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 4: Bart vs. the World 15 Nov 1991
I was in college when I discovered the existence of Bart vs. the World, or the fact that there were more than, like, five Simpsons games altogether. I'd been writing game walkthroughs for a bit and decided these poor, neglected Simpsons games needed some kind of coverage, and Bart vs. the World was among the first that I selected. My expectations were low, but that was just the way to experience the best Simpsons game on the NES.

The age of discovery.

While development of Escape from Camp Deadly on Game Boy moved along in the middle of 1991, Acclaim knew they couldn’t rest on their NES laurels. A direct follow-up to Bart vs. the Space Mutants had to ship by December so they could rake in those sweet holiday moneys, and Imagineering was back to bite off a piece of that pie as well. It’s clear that Imagineering had to bolster their staff numbers in order to cover concurrent development between the Game Boy and NES games. David Crane split off to lead development of the Game Boy title while Dan Kitchen, one of the co-founders of the company, led the NES sequel along with programmer Roger Booth and designer Barry Marx, all of whom worked on the previous NES Simpsons game.

The game shipped just seven months after Bart vs. the Space Mutants, and considering how quickly Acclaim followed up with a NES sequel, it’s surprising to learn that Acclaim didn’t start on it right away. Lead designer Dan Kitchen explains, “{After} we finished Bart vs. The Space Mutants, Acclaim came to us about 6 months later to discuss a sequel.” According to Dan, they were inspired by the fact that the TV show continued its meteoric rise in popularity. The third season premiered in fall of 1991 and is by all accounts the beginning of the golden era of the TV show. No one could stop the show’s pop culture dominance and the new game had to reflect that attitude. They decided that space mutants weren't enough--this time, Bart would take on the world. Garry Kitchen, another co-founder at Imagineering, recalls the initial inspiration for the sequel: “All I wanted from Bart vs. the World was Bart skateboarding down the Great Wall of China. I swear, that was the entire reason for pitching the idea.” Fortunately, the team was given more time to realize this new direction for the sequel, with Dan estimating they had roughly six months to design and build the game.

Two cars in every garage and a Simpson on every TV.

Bart vs. the World does like the title suggests and pits the player as Bart against the world, or more precisely obstacles and enemies from four locations around the world. Through a contrived but amusing series of events, Bart is selected to go on a global treasure hunt that leads him to China, the North Pole, Egypt, and Hollywood. The contest turns out to be a ruse perpetrated by the self-avowed nemesis of the Simpsons, Mr. Burns. Each location features two or three platform levels and an additional assortment of parlor and puzzle mini games that reward the player with additional treasures and lives. These mini games were regarded as odd additions at the time, but they provided an interesting array of amusements as a break between the more challenging platforming segments. Some of the mini games harken back to video game classics such as the card match mini game from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Root Beer Tapper. Tile sliding puzzles are another childhood classic in which a set of tiles is shuffled around on a grid in order to complete an image of one of the game's characters. Interestingly, the trivia game is the least interesting to me, but that may only be because Simpsons trivia is more fun at a bar. Other games such as a three shell game and a slot machine are there for the kids who couldn't wait to get to Vegas. The mini games are optional while the platform levels must be completed to proceed to the final boss of each of the four locations. The boss characters, who all hail from distant branches of the Burns family tree, are rudimentary battles that are nonetheless far more fun to fight than those of the previous game. Dan recalls working with designer Barry Marx on those boss designs: “Acclaim wanted the concept of bosses. Barry and I thought it would fit in well with the overall story if there turned out to all be relatives of Mr.Burns.”

The first and most notable difference in gameplay between the last game and this one is that the pretense of adventure game design is completely dropped. There are no more ancillary items to collect, no more inventory menus to navigate. The treasures collected throughout levels are simply for points and bonuses at the end of the game (more on that later). Dan remembers how this change in design from the first game came about: “Initially, Fox wanted the game to highlight Krusty the Clown. Thus all the cheap Krusty merch scattered about. Acclaim wanted the game to be more of a Mario-style ‘get to the end of the level’ game. So we didn’t focus on the puzzle solving aspect.” While this makes the progression of each platform level a much more straightforward affair compared to the complexity of the source TV material, the expanded focus on platform level design makes those portions of the game surprisingly fun.

Vertical scrolling allows for expanded exploration of the space and is in fact an essential aspect of the game’s goal of hunting for treasures. While the slippery Mario-style physics from the first game return here, jumping onto platforms is no longer a form of cruel and unusual punishment. They’re a bit wider, but still challenging. Of course, some players still found the platform traversal too difficult. Dan regrets some of the level design choices: “Back then players wanted the games to be harder. I personally look back on {many} games I worked on and wish I had {tweaked} them to be easier. I never liked thin platforms and jumps to nowhere.” The diametric difference in level design is welcome and while the disconnect from the show is palpable, I appreciate the effort to streamline the gameplay. It's just… actually fun to play the game? It's fun enough that I'd recommend Bart vs. the World to anyone seeking out new NES games to discover. The rough reputation that the 8-bit Simpsons games causes World to unfairly slip between the cracks. That said, the one gameplay aspect that disappoints me is the return of the same wonky controls in which the player can't simply hold B to run and A to jump, again like any game after Super Mario Bros. should have utilized. Ostensibly, this was done to allow the player the use of the B button for Bart's projectile weapons, but it feels bad just the same.

Do the Bartman all over ancient history.

The game also introduces a wider set of abilities for Bart. In addition to projectiles such as firecrackers to throw at enemies, players can now seek out Bartman icons to gain temporary flying ability, as well as the ability to climb on certain parts of the environment such as ship masts and Sphinx legs. This adds an element of variety to traversal that was sorely missing from Mutants and makes exploration of the platformer levels more interesting. The inclusion of Bartman (both in this game and the next one) was actually at the behest of Fox and/or Grace Films: “For the sequel, Acclaim wanted us to pack a lot of different types of game play. Fox wanted us to also work Bartman into the games.”

While level design showed a marked improvement, the game's art remained similarly banal, as it would for all of Imagineering's Simpsons games. They repurposed the same Bart and Simpsons character sprites from the first at game, only adding a modified version of the same Bart sprite for the Bartman transformations. While the enemy variety was far better than the previous game's penchant for little creatures that hop up and down, the designs remained vaguely connected to the world of the Simpsons. Take the first level on a Chinese junk, which is a type of ancient ship. The enemies encountered here are primarily Chinese sailors circa the 19th century, evident by their tonsured hair and black cotton outfits common of laborers during the period. Besides the weirdly casual racism (common of may cartoons of the era), the designs are simple and uninspired. However, it was done with some measure of review and approval: “We worked very closely with {Matt Groening's} team to make sure all the characters, humans and non-humans, were all created in that Simpson’s style. Once we created a few characters that they approved, it was easier to get the look right.”

You can argue that there was only so much programmers could squeeze onto the NES, but that argument don't fly by 1992. This applies to all human enemies encountered in the game, as well as other creatures such as dragons or skeletons. As with Mutants, it's all generic enough that it could be in some other game and there'd be no difference. Art design in levels is similarly bland but for a few instances such as in Egypt where a Sphinx head is shaped to look like Krusty. Some of the environments look good in spite of their irrelevance to The Simpsons, such as those in the aforementioned Egypt area and the Hollywood levels after it. There the levels demonstrate rich backgrounds and themed enemies to match, and the variety helps prevent any sense or monotony. The level design wasn’t exactly unified but it was still a lot more fun than what we got in Mutants. Dan recalls the design of one of the game’s best areas: “I recall I wanted to put Bart somehow on a Pirate Ship. That was a joke around Acclaim’s dev department. The question was how to place Bart back in the days of the pirates. That’s when the Hollywood level was thought of.” The soundscape was unfortunately as lacking as the previous entry on NES, and while the music (composed by Van Hecke once again) is no longer just the Simpsons theme on loop, it's also nothing to write home about.

Didn't even break a sweat.

This roller coaster of a review may make it seem like the game's not worth playing, but as I mentioned above it is an absolute gem in the Simpsons game catalog. One design choice that ultimately swayed me was the game's implementation of the unique Krusty treasures in each platform level. They are usually hidden and require thorough exploration to discover them all. And while they do have a practical benefit--granting 2000 bonus points each that go toward earning extra lives--they are also required for unlocking the secret final level in the Hollywood area. The designers took a page from the notoriously cruel Ghouls and Ghosts by including two endings: one good, one bad. The bad ending plays if the player completes all the other levels and misses any of the unique Krusty treasures, leading to a frustrating “Princess in another castle” scenario. This alone may make Bart vs. the World seem especially cruel, but that good ending absolutely makes up for the added completion requirements. I'll go so far as to say the good ending is one of the best Simpsons game endings ever, and I’ve seen them all. Your reward for making it to the end isn't just a series of text boxes or images but a full-on interactive sequence in which the player controls Bart as he throws pies at Mr. Burns and Smithers. It's as juvenile and simple as it sounds, but man, it feels so good to be able to wallop the characters with pies in the face after the trials and tribulations leading up to it. I don't know, maybe it just felt good to see the rich old jerk get his comeuppance.

And now you know: I love Bart vs. the World. It's a complicated affair with plenty to dislike, but I still happily return to the game decades after it silently released in the wake of Bart-Mania. It may not have had the lasting impact of the comparatively dismal Bart vs. the Space Mutants but it is certainly the diamond in the rough of these Simpsons NES games.

The dreaded conehead attack.

The video game industry may have solidified into a network of platforms that can all play more or less the same games, but the early nineties was still a wild west of hardware companies and platforms. Bart vs. the Space Mutants released into that environment on more than a dozen platforms. However things had begun to change. The microcomputers that dominated the American and especially European landscapes were coalescing into a relatively small few platforms while Nintendo and Sega's 16-bit consoles swooped into market dominance. The ports that were made for Bart vs. the World reflected the changing times. Besides the NES, the game made it onto only four platforms: The Master System and handheld Game Gear from Acclaim, and the Atari ST and Amiga from Virgin Interactive in Europe. As with Mutants, World received significant visual upgrades in the hands of Arc Developments, the same company that ported Bart vs. the Space Mutants. While some versions of Mutants were severely compromised to fit them onto older computers, the Amiga and Atari ST were relative powerhouses and the World ports had no such compromises. Regardless of platform, gameplay remained the same.

I'll tell you where you can put your freakin' sody, too!

Bart vs. the World was superior to its predecessor in many ways, but it arrived at a time when so-so platformers on the NES were on their way out. And while Acclaim would soon make the jump to 16-hit consoles, they still had one more Bart game to spring onto 8-bit fans.

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