The Simpsons: Tapped Out Review

Oil up your vocal chords for your best Homer shriek: The Simpsons are now starring in their very own social game. America’s favorite yellow-fleshed family has been in our videogames for almost as long as they’ve been on the air (hint: 20 years for the former, 22 for the latter) and few of their games have been especially good. We’ve fought space mutants, gone after Bart’s wayward homework in the land of dreams, and even done a little backyard wrestling. But The Simpsons: Tapped Out scores a rare success simply because it lets the Simpsons be themselves as they trundle around a version of Springfield that you build to your own tastes.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out begins with Homer playing a Happy Little Elves social game on his myPad instead of monitoring the nuclear power plant’s core temperature. After spending about a thousand dollars on microtransactions (Homer sensibly decides he’ll blame his kids for the purchase and get his money refunded), the core reaches critical, and the plant explodes, taking all of Springfield with it.

If this were a game about lesser people, everyone would be dead, or at least irradiated to the point that they wished they were dead. But Springfield’s denizens are a hardy bunch. They’re all alive and well, and simply waiting for Homer to rebuild their homes so that they can return. Of course, Homer is not America’s poster child for Getting the Job Done, so rebuilding Springfield is pretty much up to you.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out functions much like any city-building social game (the Happy Little Elves parody at the start of the game kind of says it all), but with a definite Springfield twist that’s impossible not to love if you’ve ever been a hardcore fan of the show — and that includes people who are hardcore fans now, as well as those of us who swear to Jeebus that the show lost its soul after season nine. In The Simpsons: Tapped Out, you don’t simply build houses and businesses. You build Ned Flanders’ house. You build Springfield Elementary. You build the Krusty Burger. You can even build Hank Scorpio’s volcano hideout, but that’s where the game treads into premium content (awww).

And then there’s the citizens of Springfield, who slowly return as you rebuild. Each man, woman, and clown can earn money at a series of jobs that relates to their character. Krusty can walk his pet monkey, promote a new item at the Krusty Burger, or “inflate his self-worth.” Lisa can read a book or practice her sax. Homer can lounge in Maggie’s kiddie pool and drink beer. That’s where he’s a viking.

Springfield’s citizens earn cash and experience, as does each establishment in the form of “income tax.” It’s actually a little disappointing that EA doesn’t ask you to collect Homer’s infamous “bear tax,” because The Simpsons: Tapped Out typically doesn’t miss a chance to make any reference to the show, be it large or small. Every job that you give to a citizen elicits the perfect reaction. When Homer’s drinking in the kiddie pool, he wears his umbrella-hat. When Apu feeds the octuplets, he straps on that horrendous mechanism that grants him eight fake teats, and wanders around miserably while his brood feeds.

The Simpsons: Tapped Out does have one or two D’ohs, however. There are tons of original voice clips, but no way to turn them off. Sure, it’s fun to hear our favorite characters talk to us from our iPhones, but the voices get repetitive — especially when they’re used incorrectly. A character typically grouses in some manner when you send him or her to do a job, but sometimes the reaction doesn’t add up. Why would Lisa groan after you instruct her to go read a book?

The touchscreen controls can also get a little finicky at times, especially when you’re trying to move objects around. If your fence, house, tree, etc, is near a street, the game will often assume that you want to edit the road (“Woohoo, lookit that pavement fly!”).

The Simpsons: Tapped Out is a pretty standard social game, with two big differences: it’s incredibly polished, and it knows its audience inside-out. It’s a must-play for fans of the show, past and present. Its charm and style will embiggen your heart and soul.

When The Simpsons: Tapped Out first hit the App Store in March, Springfield actually suffered two meltdowns. While the first event was wholly Homer-induced, the second disaster happened as soon as EA let Tapped Out touch the App Store. The game’s popularity caused its servers to go kaboom, and EA pulled the town that Homer destroyed out of circulation. After a five month hiatus, The Simpsons: Tapped Out is back on the App Store, and this time it looks like EA’s servers are holding up better than one of Homer’s homemade spice racks.

There are a few additional tweaks to The Simpsons: Tapped Out 2.1.0, including enhanced HD graphics for the iPad’s Retina display. Otherwise, this is pretty much the same game that arrived and promptly died on the App Store last Spring. In other words, it’s funny, it’s fun, and it’s well-polished.

Chances are good that you never had a chance to play Tapped Out when it first hit the App Store, so go ahead and play it again for the first time.

Moreover, the kids of Springfield can go trick-or-treating, and you can make friends with characters like Marge the Witch and Ned Flanders the Devil (if he offers you a doughnut, run). You can also earn eggs and toilet paper and use them to make a mess out of your friends’ towns. You little punk.

The Halloween update introduces a new currency, “Treats,” which are necessary for purchasing the game’s selection of Gothic buildings. Some of your choices include the Springfield Cemetery (free!) which breeds zombies that you can squish for candy, the Pet Cemetery, Reverend Lovejoy’s “Heck House,” and even the giant laser cannon that Kang and Kodos intend to point at some planet you never heard of.

Finally, you can collect Mayan artefacts and engage in a quest to earn doughnuts (the game’s premium currency — not Flanders’ devil-doughnut). Completing the quest correctly requires you to have some knowledge of Treehouse of Horror XXIII, which aired on Sunday October 7. Psst — the question is, “What do the aliens consider mankind’s greatest achievement,” and the answer is “The Zune.”

The Simpsons: Tapped Out Halloween update will be available through October 31 (of course). There is a lot to collect and it takes some time to get everything, so if you haven’t started, get busy!