The Simpsons Tapped Out debuted earlier this year in a disastrous bug-ridden launch that resulted in it being pulled from the App Store. It returned recently in a more stable format, and added a new batch of Halloween content too. We have spent weeks of our precious lives exploring this addictive time-devourer to see if Simpsons fans should invest their time and possibly cash on this free-to-play Springfield simulator.
It’s a city-building game that runs on the same formula as Smurf Village, or any of the Whatever-Villes. To be blunt, it’s a mindless tapping game devoid of any meaningful choice, strategy or skill.
However, it’s still a Simpsons game, and the mindless tapping is there to justify gags and references to the show, while an endless parade of Springfieldians show up to take residence in a tiny Springfield that players can build.
In fact, Tapped Out is actually a parody of this genre of game. The characters are aware that they’re in a video game, and often comment on how some virtual item is definitely worth buying with real money. One mission even involves Krusty the Clown carrying around a giant Exclamation Point to make himself look more important.
The dialog is very brief, but the writers do get in plenty of funny little jokes, and it rings true to the sense of humor that Simpsons fans will expect. The cast of characters starts out very small, and it will takes weeks of play to get a well-populated town. The good news is that players who do put in the time, tapping away at their imaginary town will get a pay off in terms of favorite characters showing up.
The game uses the real voice actors from the show, and characters have a few short lines of dialog that they can speak, so it adds a lot of fan appeal to hear Krusty scream his “Hey hey” in Dan Castellaneta’s voice, or Ned Flanders give an authentic “Didly”.
In terms of the actual game mechanics, it’s on par with the others of this sub-genre. Each building produces a certain amount of money over a certain period of time, and players need to load up the game repeatedly during the day to harvest that money, and spend it on yet more buildings, which unlocks new kinds of building in an endless loop. There is also a premium currency in the form of pink donuts that can speed up the building process and buy certain premium buildings. It’ll keep people occupied for a minute or two at a stretch, several times over the course of the day.
There are a couple of problems with the game on top of the general issues with this sort of game. First is that it’s very easy to accidentally spend the premium currently. Tap on any character or building and the game displays a timer of how long it will take to complete the current task. However these time meters also include a handy button to complete them instantly by expending the premium donuts. The problem is that accidentally tapping the donut button will instantly spend the donuts. There’s no failsafe asking “Are you sure you want to spend these donuts?”
This could be marked up as a flaw in the user interface, but it seems like a deliberate ploy to make users accidentally expend their donuts.
Secondly, Tapped Out is a social game from Electronic Arts, and that means that the social features are handled through Origin. This means many gamers will need to pester their Facebook friends to join Origin, and that wouldn’t be too bad if the social networking features actually worked in a consistent manner. Alas, the game is prone to disconnecting from Origin, which requires logging back in often, or reloading the game.
At the time of this writing, Tapped Out is holding a Halloween event which is chock full of references to the various Little Treehouse of Horror episodes. This adds in a minigame in which players must squish zombies before they infect the townsfolk, plus new missions, buildings, and skins for the Springfieldians (Not to mention Kang and Kodos). There are also new resource to harvest, and these can be used to buy special content (Like a laser gun to kill Kang and Kodos).
The Simpsons: Tapped Out is free-to-play, but a lot of the iconic Springfield buildings require a large amount of premium currency. There are also several missions that require players to either pester their social media friends, or pony up the premium bucks. This combined with the fact that it’s very easy to accidentally spend premium money means that players will be under serious pressure to spend real-world money, or suffer through a long grind waiting for a single building to be constructed.
It can be played without actually buying any premium items, though. Players will get a small trickle of premium donuts for leveling up or completing certain missions, and thrifty Simpsons fans will be able to enjoy it for free (Albeit at a much slower pace).
It’s not the cheap cash-in game that fans might fear, but rather something made with fans in mind. Most of the launch bugs have been corrected, and players who join the game now will be able to enjoy both the process of building up the town, and taking on the new Halloween content.