GAME BOY ESSENTIALS

The Simpsons: Itchy and Scratchy - Miniature Golf Madness

North American release in November 1994

European release in 1994

Published by Acclaim

Developed by Beam Software

Wow! Free balloons for everyone who enters.

Wow! Free balloons for everyone who enters.

They Drove a Dump Truck Full of Money Up to My House!

Game Boy Screenshot

The year 1994 is a part of the sad middle age of Game Boy. It seemed the console was winding down by then. Few games were released, and they’re mostly forgettable. Most releases were tie-in games. Tie-in games for projects and franchises who bothered to release on Game Boy because you needed to do it if you wanted to be on every console. Nobody knew the console was due for an enormous comeback, so it looked like all the must-play games had already been released. I would say no more than five great games were released that year on Game Boy. Of course the Super Game Boy was released in 1994, but it did nothing to help the Game Boy’s moribund years. It also wasn’t a game. Its marketing heavily focused on the ability to play older titles. 1994 was also the year of the masterpiece Donkey Kong (not to be confused with Donkey Kong Land but one masterpiece amongst a sea of deplorable games was not enough to change the perception that the Game Boy might be in its twilight. That Nintendo was surely working on another portable console.

The Simpsons: Itchy and Scratchy—Miniature Golf Madness is born of this era. It is a forgettable tie-in title focused on the cartoon-within-a-cartoon ultraviolent parody of Tom & Jerry that Bart loves on The Simpsons. The company Acclaim held the licence for The Simpsons video games and published underwhelming titles from multiple developers. All their Simpsons games were terrible, no matter who developed them. The exception that confirms the rule is Konami’s arcade game, but I do not think that Acclaim ever had anything to do with Konami’s arcade licence.

It was a well-known quantity that Simpsons games were trash amongst my friends; one should never rent or buy a Simpsons game, they’re awful. The interesting part is that I had never rented any NES Simpsons game myself. It was schoolyard knowledge that was imparted on me. Once, however, I remember a friends’ older brother had rented The Simpsons: Bart vs. the World on NES. I was at his house and he was playing the first level, which had Bart on a Chinese boat.

The first level is called junk. It's like they knew.

The first level is called junk. It’s like they knew.

The level was backward from the usual NES fare: you had to go left instead of right. I still vividly remember the older brother going right and falling straight into the water and dying. He then went left with his next life and got immediately killed by a dynamite stick. Then something broke inside of him. I think he knew then and there that Bart vs. the World was a shitty game, and he was having none of it. He spent his remaining lives jumping in the water as fast as he could to get to a Game Over screen. I asked him what was wrong. He simply replied that the game was broken, got up, and brought the game back to the convenience store where he had rented it. He managed to convince the store to change his rental for another game.

Remembering that story got me thinking about video game rental stores of yesteryear. Did clerks know which games were terrible based on the amount of time it took to bring them back, thoroughly pissed off? “No, don’t rent the new Bartman Meets Radioactive Man. We’ve just received it yesterday, but any Simpsons game is always a guaranteed forty-five minute return.”

With all this emotional baggage towards games based on The Simpsons, I can’t say I expect much out of Itchy and Scratchy—Miniature Golf Madness. Especially considering the double whammy of this Game Boy title game being released in the doldrums of the Game Boy, and it being itself a doldrum release of Acclaim’s The Simpsons license deal. Acclaim held the licence since the show was popular, and they clearly benefitted from Bartmania in the early 90s. They did the clever thing of ridding on the popularity of Bart. He was the hot new thing, and they marketed their games as Bart games. The other Simpsons characters were irrelevant. They stooped so low as to eventually make a game about Bartman, a five-second gag whose only benefit was that it sounded cool in concept. By 1994, when they released this game, Bartmania was over and the show had kept its popularity, but was far from the most talked about show on TV. The people at Acclaim tried out weird things with their licence. Virtual Bart on SNES and Genesis. The Simpsons: Bart & the Beanstalk on Game Boy a couple of months earlier. Why not try a mini-putt game featuring the cartoon characters that Bart loves?

I Sure Hope Someone Got Fired for That Blunder

Let’s start the game. You get through the menus and start playing the game. You are playing as Scratchy, in what looks like a side-scrolling platformer. In front of you is a ball, which makes the game somewhat unique: a side-scrolling golf game is not a regular occurrence. So you try to hit that ball, and oh boy! When you press the B button, Scratchy swings a club, and the ball just jumps in the air without moving forward.

I finally managed to figure out what is wrong, but it took forever! The game uses the B button as an attack. You’re supposed to use your attack against Itchy, but if you hit the ball with your attack it will react by jumping straight up. To get into your golfing stance, you need to press Up right next to the ball. So the game is about hitting a golf ball through a hole while dodging infinitely reappearing Itchy sprites. You pick up weapons to hit Itchy, but it seems the dastardly mouse constantly reappears. There is therefore no point in attacking it. You’re better simply jumping over Itchy and letting it go across the screen. You can then safely get back to the crappy mini-putt the game offers. You hit the ball a couple of times, try to clear a hill or a hole, jump over Itchy. Get a small chuckle out of the gigantic Krusty head.

Game Boy Screenshot

As a gameplay loop, it sucks. I’ve had enough playing one level. I do not need to play more of this useless game.

I feel like Game Boy players back then came to the same conclusion as me. Even with such anemic new releases, players had better options on Game Boy than what was newly released in 1994. Older classics could still be found, and if you move forward in time to 1996 after the failure of the Virtual Boy, Nintendo used the Player’s Choice rereleases as a way to put good titles on store shelves. Even during the doldrums years before the one-two punch of Pokémon and the Game Boy Color revitalized the Game Boy in 1998, you could still find excitement. You just had to skew towards older titles.

Conclusion

I do not believe that this terrible Itchy and Scratchy game needs to be tried at Nuremberg, but there must be a smaller venue for German war criminals where we could prosecute the game. All joking aside, there is no value whatsoever to be gained from playing the game. It simply exists as a marketing vehicle, released near the end of Acclaim’s licence, meant to find a new vein of interest with The Simpsons in the sleepy doldrums of Game Boy release years. Its historical value lies in its marketing during a tough year for both the Game Boy and games based on The Simpsons. For that, however, it is interesting. Those tough years existed for multiple reasons for the Game Boy, and gave us a couple of years where it was hard to look at a rack of new releases and feel excited. The developers who made this game were simply asked to provide something cheap that featured Itchy & Scratchy. That was enough to merit the release it got.

*The Simpsons* writers knew all the way back during Bartmania in 1990-1991 that the brand was being used for terrible products; they knew so they made fun of it.

The Simpsons writers knew all the way back during Bartmania in 1990-1991 that the brand was being used for terrible products; they knew so they made fun of it.