Bart's Nightmare: A Review by Valdronius

      If you haven't been living in complete isolation from the human race for the last two decades, and if you have some form of access to a media outlet, there's a good chance you've heard of The Simpsons. Suffice to say, if you're reading this, I'm going to assume you know about the bright yellow, four-fingered family of five from Evergreen Terrace in Springfield; I won't beleaguer you with background information.

      Despite what some critics might say, or blog from their parents' basement, about the declining quality of the show since Season X, the franchise has been extremely popular and successful, and as such, a sizeable variety of video games have been made using The Simpsons license. To date, there have been over twenty video game titles published that are based off of The Simpsons, and with the notable exception of the original Simpsons Arcade Game by Konami, they've all been varying degrees of terrible. Maybe not quite as terrible as having a picture of Hitler on the front page of your website for almost a year, but still pretty awful. Bart's Nightmare for the SNES generally gets egregiously lumped in with the rest of the shitty games. However, it's actually a very playable - and enjoyable - game. At the very least, it is echelons above crap like Virtual Bart or Bart vs. The World. I can understand however, some people's frustration as the initial controls and learning curve in the game take some getting used to. My mission today is to get us past the opening level and reveal this game for the underrated gem that it is.


      When the game starts up, we see that Bart is in his room doing his homework. Within a few seconds, his eyes grow heavy, his vision grows dim, and poor Bart falls asleep at his desk. The scene then washes to black and white, to indicate that Bart has entered a dream. The fan on Bart's desk magically turns on, sending Bart's homework flying out the open window. In an attempt to retrieve the pages, Bart climbs out the window and plummets into darkness. This scenario then repeats over and over again until you press start, at which point Bart lands on a sidewalk and the game begins.


      Welcome to Windy World, the official name of this windswept street that I can only assume is Evergreen Terrace. This is the jumping-off point for all the other levels in the game, so you'll be coming back here fairly often when you play the game. This is also the level where I assume most people achieve a quick game over and give up. Again, I can sympathize with the frustration; there is a lot of shit coming at you and sometimes the enemies are dirty and cheap. However, Windy World is not the unnavigable clusterfuck some might have you believe. Let us analyze.


      We'll start with the HUD. Starting at the top left, we first have your supply of watermelon seeds; press A to spit one. As far as I know, these only have one purpose, which we'll get to later. Despite not being widely used, they can be very helpful later in the game. Next comes the can of pop. If you have acquired one, pressing X will destroy all enemies on the screen, which is quite effective in a pinch. After the soda pop are your pillows. Collecting three pillows essentially gives you a continue if you happen to suck and lose all your health. Instead of getting game over, you'll be given a fresh new health meter - one that is SIGNIFICANTLY shorter than the one in this picture. Next up is your stock of bubblegum. Unlike the watermelon seeds, the bubblegum has many uses. After pressing Y to blow a bubble, you can hold Y and use the D-pad to control its movement. If you send it off the top or sides of the screen, you will lose the bubble, but it will bounce off the bottom of the screen. Bubbles can be used to collect Z's, and they can also protect you from a number of different enemies. Lastly on the top row is your score. Below all these elements is your Z bar, which is your health. Virtually everything in Windy World will reduce your health by one upon contact. When all your Z's are gone, the screen becomes hazy, indicating that Bart is about to wake up. One more hit after that is a game over, unless you have three pillows.

      Now let's take a look at what you can expect to see on Evergreen Terrace. Brace yourself, there's a lot of stuff...


Homework Page. Seeing as these are what Bart chased out the window, leading him into this nightmarish land, it stands to reason that this is what you will be looking for in the Windy World. When you first start the game, you should see one blowing by within a minute or two. Once you get down to the last couple pages, it can take quite a while for one to pop up.


Blue Z. If you touch one of these with your bubblegum, it will rise straight and add itself to your health bar. Be warned, you have to send it up within the left and right bounds of the Z meter. If it goes outside the ends, or if your Z meter is already full, the Blue Z will simply sail off the screen.


Red Z. These bastards will pop your bubblegum bubbles, and will chase them around the screen. Avoid these.


Mailbox. These relatively harmless enemies will start at the top of the street, and move down to the bottom of the street when Bart walks close to them. Jumping over them will reward you with points, watermelon seeds, bubblegum, soda, or a clue as to which direction the homework page will be.


Severed Heads of Jebediah Springfield. Without a doubt, these are the most annoying enemies you will encounter. They may not be omnipresent, but when they do decide to attack, they come at you three at a time. Jumping over them destroys them, but each dead one is quickly replaced by another bouncing head.


Basketball. Fairly frequently you will hear a basketball slowly bouncing its way down the street. Leaping over one will transform it into a...


Skateboard. The skateboard is a very useful item, though it is somewhat tricky to use. Once you jump on, you will begin riding it, able only to move up and down on the street. If you stay on the skateboard long enough, it will begin to add Z's onto the ends of your meter, both extending the Z meter and giving you more health. Staying on the skateboard however, is no easy task. Contact with any enemy will knock you off and reduce your health by one. Running over a crack in the sidewalk, or a manhole on the street will also end your ride, but without the loss of health.


Walking TV. This walking television set ambles around in the middle of the road. Hitting it with a watermelon seed will cause it to explode, and this will sometimes cause a homework page to appear. Engaging them is not really necessary for the first half of the game, but later on destroying a Walking TV will save you much time and frustration.


Lisa's Sax. Lisa's saxophone floats over the sidewalks dropping music notes periodically. The saxophone is one of the few enemies that will not harm you on contact. Instead, it will squeal and fly up off the screen. If you touch one of the music notes, you will find all of your controls reversed. Should you have the extreme misfortune of hitting a music note while skateboarding... Well, let's just hope you aren't on your last Z.


Blinky. Jumping over Blinky The Three-Eyed Fish is the only way to earn those very desirable pillows I mentioned above. The first pillow will always be earned on the bottom sidewalk, second pillow on the top sidewalk, and finally Blinky will swim along the dotted yellow line in the middle of the street.


Lisa Fairy. Lisa flies slowly over both sidewalks. If she happens to fly over Bart, she will sprinkle dust from her magic wand. This dust will turn Bart into a frog. As a frog, Bart can neither spit seeds, blow bubbles, nor ride a skateboard. Thankfully, he can still use the soda can. Lisa will run away if you send your bubblegum toward her, a very useful tactic if you are trying to collect some blue Z's.


Old Lady. The booklet for Bart's Nightmare says that this old lady is Grandma, but it is neither Mona Simpson nor Jacqueline Bouvier, so I have no idea whose fucking Grandma this is supposed to be. Nevertheless, "Grandma" blows kisses at Bart, which will cost you 30 points. If you are a frog however, Grandma's kiss will turn you back into a human, and you will gain 30 points. You can incapacitate the old bitch by popping bubblegum on her head, but she's pretty harmless so it's not worth wasting the gum.


Principal Skinner. Skinner walks down the sidewalks carrying a clothes hanger with Bart's suit on it and running into him will change Bart's attire. While wearing his Sunday best, Bart must be on his best behavior. That means no spitting, no gum chewing, and certainly no skateboarding. As with the frog, burping is still allowed. You also walk much slower in your church clothes. There is an upside to being dressed to impress though. You no longer take damage from enemies, so you are much more free to wander around looking for your homework. The only thing that can wake you while in your suit is Jimbo and the gang. The suit will wear off after a very long time, but it you want to get rid of it quickly, you need to jump in a...


Mud Puddle. Mud puddles glide along the middle of the road. If you walk into one, you will absorb it and be forced to move painfully slow for a short time. The odd thing about the puddles is that they move faster while Bart is in the air. So when you need to jump in one, don't try to arc into it, but instead wait until it is almost touching you, then jump straight up and it will move underneath you.


School Bus. Otto, Springfield's resident bus driver likes to wreak havoc in this game by running Bart over at the most inopportune times. The school bus zooms through the screen really fast. I daresay it's impossible to dodge, so you really need a lot of luck to avoid it. There is some good news however; Otto actually obeys some law and logic in this game. He always drives on the right side of the road (left to right on bottom, right to left on top), and I'm fairly certain he will never come from the same direction twice in a row. He merely loops round and round.


Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearney. The bullies of Springfield won't harm Bart outright. Instead, if they come in contact with him, Bart will be forced to walk along with them, able only to jump and burp. While walking with the gang, your Z meter will gradually be depleted. To free yourself from their deviant grip, you can use a soda can to destroy them. If you don't have a soda can, Lisa's saxophone will repeatedly zoom overhead. Successfully jumping up into it will summon Fairy Lisa, who will turn the gang into rats and free you.


      Even with all the shit listed above, a little practice will quickly familiarize you with how to deal with the various denizens of Evergreen Terrace. The real challenge to this level comes both from the greenery, and from the controls. Scattered along both sides of the road are lots of trees and bushes. When these are in the background, it's not a big deal. When they are in the foreground on the other hand, things can get messy. Bushes are very adept at concealing cracks in the sidewalk as well as severed heads. Trees can sometimes block out as much as a third of the screen, obscuring cracks, manholes, heads, and Walking TVs, among other hazards. When it comes to the controls, Bart has a very pronounced case of Nana and Popo Disease, commonly known as Ice Climbers' Syndrome. His vertical leap is astonishing, but his horizontal capabilities leave much to be desired. Even as a frog his jumping is tricky. This leaves very little margin for error when leaping over severed heads or basketballs. Sure, you could just avoid them, but then you don't get points, and points actually matter in this game.

      As I mentioned earlier, you need to be on the lookout for your homework pages. Once you see one, you have to jump on it. Bart will then shrink, and you will be given a choice between two colored doors. Each color represents a different level that you will have to complete in order to reclaim your lost notes. Let's examine them...


Purple Door: Bart's Bloodstream

      Bart's Bloodstream is the most straightforward of the levels, and usually the one I do first when given the option. Decked out in shorts and flippers and carrying a "Power-Pumper", Bart must do battle with a host of viruses that have invaded his circulatory system. There are two types of viruses, the British Tommy Virus and the Von Got-U Virus. The game manual calls each by both names, but I'm pretty sure the one with the spiked helm is the Von Got-U Virus. The manual also says that both viruses can kill you; This is not true. Only the British Tommy Virus can defeat Bart.

      In order to defeat the viruses, you need to touch them with your Power-Pumper. Then you press A, B, X, or Y to inflate them until explode, just like in Dig Dug. Once you destroy five or so viruses, your homework page will appear at the top of the screen, sealed inside a force field of some sort. From then on, each virus you destroy will cause Smilin' Joe Fission to float up from the bottom of the screen. You have to touch him six times to break the shield around the paper, and then it will float freely until you grab it and complete the stage.

      Beware the British Tommy Virus. It will attempt to defeat Bart by tossing grenades slightly upward and to the left or right. The hit detection can be unpredictable, so give yourself lots of clearance. The Von Got-U Virus will try to swim under you and then thrust upward with its helmet. If it hits Bart, it will release any virus attached to your hand pump. I like to pretend that the viruses are cancer and that Smilin' Joe Fission is chemotherapy. The homework page is AIDS and the force field is the complex sugar molecule that protects it. Bart is Hepatitis B and the bloodstream is an allegory for life, while the Power-Pumper is a phallic symbol and the viruses are adversity that you explode with your masculinity. I may have lost my train of thought somewhere along the way there. Regardless, this is all you need to know about Bart's Bloodstream.


Green Door: Bartzilla

      Through the green door we have a level entitled "Bartzilla". In this stage, Bart is transformed into a giant fire-breathing, eye laser-shooting, green monster rampaging through Springfield. Much like Grandma in the Windy World, there is no correlation to the television show. However, Bartzilla would later appear in issue #11 of Bart Simpson Comics. In this level you will be assaulted by tanks, fighter jets, and helicopters. Your goal is to destroy these pests before they destroy you, while causing as much collateral damage as possible. Pressing up, right, and down will spit fireballs into the background, to the right, and into the foreground respectively. A, X, and B will similarly shoot eye lasers up, right, and down. It's kind of like Dance Dance Revolution. See tanks, push B. See jets, push X. Monorail, press A, etc. You may wonder why, given the myriad games that use a reflex based stimulus-response component, that I chose to use DDR as my exemplar. Well, the answer is simple. Fuck you, that's why.

      If you survive the rampage long enough, a vehicle with a satellite dish will drive onto the screen and zap Bartzilla with a shrinking ray. If your reflexes are quick enough, you can actually destroy the vehicle with a fireball and continue rampaging, though you leave yourself more vulnerable to being killed by the military crafts. Eventually another shrinking vehicle will come along, but you can keep destroying them as long as you like. Once you do get zapped, you are awarded a homework page. I'm not quite sure how that works though. Was the page stuck between Bartzilla's teeth and only comes loose once shrunk? Does it just happen to be lying on the ground where Bartzilla is standing at the moment he is hit with the ray? You know, I'm not usually a stickler for logical flow in video games. Hell, for years I have numbly accepted that in level 5 of Super C, floating rock platforms suddenly become military bunkers. However, the rest of the pages in this game are captured in reasonably sensible ways, so this one just feels odd to me.


      Part Two of Bartzilla requires the now mini-monster to scale a tapering skyscraper. The screen will slowly autoscroll upward, and you must avoid falling off the bottom of the screen. Denizens of the tower will periodically open their windows and try to drop shit on you. You will have to avoid things like anvils, safes, television sets, and keyboards, while other people will part with their goldfish bowls, their cats, and most humorously, their Sega Genesis consoles, to try and stop you. You will also have to contend with Momthra, a half Marge, half Mothra hybrid. Momthra flies back and forth and will knock you down a few floors if she hits you.

      If you successfully avoid all the obstacles and the cheating bastards who drop things on you from off screen, you will face off against Homer Kong at the top of the tower. If you try to climb straight up to Homer, he will punch you back down like Ivan Drago. To defeat him, you must wait until he punches at you, then switch over to the other side of the building and climb to the top. Just before Homer Kong punches again, press Y or B to do... well... something. I'm not entirely sure what. Bartzilla flashes blue, and it makes an electrical sound, which causes Homer Kong to flash blue and turn back into regular Homer, who then falls off the building. Bartzilla is then free to claim his lost homework page, impaled on the tower spire.


Blue Door: Bartman

      The insanity continues as you venture through the blue door. This is the world of Bartman, Bart's superhero alter ego. Finally, a level that draws from an element of the actual television program. In this level you will only use the D-pad and the A button. Pressing the A button will fire Bart's slingshot, and you can hold down the button to fire a longer shot. As you fly over the city of Springfield, you will have to dodge or destroy several different enemies and bosses. Among the enemies are surface-to-air missiles, storm clouds, flying firecrackers, Nelson in a hang glider, Krusty balloons, and radioactive clouds. Not everything will try to kill you though. Occasionally Apu will cruise by on a flying carpet (yay stereotypes!) and drop a Grape Squishee for you. If you time it right, you can actually grab two from him. The Krusty balloons will also drop Grape Squishees when popped, as well as extra lives and extra Z's.


      There are five boss fights in this stage. The first one pits you against Sherri and Terri in a hot-air balloon. Their only attack involves dropping water balloons on Bart, so your best bet is to lure them toward the bottom of the screen, then fly above and fire your slingshot at them. The second boss is Barney on a floating pink elephant, a stereotypical alcohol-induced hallucination. This is truly one of the most bizarre and annoying enemies in the game, beware his noxious belch and projectile peanuts. Next up is Waylon Smithers piloting a dirigible replete with exploding novelty-sized darts. These darts will take off half of Bart's health bar, and dodging them is rather difficult. When you hear one being fired, back away, shoot like a demented postal worker, and hope you detonate it before it hits you. If you don't manage to defeat Smithers, he will run away once he expends all his ammunition. The fourth boss fight is Smithers. Again. Yes, even if you destroy him the first time around, you still have to fight him again, in exactly the same way. The final fight is a showdown with C. Montgomery Burns in a biplane. He moves fast and shoots pretty accurately. My preferred strategy is to fly up while he's attacking from the right, and then fly down when he comes back from the left. Defeating Burns gives you another piece of your paper.


Orange Door: Temple of Maggie

      Next up we have the orange door, the Temple of Maggie. Here, Bart takes on the role of Idaho Simpson, an Indiana Jones spoof. Whether or not this level draws from the television show is debatable, and even then, the ties are tenuous. A few months before Bart's Nightmare was released, an episode aired where a Magic 8-Ball predicts the end of Bart and Milhouse's friendship, occasioned by Milhouse finding a girlfriend. The beginning of that episode features a spoof of Raiders of the Lost Ark wherein Bart assumes the role of Indy, and Homer the roll of the boulder. Was this an inspiration for the game? The world may never know.

      The objective in this stage is to navigate the columns all the way to the right and obtain your lost homework. Use the direction pad to move Bart, er, Idaho. A, B, Y, and X will crack your trusty whip to the right, down, left, and up respectively. Every pillar, (aside from the first and last two sets), is connected to another pillar. When you step on one, it goes down a notch, causing the other to rise a notch. If you jump onto a column that cannot go down any more, you will fall into the lava and lose. Fortunately, pedestals that are at the lowest notch will have a little flame appear above to warn you of danger. If you come to an impasse, you only need backtrack and jump on a few pillars that appear very tall, and one should raise a low lying partner to open the way forward.

      As you traverse the treacherous towers of terror, you will encounter a few other surprises. The first thing you will see is an egg. If you manage to grab the egg, you will be awarded an extra life to grant you reprieve in the event you should stupidly plummet to your doom. But beware! A large vulture is also after the egg, and if you happen to reach the egg at the same time, she will drag you off instead of the egg and tear thee piecemeal. You will also run into a blue devil. The blue devil will hop up beside you and poke you with his pitchfork, causing you to involuntarily jump away from him. This often has the unfortunate effect of dumping your ass in the lava; whip the blue devil to defeat him. In the background you will see statues of Maggie. When you draw close, they will spit their pacifiers at you, knocking you into the flaming abyss. The easiest way to avoid them is to use R to scroll the screen to the right and trigger the traps before you get to them. Once you make it to the end and grab your homework page, you will be thrust into the second level of the Temple of Maggie. It's objective is identical to the first. The one difference is that in this level you may encounter green devils as well as blue. A word of advice: Don't fucking whip the the green devil! If you do, the pillar on which you are standing will immediately drop into the lava. Even if you forget my warning, this is not a mistake you will make twice.


Yellow Door: Itchy and Scratchy

      Finally we have the yellow door, gateway to Itchy and Scratchy's realm. I left this one for last because that's usually what I do when I play the game. This stage is a high-velocity assault on your gaming skills, your patience, and your very soul. To beat these two levels, you must run through the Simpson's home, dodging attacks from lamps, telephones, family photos, vacuum cleaners and the oven. You must also contend with Itchy and Scratchy who come after you with hammers, mallets, meat tenderizers, bazookas, flame throwers and giant, electrified kitchen knives. While most "inanimate" objects and the duo's bludgeoning weapons will only do substantial damage to Bart's life bar, the oven, vacuum cleaners and the rest of the weapons are one-hit kills.

      So what weapons are you afforded in your epic struggle? You will acquire a mallet, which has poor range, a fire extinguisher with medium range, and a long range plunger gun. And because these levels weren't hard enough, if you get hit by anything, you lose your weapon, which really sucks in the last screen of the first stage, as the only weapon available if you lose the plunger gun is a mallet. There is one small, redeeming secret that you can use in Itchy and Scratchy land: if you shoot the exploding light bulbs with the fire extinguisher or the plunger gun, they drop extra lives. Stock up!

      Truth be told, these stages are more rote memorization than anything else. Once you know where the next enemy is going to come from, as long as you have the plunger gun, it's not at all impossible. In the final showdown for the final page of homework, Bart must do battle with his greatest adversary yet: the Furnace! Okay, I jest. It's not a difficult fight at all, it just takes a hell of a long time to beat.



      Once you have all eight pages, or you "die", the day will dawn and Bart will awaken. You will then be given a grade based both on your score and the number of pages you've collected, and your graded paper will be posted on the Simpsons' fridge for the other family members to either scold or congratulate you on. As such, I feel compelled to give this game a grade of its own. I give it a four. Grade Four, the grade that Bart has been stuck in for over twenty fucking years. Sure, I could have given it a better grade, like the grade when you touched a classmate's genitalia for the first time for example, but I stand by my decision. Is it a great game? No, not really. Certainly not a timeless classic like some SNES titles. But is it bad? Absolutely not. At the very least, it's certainly not one of the hundred biggest Hitler's of all time.


Posted by: Valdronius