It’s The Simpsons Hit & Run’s 20th anniversary celebration!

the simpsons, hit & run

A mix of Grand Theft Auto III and the shenanigans of The Simpsons, The Simpsons: Hit & Run was released on this day 20 years ago. Hit & Run is especially remembered for being one of the first games to do the franchise justice, by not only delivering an incredibly rich The Simpsons experience, but also being a very fun game overall.

The Simpsons: Hit & Run was not the first game to ape on GTA back when it was originally released. Back in 2003, a whole bunch of clones hit the scene trying to bite their share of the pie (such as True Crime: Streets of LA), but Hit & Run stood as easily one of the best, mostly due to how well developer Radical Entertainment was able to bring Springfield and its citizens to the format, for as ridiculous at it is.

The setting, the town that we all grew up and loving, is vibrant and full of life in this game. As you drive around the city as one of the titular Simpsons, familiar locations and characters are all accurately portrayed and for the very first time. You’re able to explore at your leisure what before was only passed by in the cartoon’s panels or crudely represented in previous games dealing with the property.

While having a light excuse for the events in the game in the form of an alien invasion, The Simpsons Hit & Run manages to feel like a product based on Fox’s most beloved family by offering storylines that feel ripped straight out of the cartoon for each of its seven levels, split between each of the family members — and Apu, for some reason. The shop owner, who is now a banned character on the hit TV show, is an active part of the main cast, who along with all the rest is portrayed by the same actor as in the cartoon, Hank Azaria.

the simpsons, hit & run
Nothing to see here, move along.

In fact, every single aspect of the game feels pulled right from the cartoon, which gives the notion that the showrunner’s were close by during the development of the game. For as close as it mimics Grand Theft Auto III’s loop of having ready access to vehicles and a free roaming world to explore, as well as the freedom to punch and kick their way through other people, there’s something to be said that everything that happens in the game would fit in with the show as an episode.

Given the nature of the property — which is to say the overall silliness of its tone and world — it’s even more surprising that the relatively easygoing nature of the show translated so well to the game’s more aggressive and violent nature. But knowing that it takes place in a cartoonish world and with exaggerated characters such as those in The Simpsons somewhat softens what is almost exactly the same loop as GTA’s, except without all of the blood, drugs, and, well — sex that’s implied in Rockstar’s efforts.

Back in 2003, I played The Simpsons: Hit & Run as one who owned a Xbox and was done with GTA III and its ilk would, and found it to be immensely fun. For some reason, though, I never did complete it or see its ending, but I do have fond memories of exploring Springfield, all nooks and crannies of it.

the simpsons, hit & run

Just recently — well, as recently as 2019 can be considered recent — I was able to procure a pristine copy of the game for that particular system, and just this week I popped it back in and found it to be surprisingly playable and a whole lot of fun. It’s funny to think how rose-colored nostalgic memories tend to get over time, but lo and behold, Hit & Run proved to be as neat today as it was back when it was new, to my positive surprise.

At the same time as this was released, another game based on The Simpsons comes to mind in the form of The Simpsons: Road Rage, which was released two years prior and was also developed by Radical Entertainment. Instead of borrowing from GTA, Road Rage stuck close to the Crazy Taxi formula and was similarly well received not only by publications but by yours truly, who also thoroughly enjoyed it back then.

It’s funny to think that for as gigantic a franchise that The Simpsons is, 30+ years since its premiere there are only a handful of games that can truly be considered good by any standards, and that The Simpsons: Hit & Run sits high on the list. Even during the next generation of consoles, with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Fox tried their hand in releasing a game based on the show and it ultimately fell flat.

the simpsons, hit & run
You’re underage, Bart. Get out of here!

That’s all thanks to Radical Entertaiment’s talent in taking popular franchises and making truly entertaining games out of them. The Simpsons: Hit & Run isn’t the first of their hits either, which goes to show that it was no fluke. Among their greatest releases stands The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, yet another game conversion of a criminally unexplored property with incredible videogame potential in the form of Marvel Comics’ popular hero.

As it stands, The Simpsons: Hit & Run is easily the best The Simpsons game in existence and it is so for good reason: it’s an excellent interpretation of the franchise that makes use of its signature irreverence in brilliant ways. For as derivative to GTA as it is, it takes the best aspects of Rockstar’s work and makes it work within the confines of the hot property it is based in with bold confidence, which shows in the game’s excellent presentation and fun gameplay.

Here’s to the Simpsons: Hit & Run’s 20 anniversary! May it be as fresh in twenty more as it is now, in 2023!    

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