Despite some early issues and frequent disconnects, EA has offered up an addictive "ant farm" game with personality in The Simpsons: Tapped Out.
Simpsons Tapped Out is the new crack
I have to admit, I’m not one to play games like this. I’ve skipped over Farmville, Mafia Wars, and whatever other mass appeal resource management online game that’s popped up over the years on Facebook and every mobile device. But this is the Simpsons. So I figured I’d at least get a few chuckles out of it before setting it down and forgetting about it 10 minutes later. Boy was I wrong. The game boasts all-new animated sequences and original voice work from all of the actors on the show. Sure enough, the game starts with a send up of the game they’re getting you to play. It opens with Homer sits at his console in sector 7G, playing a Happy Little Elves game instead of watching the core levels of the nuclear reactor. As you would expect, the plant blows up, but in a fun/safe cartoony way, scattering the town of Springfield into the ether, leaving only Homer and Lisa to pick up the pieces (with the help of your giant tapping finger, of course). Each new phase of the process of rebuilding Springfield has humorous touches and it feels like a big accomplishment every time a beloved classic character steps out onto the streets of your Springfield. Then Professor Frink shows up to tell you… well, you’ll have to play to find out. Spend wisely, expand carefully, arrange deftly, and you’ll find yourself with a bustling city of your own design with characters you will send to and fro to do your bidding. I now finally understand the appeal of these games. But I’ve come to learn of their dark underbelly as well…
D’oh! Cannot Connect to Server (again)
Early last winter, Simpsons Tapped Out debuted on iOS devices to little fanfare. I hadn’t even heard of it back then. But it gained so much support that it had to go away. EA pulled the game after a few months only to bring it back this past summer, newly improved, but not without its share of glitches. My experience has been frustrating to say the least. I started playing in August on both my iPhone 4s (currently iOS5) and my iPad 2 (now on iOS6) and it’s been nothing but an endless series of network disconnects and “down for maintenance” issues with no clear explanation as to what’s happening when the service, logins managed by the Origin service, goes down. At first I thought it was my devices. The game stopped working almost immediately after I updated my iPad to iOS6. I went weeks without playing Tapped Out on it. I was afraid to update my iPhone for fear that I’d lose access to the game altogether. But then the Halloween update came (more on that later). It was fixed! I played for hours every day. Then it would just wouldn’t connect for hours afterward. I troubleshot it in every way I knew how. I force quit, deleted the game, rebooted the iPad, re-installed, and sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. I have just come to the point where if it doesn’t connect, I stop playing for a few hours. I just have to drop it cold turkey for half a day while the servers come back online, realizing that there’s nothing I can do on my end to fix it. If you decide to pick up the game, heed my advice. Don’t get angry. Just go do something else, even if you’re still getting random notifications that say that Lisa’s been turned into a zombie or that you have somehow vandalized another person’s Springfield even though you have no way of doing so.
Racecars and Zombies!
If you’re a fan of the Simpsons like me, you’ll find that the creators of the show and the game are working together to create a connection between the two. In anticipation of the season premiere last weekend, everyone who logged into the game before the premiere got a formula 1 racecar to place as decoration in their town. I had no idea what it meant until I saw the opening sequence of the season premiere, where a street race with the exact car we were given (sponsored by DUFF!) was featured. That’s cute and of no real value that I can see, but it’s fun. Of course, they really outdid themselves when they launched a massive update to the game on October 2nd that went so far as to re-skin the load page with a bloody title and a bony menacing hand reaching toward Homer to tap him to death. Suddenly, players were given the opportunity to add a human graveyard and a pet cemetery, which produces zombie people and pets every 10 hours and unleashes them on your town, whether you’re available to stop them or not. If you’re asleep at 4am when the zombies are unleashed, you’ll awaken to find most or all of your characters zombified and lurching through streets surrounded by toilet paper draped trees and egged houses (courtesy of your friends). Yes, one of the other features of Tapped Out is your ability to make friends and visit their versions of Springfield. Until the Halloween update, you would just collect money and Experience Points and leave. Now you have the opportunity to toilet paper trees and egg the homes of your friends, leaving them with lots of cleaning up to do. Of course, they can do the same to you. It’s really all in good fun, as neither the pranks or the zombie attacks really set you back in any way. Your characters are healed with a touch from you and go about their day as if nothing happened. But it’s a fun twist to the game that will only last until October 31st. And as a bonus, you are supposed to collect pieces of candy that you will hopefully be able to redeem for special items within the game, but that has yet to be revealed. Everyone was given a hint by one of the zombies, who began to say that they should watch the Treehouse of Horror episode tonight (10/7) for clues, but Homer killed it before we could get any more information. Clever. And, of course, I’ll be watching. But I would be anyway.
Be Careful on How You Spend Your Donuts
In a world where Homer has to rebuild Springfield (with your help), it makes sense that donuts would hold a special value. This is where the in-game purchasing comes in. Donuts are used to purchase Premium Items, like special buildings or accessories or even virtual cash. The only way to get donuts is by earning them (Level Up – get 2! Mystery Box prize – get 10!) or buying them with real world money. If you have $99.99, you can get 2400 donuts, which should be enough to buy all of the premium items in the game. As obsessed as I am over this game, I have yet to go down that path and I don’t intend to. However, depending on how tap-crazy you get, you might find yourself donut-less sooner than you expect. The biggest pet peeve I and many other gamers have with Tapped Out is how easy it is to spend donuts. When you’re tapping on the screen to collect $ and XP from the various houses and businesses that churn them out periodically (taxes), they can often come pouring out, scattering in all directions, sometimes leading your finger to come down on a spot where you thought there was $ or XP, but is instead just a house you’ve already collected from. This brings up a status bar with a pink rectangle on the right of it that will let you speed up the collection process with just a tap, for 2 donuts or maybe 16 or more. If you don’t tap it again in time to cancel it, you’ll find yourself without the stated amount of donuts and $6 richer in 5 seconds instead of 5 minutes. I could have waited 5 minutes for that $6, thank you very much. It’s frustrating to start with 20 or so donuts as you work toward possibly getting something really cool like Frink’s lab or the Duff Brewery, only to find yourself with 2 donuts after a handful of frantic tap-a-thons and little control over where your finger would land. My advice for any new players is to never tap anywhere on the right half of the screen, where the pink button might appear. If you keep tapping anywhere on the left side of the screen, especially in an area without a building, the $ and XP will come to you after a few taps. This will save you much frustration and many lost donuts.
So Many Easter Eggs
There are just too many references to classic episodes to count peppered throughout the game. whether it’s the characters quoting favorite lines or characteristic grumbles (none of them seem to be happy about doing your bidding most of the time) or assigning the characters very specific tasks (have Cletus help Brandine birth another Spuckler; get Moe to spy on “Midge”; make sure Apu feeds the Octuplets), the game is chock-full of Simpsons episode history. Remember that time Homer became morbidly obese, but had to traverse the flimsy ladder assembly that led to the shut off switch to save the plant? That’s in there (orange object). Want to hold a Mensa meeting with some of Springfield’s smartest denizens? There’s a gazebo for that. And when Homer wants to relax, he takes over the kiddie pool with a beer resting on his belly. There are too many others to mention. If you’re a longtime fan, most of the game’s fun comes from discovering these lovely little nods to the show. And with 24 seasons and dozens if not hundreds of characters to include in the game over the coming months and (hopefully) years, there is no end to what they could include in the future. Here’s just a few suggestions that I would love to see:
- This winter, I would love to see Springfield covered in snow, with Barney’s Plow King to face off with Homer’s Mr Plow for snowstorm dominance.
- I want to build a monorail. And I want Leonard Nimoy to show up to save the day when it all goes to hell.
- Springfield needs a boardwalk. There is a shoreline toward the bottom of the screen. If that area ever gets opened up, I expect Homer will be pushing the Sea Captain’s all-you-can-eat restaurant buffet policy to its limits.
- Heyhey! How about Krusty-Lu Studios with Sideshow Mel and Bumblebee Man? And maybe a substation on the alkalai flats for Krusty to hide in, just in case Sideshow Bob forces him off the air. By the way, if you see Sideshow Bob running around your town, tap him immediately or someone else will and get the reward money instead!
- Lenny and Carl. Just Lenny and Carl. How can you have a Simpsons game without Lenny and Carl? Also, Ralph Wiggum, Smithers, Gil, Jimbo, and maybe even Frank Grimes (risen from the grave!).
A Great Game… When You Can Play It
So is the Simpsons Tapped Out for the iOS worth playing? Absolutely! (when it works – just be patient!) If you’re a Simpsons fan, you have to play the game, if only to stir up flashbacks of classic episodes from the Simpsons’ extensive 23 year history, reminding you why it is one of the greatest television series of all time. But as much as I love what I’ve seen so far, I’m really looking forward to the seasonal upgrades, episode tie-ins, classic characters, buildings, and the hilarious only-on-the-Simpsons tasks yet to be doled out.
Simpsons Tapped Out is free to download and play from the Apple Store for both the iPhone and iPad. And watch The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XXIII Sunday, October 7th, at 8pm on FOX for clues that will give you access to exclusive items within the game.