The Simpsons video games have always been a mixed bag. You’ve had the good ones, like hit and run, and you’ve had most of the others. I’ve gone back and re-played one of the earlier titles to see if I’ll be yelling Boo or Boo-Urns.
Bart Simpson’s escape from camp deadly was the first Simpsons game on a portable machine and came out on the Nintendo Game Boy in 1991. Much like the shows’ classic 4th season episode “Kamp Krusty” the elder Simpson children have been shipped off to summer camp for a lovely, enjoyable time.
Being a fan since day one I have actually owned escape from camp deadly since its release. What I hadn’t realized until now was the lack of a connection between this game and Kamp Krusty. I had always wrongly assumed that the game was inspired by the classic episode. I’ll admit, I was wrong. The game came out almost a year beforehand. I was only 6 when the game released, and I played it for many years after and that’s what I’m blaming for my fuzzy memory.
Playing now I find there isn’t much of a connection to the show at all. This feels like a standard run of the mill 2D platform game with the Simpsons name tacked on for sales. Kind of like most movie tie-in games. Besides a moment with the whole Simpsons clan, the only playable character is Bart, who has found himself in Camp Deadly and must escape the evil Iron fist Burns. Despite an array of wonderful characters to chose from camp deadly has ignored them all and chosen to include characters who look like odd knockoffs. They didn’t even use Mr. Burns as the villain, they’ve used one who is supposed to be a long-lost nephew. Odd choice.
Anyway, Bart and Lisa are trapped at a summer camp where the counselors want them to suffer, and they want out. There are 2 objectives in the game. Number 1: Escape. Number 2: refrain from throwing Game Boy at the wall. In what is a very short game (it can be completed in half an hour) there is a lot of frustration. Often due to the game mechanics.
Jumping into the game and taking control of Bart a noticeboard informs us that the morning’s activity is flag capture and it’s Bart vs. everyone else. What that essentially means is scrolling from the left to right as waves and waves of enemies launch themselves at you. The occasional flag pops up which just needs to be touched before you can move any further. To start with Bart is powerless. He can launch spitballs to slow down the oncoming enemies, he just can’t kill them. That’s where Lisa comes in. Whilst not a playable character she acts as support. She will appear at certain intervals, holding a helpful item. The first of which is a bunch of boomerangs, 5 of them in fact. With these projectiles, Bart can kill enemies. Handy, as they never stop coming. The boomerangs do exactly what’s expected of them, they return after being fired forward. Trouble is, should you miss the return, the number you have will reduce. Getting back to zero will leave Bart rendered powerless once more. This is a problem as the enemies think this is a horde mode, having only spitballs us a sure way to lose a life and hear Bart yell a trademark catchphrase. I’m sure you know which one. The temptation to spam projectiles at these bad guys is high, although only one boomerang can be fired at once and should you accidentally hit Lisa, she will drop whatever item she’s holding, and it’ll be lost forever.
Mostly this game has you killing, or avoiding, enemies like camp counselors, with some climbing and platforming thrown in for good measure. These elements provide the most frustration. Waves of enemies I can deal with, but the jumping feels very floaty. The camera will often struggle to keep up and enemies can just appear because of this. An easy way to get hurt. If floaty jumps weren’t bad enough, we’ve also got to land. The platforms have a center safe zone, edges are often hit and miss as to whether they are safe or not making it easy for Bart to slip off.
Not that this is an out and out platform game. It’s not really much of anything. The best section for me is the food hall. Enemies still attack you and fire things towards your face (in this case cutlery), Bart responds by throwing food, instead of boomerangs. There are occasionally lunch monitors, who will force Bart to eat all of his ammo if they catch you throwing it. A nice little touch that adds to the danger and leaves you vulnerable for attack.
Bart can be hit twice, initially, before he is then killed. The slightly darker grey enemies drop balls that act as extra hit points. Very helpful, until getting hit by certain enemies that have a one hit kill. These must be avoided at all costs. Avoidance is the other major part of proceedings. There are many sections of endless enemies, but on the flip side are sections where things must be avoided. As well as the one hit enemies there are sections where spiders, bats, and weird moving nuclear waste need to be avoided.
There are a few bosses sprinkled throughout the game, sitting in treehouses waiting to stifle your progress. Again, they aren’t very inspired. Although, their names are printed on the side of the treehouse and they offer clues about how to be victorious. This was a great touch and not something I would have expected.
I’ve spent most of my time complaining about Bart Simpsons’ Escape from camp deadly, and with good reason. I still have fun playing it though. In part due to my faithful nostalgia goggles (My eyes, the googles do nothing). I’d find it hard to recommend to young gamers now. Fans of the classic Game Boy and the series should check it out though. And how did I get on? Despite difficulties, I made it to the final boss, with 1 life left on my first try. Thanks to stupidity on my part I failed. There are no continues and I had to restart, from scratch. Back to camp, I go. I failed, and then failed again. I felt the game may be beyond me.
Defeated and ready to publish this article I decided to have just one more try. One more failure in a long line of them. So, of course, I completed the game whilst only losing one life. After all these years it was that easy and a bit of an anticlimax. Have any of you ever played this game, and how did you get on? Let me know in the comments if there are any games you’ve completed easily after being stuck for years.