Good news, everyone! It's a licensed game that isn't terrible.
Nobody doesn't like Futurama! The adventures of the Planet Express crew captured the hearts of nerdlingers all over the world with their combination of sci-fi parodies, hilarious dialogue and heartfelt characterisation. Unlike most shows, Futurama kinda gets videogames. Most notably, a beloved segment (from the episode "Anthology of Interest II") featured hapless delivery boy Philip J. Fry saving earth from literal Space Invaders under the command of General Pac-Man. You'd expect the licensed PS2/Xbox videogame to be a cut above the usual TV tie-in. And it is!
It's a platform game – in accordance with the Prophecy – but each playable character offers something different. You start out as Fry, who arms himself with various laser weapons and blasts through waves of mutants and killbots. You then take control of Bender (the lovable rascal) for a more straightforward Crash Bandicoot-esque adventure, followed by a combat-heavy Leela section before everyone comes together for the finale. There's a side dish of Dr. Zoidberg action too, but its autoscrolling gameplay is by far the weakest part of the game. How appropriate!
The most surprising thing about Futurama is that it doesn't screw around. After the brief "tutorial" stage – a fan-pleasing exploration of Planet Express HQ, full of references and gags – Fry is thrown straight into the sewers stage without so much as a "smell you later". Samey tunnels, green everywhere, floor and walls coated in toxic waste that drains your health, leaping across alligators' backs like Frogger, instant death everywhere... it's not a great follow-up to that first delightful quarter-hour. Persevere and you'll find the game improves, though it doesn't necessarily get easier.
Movement feels good, with Fry's shooting controls surprisingly solid given the era of release. You lock-on and strafe pretty effortlessly, and switching targets is very rarely a problem. The camera, however, can be an absolute ass when you're dealing with tight spaces. Sometimes you'll round a corner and it simply won't follow you. Thankfully there are no time limits, so you can line up your jumps all you want. You'll need to. There are plenty of optional collectables to find, some fiendishly hidden, others rewarding you for optional platforming challenges. Levels are expansive but never feel empty or under-designed; if anything they're too expansive, lasting about twenty to twenty-five minutes on average. Pretty long, eh?
For fans, it's essential. You're effectively getting a whole new, very entertaining episode of the show. All the original cast return and nothing feels phoned-in. The narrative is clever, the incidental dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny, and you're looking at about 10 hours of gameplay, which is neither too long nor too short. Futurama shines among its licensed peers. It's the perfect game.
(ZOOM OUT from What-If Machine to reveal STUART GIPP writing an article about Alfred Chicken for NES)
STUART GIPP: "So that's what life would have been like if I'd written an article about Futurama for PS2 and Xbox. (Gazes wistfully at game case) A man can dream, though. A man can dream."