Thursday 10 June 2010

Krusty's (Super) Fun House

I still think it's a stupid idea to make a game titled "The Simpsons Game". Not because it's a terrible idea, but there's also twenty-one other Simpsons games. Did we forget about those? Granted, the first batch, published by Acclaim, have mostly been forgotten due to poor marketing or the fact they weren't built to last, but when EA got the license they were plugging things left right and centre. A bit of imagination wouldn't have gone a miss!

Oh well. Here's a one that neither sucked nor was hyped to death. Krusty's Fun House, currently the only title in the "series" where Krusty the Clown takes centre stage. Barely relates to the TV show these days but still a nice platform puzzler. But I smell a rat.

Krusty's Fun House was released for the Amiga and DOS computers, the Game Boy, the Game Gear and the Sega Master System. It was also brought to the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive under the name of "Krusty's Super Fun House" (a lot of titles add in this "super" in game, but not on the box art), but really the Amiga, Mega Drive and SNES versions are all on about equal terms. Though I was brought up with it (sort-of), the DOS version lags slightly behind due to the poor use of sound cards and slow speeds (and the 8-bit versions are pointless), so I've gone with the Amiga copy for this review for the benefit of higher resolutions. Plus the Amiga version was *technically* the original game.

One of the keys to Krusty's Fun House's success is the fact it originally wasn't a Simpsons title. It was initially called "Rat Trap", and the fact that there was no guarantee that it would sell prompted the developers to make it great. Acclaim, looking for quick cash, snapped up the publishing rights and plastered Simpsons characters all over it. It was the first Simpsons game not to feature Bart as the main character (though he still manages to haunt the cover art and appears in game operating machines for completely unknown reasons), but it wouldn't be the last as "Bart Mania" was still big.

Rat Trap was intended for release on the Amiga, and copies must exist somewhere as it's been on the internet for a few years. However, as per usual, nobody has really bothered to write down why Rat Trap exists without Simpsons branding. I'd like to say it's a prototype, what with the lack of music, but I've no confirmation of this as of yet. For all I know it may have been released on the market but in small numbers. That wasn't uncommon for games of the time.

It's important to note this down though, because Krusty's Fun House... doesn't change much, and this leads to all sorts of inaccuracies. It doesn't help that when it was released in 1992, the show hadn't developed that much either. Krusty had only appeared in a few episodes, and none of that angry washed up alcoholic actor stuff had really appeared in the series yet. So for anyone who's watched the Simpsons in the last 17-or-so years will probably think the setting of the game and the personality of the characters is a bit out of date. You certainly don't see purple rats that walk on two feet.

The main goal of the game is to slaughter vermin by leading them to killing machines. To do this, Krusty needs to move blocks about, as well as standing on weak ground and various other things to clear the path. Krusty is also armed with a short supply of weapons in the form of custard pies or balls that can help him defeat other enemies and rank up extra points. It's one of those games where big chunks of the level aren't actually used for normal gameplay but can still be explored... it puts in extra replay value for a game that usually wouldn't have any.

You could also argue though that this was a complete waste of space. And I suppose that's true too... I can't see much point in a lot of these extra tunnels, especially when they're bigger than the main section of the stage. This is consistent in Rat Trap so it's not a case of "dumbing down" for a different audience.

There are a lot of puzzles though not all of them need to be accessed in a specific order. Of course, things get more challenging as the game progresses, but it's fairly safe to say that the earlier levels are a walk in the park. The most challenging thing I found was figuring out how to collect blocks - turns out you need to stand on them first... which is odd. Weirdly there isn't much for Krusty to do in the first few levels and it seems like opportunities were wasted.

The graphics are typical of the era. There's a lot of references to other Simpsons characters and settings (particularly in the SNES version) but there are two important features that this game did not address from the original Rat Trap incarnation. Firstly, it doesn't look anything like a "fun house" most of the time, because the original game had more of an "abandoned" house setting. Secondly, though Rat Trap's introductory cutscene was scrapped, the level designs are identical and many things are shared, so it doesn't look much like a Simpsons game either.

All of the sprites were re-drawn between the two releases, and the machines were given operators in Krusty's Fun House. But the backgrounds are identical... mostly, which just looks odd as because the detailed graphics of Rat Trap don't fit the cartoony styles of the Simpsons. In a bizarre twist of fate, the Super Nintendo version is the most un-changed. Many tiles were replaced in other versions of the game to attempt to give it more of a "fun house" feel, but not in the SNES copy, which opts for duller (though more appropriate) tiles in some areas. Krusty's sprite differs ever so slightly between versions also, and some copies of the game also lack parallax scrolling, which can be found in certain areas.

The music was the biggest change between Rat Trap and KFH, and potentially the most depressing change of all. Whereas Rat Trap doesn't have a full set of music tracks for whatever reason (this is despite being stretched across two disks), Krusty's Fun House does, and many of the tracks are... repetitive. They're appropriate, and I can't say I hate a piece of music catchy enough to be stuck in my brain for a decade and a half, but here's the thing... Rat Trap's music is better. Some interpretations of KFH's themes on weaker hardware are very poor (the DOS version has a completely different tempo and numerous note changes) and furthermore it doesn't really fit the Simpsons themes either. The icing on the cake is that it was developed by a company called Audiogenic... are they allowed to get the audio wrong?

Sound effects are hit and miss across all versions. Some lack sound effects, some have loads and the more advanced ports have speech samples of varying quality. It's debatable which version is the best in this regard, though my money's on the SNES version as all other copies are hindered in some way by their respective sound cards/chips. Though I don't think the SNES's music themes are the best, it does handle speech a lot better than its rivals. The Amiga copy is very, very close mind you.

But anyway, I like Krusty's Fun House, but I can't help but think it had more of a leg-up than it deserved. It's filled with leftovers from Rat Trap that struggle to find place in the Simpsons universe, and it looks and feels like very little effort put in to disguise the game's roots. But if you look past this, it's a great platform-puzzler and is still worth a look today. Very unlikely this one will see a re-release, seeing as all the companies that developed/published it are dead, so if you're in the mood for some internet game hunting, this one might be right up your alley.

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