping can cause you to feel like Bart is drifting to the side at times, which is frustrating when you are trying do dodge projectiles or land precision jumps. Also, it is not uncommon to come across platforms that seem like they shouldn’t be platforms at all, such as the top of a small door window or the base of a sign. Other nonsensical design decisions include sentient ballet slippers that flutter up and down and a character resembling Principal Skinner riding inside of a giant boot! Even the plans make little sense. Aliens do not stop at randomly placing purple objects in the world. No, they also place horrific monstrosities such as hats and balloons! The people of Springfield will never know what hit ‘em…
Bart vs. the Space Mutants is bad. It has a few good ideas that could have worked in the right hands, but what we got was a frustratingly-difficult platformer that is overlong and repetitive. There is no excuse for an NES platformer like this to be this long, but the trek to the end of the stage after collecting all of the items seems like an eternity. Making matters worse are repetitive visuals that do recreate the world of Springfield but still do not convey any form of interesting game design. It just doesn’t work as a platformer. The controls are off and the missions are just too vague.
For collectors this game is a scrap. Bart vs. the Space Mutants will run you around $5 if you buy it at value. Even then, there’s a good chance you’ll see this one for as low as $2-3 online at times. It’s a perennial dust-collector at retro games outlets, and it is regarded by those of us who grew up at the time as one of the most villainous NES titles ever released as it taunted you to try to beat it, but for most of us this just wasn’t going to happen…