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Crude Cartoon Comedy

Game On


Published November 22, 2006 at 5:00 p.m.

"Family Guy" has turned from an improbable cartoon knockoff into a bona fide cult icon. Pushing the limits of taste and reason, the "Family Guy" writers have come up with a cultural satire that's among the best on television.

While the show likes to brag about pushing the boundaries of televised taste, the launch of a new video game based on the show raises another question.

Is it too dull for video games?

The game starts off strong, capturing the crude yuks that make the show popular - including all of the sexual innuendo, potty humor and brutal popular-culture jabs. This is the sort of stuff you either find funny, or no one on Earth will convince you that you won't roast in eternal damnation for chuckling along. In the world of prime-time cartoons, "Family Guy" staked out a territory by offering material that "The Simpsons" at its most cutting would never attempt.

When it comes to "Family Guy," references to "The Simpsons" are as obligatory as those to "Mr. Belvedere." "The Flinstones" might have inaugurated the idea of a network cartoon sitcom for adults, but "The Simpsons" perfected the recipe. So whether or not you think "Family Guy" ripped off "The Simpsons," you can use Homer and his kin as the measure of other grown-up cartoons. Likewise, "The Simpsons" games provide a handy yardstick for sizing up cartoon video games.

Through the years, "The Simpsons" franchise has spat out some pretty mediocre interactive entertainment. Luckily, the series hit its stride with "The Simpsons: Hit and Run." This title let fans tear around Springfield in a variety of vehicles, smash up stuff, take in the scenery, and enjoy an endless stream of gags. It turned out that adding Bart Simpson to the solid game approach of "Grand Theft Auto" yields a product that combines the illicit thrills of GTA-style gaming with some good-natured Simpsons laughs.

Unfortunately, the "Family Guy" game gets only half the formula correct. Fans of the show should enjoy playing a lumpy Peter Griffin, the idiot dad; a suave Brian, the talking dog with a taste for martinis; or baby Stewie, a malevolent toddler bent on world domination.

But while the visuals looks right, and the comedy still hits a nerve, the game is more fun to watch than to play. In the Stewie levels, you run, shoot and leap over obstacles. In the Peter levels, you fight, and in the Brian segments, you sneak around. Each style of play has its moments. But missing difficult jumps and dropping to the beginning of the level only brings the promise of hearing the same jokes again. Polishing any one of these game-play styles, rather than spreading itself so thin, might have helped.

The "Family Guy" is a good premise for stringing together jokes. It turns out that the same comedic skeleton just can't carry the load of game play.

Who's It For:This one's clearly for the fans. If you don't like the show, this game won't change your mind. On the other hand, if you love the show, this might get you interested in games.

If You Like This, Try That:"The Simpsons: Hit and Run" worked well as a game and a cartoon spin-off. Capturing the feeling and the humor of the show and packaging it as an open-ended adventure makes this product easily enjoyable by gamers or TV fans.

Best Part: Many of the show's stars lend their voices to the "Family Guy" game, including Adam West as the voice of Adam West. Yes, "Family Guy" is that meta.