Ch. 1: The Simpsons Arcade
Ch. 2: Bart vs. the Space Mutants
Ch. 3: Escape from Camp Deadly
Ch. 4: Bart vs. the World
Ch. 5: Bart's House of Weirdness
Ch. 6: Krusty's Fun House
Ch. 7: Bart's Nightmare
Ch. 8: Bart vs. the Juggernauts
Ch. 9: Bartman Meets Radioactive Man
Ch. 10: Bart and the Beanstalk
Ch. 11: Miniature Golf Madness
Ch. 12: Virtual Bart
Ch. 13: The Itchy & Scratchy Game
Ch. 14: Virtual Springfield
Ch. 15: The Simpsons Bowling
Ch. 16: Night of the Living Treehouse of Horror
Ch. 17: The Simpsons Wrestling
Ch. 18: The Simpsons Road Rage
Ch. 19: The Simpsons Skateboarding
Ch. 20: The Simpsons Hit & Run
Ch. 21: Minutes to Meltdown
Ch. 22: The Simpsons Game
Ch. 23: Itchy & Scratchy Land
Ch. 24: The Simpsons Arcade (Mobile)
Ch. 25: The Simpsons Tapped Out

Chapter 8: Bart vs. the Juggernauts 15 Nov 1992
The Game Boy was the perfect handheld gaming device. Bring it and a few game cartridges along and you're all set for those long road trips in the back seat. But with so many choices at a relatively low price, it could be a challenge to limit the number of games to bring along. Nintendo standbys like Mario Land, Link's Awakening, and Metroid II were all but guaranteed, but why not try some funky new game? That is where the Simpsons titles on Game Boy come in. They were "other" Game Boy games, recognizable with their big yellow visages on the box but always a toss-up in terms of gameplay. Will it be good or will it be crap? Kids who played Bart vs. the Juggernauts may have been pleasantly surprised.

If chess was a form of execution.

Acclaim continued running roughshod over the Simpsons license. Oh, they weren’t out to make bad games. That’s never anybody’s intention. But they were certainly out to make profitable games as cheaply as possible. In addition, with no real stake in the future of The Simpsons as a brand, Acclaim and its developers often influenced the games they made in unexpected ways. The guys at the Talking Simpsons podcast interviewed Paul Provenzano, producer at Acclaim in the mid-nineties, and he recalls Acclaim’s modus operandi during those heady days:
«In terms of design, it also is reflected in... because we were using different development houses, and their attitude about The Simpsons was different. No matter how much direction you gave them, it changed the way The Simpsons were presented. That just is a function of different people with different ideas... It wasn't tied to any TV line, or storyline, it wasn't tied to anything in terms of their {Fox's} marketing goals. But for us, it was what can we put in a game or what can we adapt to a game.»

They say there's no bad pizza, but there it is.

Such was the case in 1991, a rather big year for Imagineering Inc. Sure they released three Simpsons games that year alone, but they developed an additional six games with wide-ranging licenses such as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Barbie, and a Jeopardy! game. These games were all published by a variety of publishers, with Imagineering's parent company, Absolute Entertainment, left out of the publishing part of Imagineering's projects. This prolific output carried forward into 1992 with no less than ten Imagineering games appearing in stores. 1992 would also be the final year of Imagineering's involvement with the Simpsons license.

The first of the final two games was a Game Boy title unlike their previous efforts. While Escape from Camp Deadly was designed to be a linear platformer with basic jump and shoot gameplay, Bart vs. the Juggernauts was a selection of mini games in which Bart competes against hulking men and women known as Juggernauts. The impetus for this game was a rather quaint meeting of minds in a parking lot. As Provenzano recalls:
«And the Juggernauts one, I remember it was a sunny day and the five of us were sitting in a parking lot in Oyster Bay, because Acclaim had outgrown Oyster Bay and we just had no room anywhere. We kept renting buildings. The downtown of Oyster Bay was hosting Acclaim all over the place. So one of the parking lots, we're sitting there and somebody had seen American Ninjas. "What about this?" And it just became that little Game Boy game, which had very little to do with The Simpsons.»
This allowed Imagineering's designers--Bill Jannott, Dan Kitchen, and Barry Marx--to structure the game as groups of selectable events, giving the player a bit more freedom in how they approach the game. This is the same design used in their previous NES game, Bart vs. the World, as well as the 16-bit games from Sculptured Software.

It's interesting to see that the company's key figures--David Crane and Garry Kitchen--stop appearing in the credits. It's understandable for the heads of a growing company to get away from contributing directly to the products under their purview, but I also have to wonder if the Simpsons titles simply became less significant parts of the company's bottom line. After all, they weren't working on the 16-bit future of the Simpsons video games, since companies like Sculptured Software and BITS Ltd. won those contracts. It's not tough to speculate that these Simpsons games became contractual obligations for Imagineering to knock out as quickly as possible.

But as contractual obligations go, this is a pretty good effort. I have previously noted that these early Simpsons games had little or none of the show's trademark humor and wit. Not that anyone expected these older video games to pack in jokes the way they did on a sitcom, but a game based on The Simpsons really needed to start with the writing. It would take another five years for a dialogue-driven game to appear on shelves in the form of Virtual Springfield, which was nothing short of a celebration of the TV show, its characters, and the entire town of Springfield. But until then, this humble Game Boy game was somehow the best effort to date. The jokes come in the form of commentary between the two hosts of the Juggernauts show: news anchor Kent Brockman and psychologist Dr. Marvin Monroe. There are some half a dozen exchanges between Monroe and Brockman in which they comment on Bart's success or failure in each event, and some of those are actually funny enough to draw a smile. It's entirely secondary to the gameplay and the designers could've gotten away with just presenting the events with no commentary whatsoever, but this extra writing really does help elevate the game. There are also introductory bits of dialogue from well-established characters from the TV show, further proving that the designers of this game had a better grasp on the license than whoever decided that random space aliens are the only characters who should speak in a Simpsons game. That it all appears in a Game Boy game of all platforms makes it even more of an oddity, and it's something few Simpsons games would even attempt.

It speaks!

But the interstitial dialogue scenes are merely set dressing for the game's core gameplay: four weeks of events in which Bart faces off against the titular Juggernauts. This theme is lifted directly from American Gladiators, a show from the early nineties in which amateur competitors signed up to compete in contests of strength and agility against a cast of muscleheads with names like Nitro, Gemini, and Ice. The characters in Bart vs. the Juggernauts are appropriately more brutish and menacing, providing ample threat for a ten-year old kid. Each week of events is merely a narrative reason to group events into levels and gate the player's progress. There is no concept of lives and health in this game. Instead, Bart accumulates a certain amount of money in each event, depending on how well the player performs the task at hand. Each week of events requires the player to reach a certain threshold of money: $10,000, $26,000, $52,000, and finally $100,000. Players are allowed to overshoot and their money carries over from one week to the next, which is good because sometimes the win margin can be razor thin. Players who win all events in a week may also proceed to a bonus event for extra money in which Bart drops weights on a juggernaut's weight bar within a time limit.

Don't worry, the nuclear waste will catch him.

But enough of that: let's get into the main event. The game's seven events are introduced over the course of the game and sometimes appear more than once, giving players an opportunity to replay past events with a little more experience under their belt. The first event is Dr. Marvin Monroe's Hop, Skip and Fry. This combo of basketball and hop scotch sees Bart jumping through a minefield of alternating electric tiles while also avoiding two continually pestering Juggernaut goons. Each pass through the field requires Bart to drop a ball in the basket and then return to pick up a new ball and try again. The other event introduced in week 1 is Capt. Murdock's Skateboard Bash and Crash, a simple downhill slalom on a skateboard with a ramp at the end, and the final obstacle a shielded Juggernaut that must be taken out with a well-aimed kick to the head or torso. If you survive to week 2 you'll take on the challenge of the Nuclear Power Plant Bop `Till You Drop. Based on the American Gladiators event called Joust, Bart must use his padded bow staff to defend against and attack a Juggernaut. Each character attempts to knock the other into the pool of nuclear goo below. The similar Moe's Tavern Shove Fest requires Bart to shove a Juggernaut off the edge of a wrestling mat by using moves such as kicks, head butts, and of course shoves aplenty.

The challenge increases in the latter part of the game as Herman’s Military Minefield Mayhem appears. This challenging combat simulator requires Bart to navigate the skies in a parachute while dodging Juggernaut projectiles, then a minefield with barbed wire dotted along the way. This one requires fine motor skills and a modicum or two of patience. The Krustyland Hammer Slammer is seemingly a respite with its simple layout, but keeping the Juggernauts from reaching the ground can become a harried exercise in juggling. Fortunately, a Juggernaut juice powerup gives Bart the strength to knock one of the Juggernauts out of contention and is definitely not a steroid cocktail. Finally, we come to the most traditional of video game events: a platformer stage! The Kwik-E-Mart Doggie Dodge comes in at the end perhaps as a nod to the fact that almost all games of the era were entirely platformer games, but it's more likely that it made a fitting finale as the longest single event in the game. It can also be quite a challenge due to the time it takes to clear the event. Bart's objective is to navigate a labyrinthian version of the Kwik-E-Mart convenience store while dodging packs of bloodthirsty dogs. There are bones available to distract them and sausages to use as shields, and fortunately these dogs aren't the fastest and can be dodged with relative ease.

A date with Snarla would be fine by me.

All of these events are presented in simplified Game Boy graphics but still look quite good for 160 x 144 pixel resolution. The music is also a surprise, composed by Mark Van Hecke, the same composer from previous Imagineering titles. I think it's mostly the fact that it's not just the Simpsons theme playing ad nauseum.

My memories of the game were betrayed by the fact that they were mixed in with so many other Simpsons games. Reviewed on its own merits, this game far outpaces the previous attempts on Game Boy and rivals any of the Simpsons titles on NES. It only raised the ancient wisdom: when in doubt, do like the American Gladiators.

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