Watch your step, for you’ve just entered the Graveyard. Inside, we’ll be digging up games that have long been without a pulse. You’ll see both good and bad souls unearthed every month as we search through the more… forgotten…parts of history.
The Simpsons have been a part of pop culture for over thirty years, while Sega’s now-legendary Crazy Taxi has been around for almost twenty. The latter was a favorite of mine throughout high school, while The Simpsons is a show I enjoyed throughout my life — but binge-watched after the DVD releases made it easy to do so in the pre-streaming era. Both were products of their time, with The Simpsons’ massive world being a hive mind for gaming ideas — many of them absolutely God-awful in the ’90s. Thankfully, Konami did have a shining spot with an arcade brawler and EA took the reigns of the license in the early ’00s and hit the ground running with Road Rage.
Road Rage received a high amount of hype for a licensed game and was one of the biggest releases in the original Xbox’s launch lineup – despite it being a multi-platform release. The game sought out to combine the world of Springfield with the core gameplay of Crazy Taxi – and in its time, it was derided as nothing but a clone of CT. Now it is one to be sure and that got EA sued by Sega for patent infringement, but it’s still less of a clone of it than CT Special Forces for the GBA is to Metal Slug. It takes the concept of “get person A to where they need to go” and does some things to the table that greatly enhance the experience.
The original Crazy Taxi was an arcade game and thus kept things simple — perhaps a bit too simple given that it is now primarily known as a console game thanks to widespread releases over the years. The arcade version had one map, while the console versions had two, with the second being a bit of a mish-mash and harder to navigate. Starting points were identical and thus led to a level of same-ness, which was fair because it gave you a common starting ground and allowed each play session to feel like a new chance to top your prior high score.
The downside to it is that it can lead to a bit of staleness creeping in when you compare it to Road Rage, which allows to unlock over half a dozen starting points with a different primary portion of the map to enjoy. Each new starting point gives you a new part of Springfield to enjoy — so while you’ll start out taking Marge to the grocery store or Reverend Lovejoy to church, ending that run can easily lead to you then unlocking areas like Moe’s Tavern or social clubs. Running around the town to take people to Planet Hype or the She-She Lounge results in mad-dashes from one part of the map to the other and it remains a lot of fun.
The great thing about all of the variety with venues is that if you want to, unlocking a new area can be optional. Exceptional play isn’t just rewarded with a high score – but with the choice of either unlock a new area or a new character. Going with a new unlockable area gives you a greater challenge to work with, but may be overwhelming if you’re just starting out. If you want to focus on mastering a map and use a variety of characters to do so, you can. Going through it with Homer and then with Marge, or Homer’s Mr. Plow persona alongside his snow plow can lead to a completely different-feeling experience.
This feeling continues because each citizen in the town also has a bit of their character shine through with their pickups. If you’re picking up Marge as Homer, she’ll want a nice safe journey. Picking up Snake or Otto, however, will usually result in them wanting you to destroy as many things as possible. Doing whatever the person prefers nets you a nice bonus and encourages the player to branch out and play a bit differently. If you’re used to charging around like a madman, you can still do so with the bonus as an option, but have the freedom to nix it and get a better time. You will forego the bonus, but won’t lose the ability to play like you want.
In-game navigation is far better in Road Rage than it was in either Crazy Taxi or its sequels. In those games, the arrows guide you to your destination only and don’t give you turn-by-turn directions. Here, you get that assistance and it makes the quality of your in-game life a lot higher as a result. Going from A to B is much easier with this setup and it allows you to focus on fine-tuning your skills instead of worrying about memorizing the map. You still want to make sure to learn the map for opitmal routes, though, and get the timing down for things like braking off a steep incline to land perfectly on your target.
The world of The Simpsons springs alive with partial cel shading on the cars that blends in surprisingly well with the polygonal models. Small touches like the giant street-spanning pane of glass being moves and thus being smashable add to the sense of the world being lived-in too. The characters come alive with their animations too, so Ralph Wiggum moves a lot slower than someone like Otto, while Homer is in a huge rush at all times and hauls ass to the vehicle. There’s a lot of visual charm to the world and that extends into the voice acting.
The show’s regular cast worked on the game and did a fine job overall. It’s not the greatest video game work they’ve ever done — that would either go to The Simpsons Game or The Simpsons Hit and Run, but it’s fine for the genre. The small sound bites work well at conveying a snapshot version of the characters and let you know quickly what that character is about. The music is faithful to the show as well, and the overall presentation is on-point.
While The Simpsons Road Rage may have been derided in its time, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s an underrated gem. It’s better in many respects than the game it bore its inspiration from, and while the industry is full of these types of games, it’s rare that the copycat strives to do things better than the original. Road Rage is a must-play for anyone who loves the Simpsons or Crazy Taxi-style gameplay and it’s inexpensive now at about $10 for the original Xbox version — which can play on the Xbox 360. Otherwise, you can play it on the PlayStation 2 and GameCube — but you do get higher-fidelity graphics on the Xbox version.