Hey folks, Conor Lastowka here. Long time reader/DHS evangelist. I’m writing today because I just published my first novel. It’s called Gone Whalin’ it’s about a college student who starts waking up on a whaling ship in the 1800s every other day, and is full of pirates, dogs wearing sunglasses, rum guzzling, ukuleles, sea shanties, and stadium seating couches. It’s guaranteed to be the funniest, least accurate novel about whaling you’ve ever read. You can read the first three chapters and watch the trailer at http://gonewhalin.com and then buy it on Amazon (Just 2.99 on Kindle!) http://amzn.to/1aSFDXd
Anyways, after I published the book, I realized I had to find a way to get people to read it. I debated several tactics: an all out media blitz, Google AdWords, Today Show appearances, sending copies to famed literary agents, shamelessly recording attempts at viral videos…But they all seemed like a lot of effort, so I decided to reach out to my favorite Simpsons blog and see if they’d let me write something about Bart Vs The Space Mutants. Charlie said yes, so here I am! Last Friday, November 15th, I sat down at 6:27 to play Bart Vs. The Space Mutants. [Ed note: It took me two weeks to post this because lazy.] I loved this game when I was nine, but then again I also would have loved an instant read thermometer if the Simpsons faces had been slapped on it. I kept a running diary of the experience, and I hope you enjoy it!
6:27 To start, the family is sitting on the couch watching TV. Maggie’s dress is bright green. Its usual shade of blue is present in Homer’s pants and Marge’s hair, directly next to her on the couch. So right away we’re off to a great start.
6:28 The named alien who is chuckling about earth’s demise is “Zorbo” who never really went on to do much in the Simpsons universe. He’s cracking a beer with Herman somewhere.
6:29 And we’re off! The goal is to collect all the purple objects. Right away, we see a trashcan that we can jump on to get an extra life. A simple enough task, yet it reveals the game’s horribly flawed mechanics. To cover extra ground with a running jump, you have to jump first, since it is also the run button, then hold it to run then press it again. BVTSM took something that was pretty much universal in NES games and managed to needlessly complicate it. It’s like if Ford released one specific type of car that switched the clutch and the brakes for no apparent reason, or if Google decided to completely overhaul or get rid of a perfectly good product that everyone was happy with to for no reaso—Oh…
6:31 The theater showing Space Mutant 4 has showtimes at 2 and 4. I remember that if you wait until the game timer hits these times, a guy in purple leaves the theater and you can spraypaint him. As there are plenty of other purple objects easily available throughout the level, there is no reason to do this unless you are insane.
6:32 Prank calling Moe’s. Asking for Mr. I.M. Adope. Essentially this is an early version of a video game cut scene, and it accurately predicted all the aspects about that convention, namely that it’s making me furiously mash the button to try to skip it. It’s odd to think that one of those HA’s coming out of the wall is probably Homer inside the bar. I know Charlie has thoroughly disproved the “Series shifted to be about Homer” myth, but at least in these early days, the merch and video games actually did seem to be Bart by the barrelful. Not sure if nine year old me would have been as into this game if it had starred Homer.
6:34 The first of many opportunities to buy items that have no use. I may have wasted a coin on the key as an nine year old, but you won’t fool me now, proprietor of Tool World!
6:36 Just realized Bart’s shoes and shorts are purple. He’s pretty much just waving them in the alien’s faces. That’s a good way to get probed.
6:38 Blasted a bird off the Jebediah Springfield statue’s shoulder, and he compliments you. I can’t be the only one who was very confused and a little frightened at that moment in The Telltale Head when Homer talks to Bart about how he “pulled a few boners” back in his day, right?
6:39 Pausing to write these is complicated by another strange interface decision. Select (possibly used most in this game than any other NES game?) picks an item, and start uses it. So you have to navigate to ‘pause’ with select, then start to pause. Fortunately, the emulator on my Wii uses the “home” button as a pause as well, and it’s in a fairly natural spot to reach for as I type these. You can wipe your brow and issue a sigh of relief if you were at all concerned that I was expending a ton of effort every time I paused.
6:40 I have already passed a cop who is not Wiggum, dogs who are not SLH, and the mysterious man on the street who looks like nobody who has ever appeared in a Simpsons episode ever. Fortunately, I just fired a rocket into the sign of “Barney’s Bowlarama”, which is another great mystery of the Simpsons universe. What the hell was Barney’s uncle thinking, naming his bowling alley after his slovenly nephew? I could understand if it was a tribute to a nephew who died young, but Barney was even employed at the alley for a while. Seems like a high tribute for a mere pin monkey who he fired at the first excuse.
6:42 Just unlocked Maggie’s assistance by jumping on alien’s heads. Three goals to go, haven’t taken a hit, five lives. It gets harder.
6:43 Great joy as I remember you can shoot a rocket into the E in Kwik E Mart, then utter despair as it falls to the ground a half inch in front of me and disappears.This must have been how Hank felt in the desert when he thought he had Walt before the Nazis showed up.
6:44 “Goal achieved, proceed to the right.” The five sweetest words to a BVTSM player. Aside from perhaps “You can stop playing now”
6:46 Defeated Nelson without taking a hit. Even used one of Maggie’s bowling balls. I felt something of a measure of pride in this accomplishment until I remembered that I am 32 years old and playing Bart Vs The Space Mutants alone on a Friday night. After a deep sigh, now it’s on to Springfield Mall and the new goal: hats
6:47 The very first store in the mall? The mysteriously named “Pork Chop Shop”. No idea what the hell that means or if it’s even a joke but it’s still better than “Mapple.” In addition to the generic men from the first level we now have a lady who I believe is meant to resemble Patty/Selma. (Things I typed and then deleted to describe this woman: “slightly sexier version of”, “disturbingly attractive version of”, “way hotter”. I’m not proud, but I stand by it.)
6:50 Took my first hit from a marshmallow that I thought was going to bounce over me. Must have been distracted by those sexy Patty/Selmas.
6:51 Oh god. The wet cement area. The BVTSM version of the turbo bikes in Battletoads. This could be the end right here.
6:52 Have died three times, including on the last spinning lollipop. Urge to kill rising.
6:53 And just like that, I’ve died, the aliens are praising a deity named Gleeba (Naming credit: George Lucas?) and I’m back to the start of the game. Let’s take a moment to think about how lucky we are in our modern video game cheating that save states exist. I did not use one of course, so it’s back to the start for me.
6:55 Prank call to Moe for Oliver Clothesoff. It’s even less funny this time around. Also remembered that there’s an extra life in the bushes beneath the clothesline but jumped the wrong way and missed it. It may be time for a beer.
6:57 Bought the key from Tool World this time. You wanna get nuts??? Let’s get nuts!!!
6:59 I thought after disparaging the key, it might actually let you into the locked candy or pet store. Nope. It’s purely there to frustrate, in a game that absolutely needs no further built in frustrations.
7:02 Got the Kwik E Mart “E” extra life this time around. Of course I died a few minutes back and didn’t tell you about it so it’s a wash. Like gambling, the loss outweighs any sense of gain. On the other hand, you can tell they put a bit of effort into the music in this game. It’s not a bad version of the main theme song.
7:03 Noticed for the first time ever that the Springfield Retirement Castle is mistakenly presented as the Retirement Home and now I’m starting to wonder if anyone who was involved in this game that was hurriedly released to cash in on a media sensation as its popularity crested even cared at all. (NOTE: After the fact I watched the Thanksgiving episode and the sign actually says “Home” on it. My comic book guy-esque snark backfires horribly.)
7:04 Didn’t have it earlier, but now have the “Sound Test” option in the select menu. There was nothing worse than when Nintendo Power would devote precious space in its monthly Secret Codes column to telling you how to access the fucking sound test in a game. On the flip side, I’ve managed to turn off the music, the one part of the game I’ve praised so far. (Other than hotter Patty/Selma.)
7:06 Beat Nelson without him throwing a cherry bomb. Back to the mall. But first a beer. No Duff on tap, so a Mosaic IPA from the closest brewery to my house, (which in San Diego pretty much means in my living room) Thorn Street Brewing. What a shameless plug…And speaking of shameless plugs, don’t forget about my novel, Gone Whalin’. It’s really funny and just $2.99 on Kindle! http://amzn.to/1aSFDXd
7:08 Alright Pork Chop Shop. You still baffle me, but it’s time for round two. 7 lives this time, should be all set for the goddamn cement pit.
7:09 And then bafflingly, I make it across on try one. It’s like that Far Side cartoon about the cafeteria in hell. There’s a scorpion in your sandwich, but it’s not there every day. That’s what makes it hell.
7:10 Have now played this game for more time than I’ve spent watching Zombie Simpsons episodes from the past two seasons. (I will always check out the Halloween shows.) I’d like to point out that so far in this diary I’ve used the words hell, goddamn, fucking, frustration, insane, probed, less funny, & Nazis to describe playing BVTSM and I’ll still take it over a season 25 episode.
7:11 Defeated the miniboss after dying once. This must have been one of the first games to feature minibosses, no? This was a guy outside a store called Confections by Clyde, who is throwing what I just realized must be hard candies at you. It’s a good sign that subtleties from this game took 23 years to sink in. That’s the true sign of a job well done by the designers.
7:12 I know you can jump on some of these trashcans and get extras lives and stuff. Not sure which they are so I’ve been trying it on everyone. So far I’ve got a coin.
7:13 Just died jumping on a trashcan that kept shooting out coins but then a guy walked underneath me who wasn’t a space mutant and you lose a hit if you do that. I will stop trying to be cute.
7:15 The big boots that drop to the ground and shake the earth are unique in video games in that they don’t cause you to lose control of the character momentarily. Is that interesting? Would I have to ask if it was? Also, I deleted a “suck it Asheville” from the comment about beer in San Diego a few minutes ago. It seemed needlessly provocative. We can argue about what constitutes a great ‘beer city’ all we want, but the west coast indisputably has better beer than the East or the South. Unprovoked inflammatory statements! Now that’s interesting!
7:16 Moonwalking shoes cruise past. If you can do the Bart, you’re bad like Michael Jackson.
7:18 The second mini boss, a guy in a giant (Kuribo’s?) shoe outside a store called The Really Big Shoe, also does not stun you when he shakes the ground. Also, I just got that store name joke. Because what third graders wanted in their video games in 1991 was references to Ed Sullivan. One more floor, eight goals, and two letters of MARGE to go.
7:19 First store on the third floor is Lap Top Shop. I guess I’m surprised they had laptops when this came out. And what maniac decreed every store in the mall would have a 52% sale?? It seems needlessly taxing on retail staff, not to mention customers’ mental math.
7:22 Goal achieved, proceed to the right. Also, if faced with a massive alien invasion, why wouldn’t Bart keep these X-ray specs on at all times? It doesn’t seem like there’s much of a downside, and the upside is the difference between life and death.
7:23 My god they put in another cement obstacle…
7:24 Died once on the cement, due to the previously unknown-by-me properties of floating magic wands to behave like a slippery ice surface in a Mario game.
7:25 On to boss two, the Babysitter Bandit. It’s kind of surprising that the references in the game are ultra episode-specific, Jebidiah’s head, Babysitter bandit. In a time when reruns were pretty rare and DVDs non existant, it banked a lot on you having seen them before the game. But everyone I knew had, thus proving the power of the non-zombie Simpsons.
7:28 Level three here we come. Krustyland and balloons. I have four lives and have been playing for an hour. I could easily be back to level one in five minutes. How the hell did we enjoy playing games on this system? I still refuse to believe anyone has ever actually beat The Adventure of Link. Speaking of save states, I apparently last played this game on Friday, January 29th. I have states saved in the last level, which I have never beaten. I’m pretty sure I saved all the way through this level in order to get there. This isn’t going to be pretty.
7:30 On the plus side, there are insanely difficult games of chance that you still have to avoid enemies as you play. I won the first one, where you have to hit three targets in a row with a baseball, made all the more difficult by the weird jump timing and sudden perspective change. Next is roulette. I pick 6.
7:31 It was 8. “Fun.”
7:32 The shooting gallery is probably the best and least frustrating of these games, but I still got hit by a mutant while playing it which is such utter bullshit. At least at a real carnival the worst thing that could happen is a carnie—Actually I don’t want to complete that sentence.
7:34 I have obtained a slingshot, climbed a ladder, then jumped off a diving board, fell four screens, and rung a bell. Then I sunk a jester in a dunk booth. Say what you will, this game did some weird, original things. It mixes mini games with sort of RPG/Sierra game ‘find an item and use it’ type of quests. It’s still infuriating and unfair, but at least it wasn’t The Adventures of Dino Riki.
7:37 First thing in the fun house is a door logic puzzle that you have thirty seconds to solve and I don’t think I could solve if I had all night. Again, probably still better than interacting with actual carnies. Less likely to contract a weird form of Hepatitis with a letter from the second half of the alphabet.
7:40 The cement pit of this level is a pipe organ that blows air to suspend Bart. It’s very frustrating, but I made it across the first two times flawlessly, only to die cheaply on the other side. Now I’m on the fourth time and hoping this isn’t the end. Three lives left.
7:42 More cool stuff, going up into a giant Krusty head. Which of course ends with a platform giving out beneath you in a manner that no other platform in the game had done so far. Got an extra life, so still at three.
7:43 Out of the fun house. These clown type creeps that do somersaults may actually be worse than carnies. I think one of them just leered at a picture of my wife from the TV.
7:44 Two goals to go. Unfortunately, also how many lives I have left. I don’t even remember who the boss of this level is. Obviously, I didn’t get here much as a kid.
7:46 Last life, and there’s a ferris wheel that you have to jump on that is turning over a giant pit. I don’t see this ending well.
7:47 Nope, died on first attempt.
That is the end of my time with Bart Vs. The Space Mutants for now, and the foreseeable future, praise be to Gleeba. A powerfully nostalgic, at times very frustrating journey. Next time I’m using Game Genie. Thanks for letting me convey my hastily jotted down thoughts to you, and thanks to Charlie for running such an awesome site. I’d love to hear your own experiences with the game in the comments. Let me leave you with one last plug for Gone Whalin’: http://amzn.to/1aSFDXd