krustys fun house snes

A Look Back At Krusty’s Fun House (SNES)

The Simpsons has a long and storied history of being intertwined with video games, mainly due to dumb historical coincidence. The animated sitcom hit the peak of its popularity in the early nineties- the exact same time when video game technology had advanced to the point that sprites could visibly, recognizably represent popular brand name characters, vastly intensifying the marketability of licensed video games. With the majority of licensed Simpsons games focused on Bart, and being remembered as such in the zeitgeist, Krusty’s Fun House is the odd one out of the series, focused as it was on an relatively minor character.

Developed by Audiogenic and published by Acclaim, Krusty’s Fun House slipping through the cracks of both Simpsons history and gaming history isn’t all that surprising. The former has no noteworthy titles, and the latter was notorious for publishing just about anything for a cheap buck. And Krusty’s Fun House isn’t much different in that regard. The gameplay is a bit of a hybrid between Lemmings and Solomon’s Key. As in Lemmings, Krusty’s goal is to guide NPCs to an exit, albeit to kill them rather than to save them. But as in Solomon’s Key, Krusty has limited tools to accomplish this goal- namely, the physics defying ability to pick up blocks and reposition them even in mid-air, depending on where exactly he’s standing.

Krusty’s Fun House is illogical in a lot of ways, and is ironically enough one of the weirder and more interesting attempts to cash-in on the Simpsons brand in part because the license was so obviously applied to a preexisting puzzle platform hybrid game Audiogenic had been unable to sell on its own merits. Yet the enduring power of The Simpsons as a license went far even without The Simpsons itself actually appearing in the title. The box art for all seven versions of the game bears Matt Groening’s signature and is presented in his signature style, even if the game only really “features” the Simpsons in that some of them operate these odd machines that kill the rodents infesting Krusty’s fun house.

The gameplay show its age with a lot of mechanics which, while common for video games at the time, mostly serve to just frustrate one another in context. The need for enemy characters, while probably more logical in the original non-branded prototype version of the game, acts as a massive frustration for the game’s more puzzle-oriented style. The issue is less the damage (Krusty has quite a lot of hit points) as the knockback which pushes Krusty out of position and can at times even force a full level restart. To make matters worse, these restarts are needlessly punitive. The only way out of a softlock is to simply surrender the level by giving up. That on its own wouldn’t be a problem except that Krusty loses a life. Before too long, he can lose all of his lives entirely and be forced to restart the current world again. This isn’t too bad in the earlier worlds, but later ones are packed with so many levels, especially in the 16-bit versions, that the once-a-world password system simply doesn’t cut it.

This, of course, is only really a problem for those trying to play Krusty’s Fun House on original hardware, which is a bit of a needlessly Sisyphean task in any case. But is the game much better emulated? Well, there’s certainly some satisfaction to be gained from finally figuring out how to brute force a stage. Because so many of them are so large, there are multiple solutions to some- although you’re more likely to unintentionally softlock from accidentally placing a block in a place from which either Krusty or the mice can’t escape than you are to find an inadvertent shortcut.

Such is the design of Krusty’s Fun House that it’s genuinely difficult to tell what the developers had in mind. Every so often a solution seems to require unreasonably precise timing for a puzzle game, but then the player might realize there’s a better way. Then you find a mandatory bonus room that’s impossible to finish quickly enough without already knowing the layout, forcing a restart to the entire stage. Either give up a life by giving up, or go through the trouble of killing all the mice so that you can leave the level and try the bonus room again.

Like a lot of retro games, Krusty’s Fun House can be fun in the sense of being an exercise in patience. Nevertheless, I gave up at level 4-7, its various chokepoints only seeming to threaten worse in the future. This was the first level which required progression through marble busting blocks in such a way that it’s quite easy to run out of marbles by accident. Followed up with a tight bonus stage, and a mouse-killing solution that’s simple yet time-consuming to set up, and my patience wore thin.

Should anyone play Krusty’s Fun House in this day and age? Probably not, although it’s hard not to be intrigued by its weird combination of historical confluences of nineties pop culture, marketing, and game development style. Despite the game’s clear commercialist motives, it’s not the kind of title anyone is likely to try to sell as nostalgia bait on a modern console, assuming anyone could even figure out who owns the legal rights to it. A remastered version could almost be playable. Almost.

William Schwartz

William Schwartz is a pop culture writer who has written on a wide variety of subjects, from television to film to comics, from locations spanning South Korea to China to the United States. He currently lives in Vancouver, Washington.

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