Publisher: Konami / Developer: Konami / Played On: Xbox 360 / Price: 800 MSP ($10) / ESRB: Everyone 10+ (Suggestive Themes, Mild Language, Use of Alcohol, Fantasy Violence)
Konami has kept the retro-train chugging first with the release of the classic brawler X-Men Arcade, and now more recently with The Simpsons Arcade Game. Initially released in 1991, The Simpsons Arcade Game allows up to four players to take control of Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa in a quest to recover Maggie from the clutches of (who else) Mr. Burns. This is the first port of the arcade version to be released on home consoles. After more than 20 years in arcade obscurity, The Simpsons Arcade Game is finally here to let gamers relive one of the best games of the past.
Watch out, Radioactive Man!
After a collision outside of a bank robbery, Maggie has accidentally replaced her pacifier with a valuable diamond that Mr. Burns’ assistant Smithers was stealing. Smithers then takes Maggie and the diamond and escapes, forcing the remaining Simpsons to battle their way through the mean streets of Springfield to save Maggie. Story really isn’t a strong point in the game, but then again story is never that important in an arcade game. Still though, don’t expect anything hilarious from the game like you’d expect from the animated series. Also note that this game was made in 1991, only a couple of years into The Simpsons now extraordinarily long lifecycle. As such you won’t be seeing the current characters like Duff Man, Disco Stu, or Spider Pig/Harry Plopper. But you will see cameos of characters that aren’t even around anymore, like Dr. Marvin Monroe and “Bleeding Gums” Murphy. If you were a fan of the show in its infancy then you’ll appreciate the characters and locations used throughout the game. Everyone else might be wondering where the rest of The Simpsons cast has gone.
As far as I can recall from my memory of the game in the 90s, this is a perfect port of the arcade game, for better or for worse. The Simpsons Arcade Game is very easy to pick up and play. You have two buttons to work with: attack and jump. Pressing both buttons together does a special attack that deals more damage than a regular attack would. Each character (Homer, Marge, Bar, and Lisa) all play identically sans their weapon of choice: Homer uses his fists, Marge pushes her vacuum, Bart swings his skateboard, and Lisa carries a jump rope. If you are playing with a partner, or three, you can do a special team up attack that deals even more damage to enemies. For instance, Lisa can jump on the shoulders of Homer and they can both attack enemies. Scattered throughout the stages are items you can pick up and throw, like mailboxes and road signs, as well as some weapons you can use for a limited time like a hammer or slingshot. All and all it’s pretty standard stuff for a side scrolling beat ‘em up.
There are eight stages to play through and each is a location seen in the series: the Springfield Discount Cemetery, Moe’s Tavern, and the Nuclear Power Plant are just a few. Each stage features distinct bad guys to pummel, though there are some color swaps and repeats throughout the game. My personal favorite level was Dreamland, where you fight anthropomorphic donuts, saxophones, and even a bowling ball. The design of the levels and enemies feels like classic Simpsons and really captures the early feel of the show.
After beating the game once you unlock the Japanese ROM of the game which has all the same levels and enemies but alters the scoring system and adds more health pick-ups to find. Free Play is the default mode for the game, but you also have the option of limiting the amount of continues. One of the problems with Free Play is that gamers won’t be as cautious while playing the game as they would be if they were actually pumping quarters into the arcade machine, but the newly added Quarters Mode amends this problem. Quarters Mode gives each player only 10 continues to use before it’s game over. Team Quarters gives a pool of 40 continues for everyone to share, and Survival gives you just one life to beat the entire game. Quarters Mode is a very welcome addition for those looking to more accurately recreate the arcade experience, as much of the nostalgia was lost in Konami’s port of the X-Men Arcade game when players would willy-nilly use mutant powers and get hit because there was a constant supply of lives. Lastly, if you beat the game with each character you also unlock some small bonuses, like a sound test, list of all the cameos in the game, and a small history of the arcade game itself. They aren’t incredibly worthwhile additions but they are nice to have nonetheless.
Playing The Simpsons Arcade Game by yourself is entertaining but the game really hits its mark when you have four players playing at once. The game features drop-in/drop-out online and offline multiplayer support. Even with extra characters and enemies on screen the game held up well and the framerate never took a hit. I did experience some considerably lag when a player with a slow connection joined, but other than that the game handles smoothly online. Arcade ports such as this one often fail to entirely recreate the arcade experience due to no longer having to spend actual money to continue the game, but the new Quarters Mode alleviates this problem by giving a set number of continues. It may sound like a minor addition to the game but it adds a lot more strategy to your attacks and makes each life that much more precious. The game is far too short to warrant anything more than playing for a weekend, but a group of friends can have a great time playing the game and reliving the past.
As I mentioned before the game originally came out in 1991 and doesn’t feature many of the newer or more well-known characters. The animation style also looks as it did in the early 90s. Characters look more crude than their current iterations. That’s not really a complaint with the game but it is worth noting if you’re wondering why Homer looks like he was drawn by an amateur. Stages and backgrounds all fit the unique mold of The Simpsons animated series. Bright colors are used almost everywhere and popular locations such as Mr. Burns’ office appear as they would in the cartoon. Overall the visuals are what you’d expect a Simpsons episode from the early 90s to look like, just in video game form.
It’s hard to find faults with a game that is 20 years old. If you look at The Simpsons Arcade Game from today’s standards then the game is pretty terrible, with overly simple controls, rough graphics, and a very short campaign. But looking at the game through the eyes of a fan of the original cabinet from 1991 the game fares much better. It has what you’d expect a game based on The Simpsons to have: similar animation, fun gameplay, and entertaining multiplayer. Some gamers might not see what all the fuss is about, but to today’s retro gamer this is a fantastic port of a cherished classic.