The Simpsons Arcade Game arrived on the scene in 1991, two years after the animated family debuted on FOX. It’s not often we review games that debuted so long ago, but with a port of the game recently released for XBox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, we figured we’d make an exception and see how the classic arcade brawler holds up in the modern day.
The story kicks off when the youngest Simpson, baby Maggie, picks up a diamond that billionaire and local power plant owner, Mr. Burns, has been plotting to steal. Rather than negotiate with the family, Burns has his right hand man, Waylon Smithers, kidnap the girl which sets the other members of the Simpson clan on a chase to save Maggie. Needless to say, the story isn’t very deep and is filled with extreme plot holes. Under what circumstances is Maggie able to snag a priceless diamond? Wouldn’t kidnapping an infant land you in enough trouble that the police would be at your door instead of the child’s family carrying out a vigilante mission to retrieve her? While almost all games require some suspension of logic, the faults are impossible to ignore. Thankfully, 90s arcade brawlers aren’t known for their storytelling, so it’s not game ruining or unexpected that the plot leaves a lot to be desired.
Hard to believe anybody would mess with Maggie.
While questionable plots can be overlooked, combat is undeniably the most essential aspect of gameplay in a beat ‘em up and is a major fault in this game. You can take on your enemies as either Homer, Marge, Bart or Lisa Simpson, though who you select merely affects what weapon you use. Bart attacks his enemies with his skateboard, Lisa uses her jump rope as a whip, Marge wields a vacuum cleaner, and Homer charges into battle with his bare fists, but they all there’s next to no variation beyond slight visual differences. The best titles in the genre adhere to a ‘simple to pick up, difficult to master’ fighting system where novices can initially get by with basic punches and kicks, but in time progress to advanced maneuvers to deal with stronger foes. The Simpsons Arcade Game offers a limited number of actions in battle and never lets the player make the jump from relying on simple blows to having a growing arsenal of attacks at his command. Rather, the majority of your time fighting is spent mindlessly mashing the attack button. You can also carry out a jumping attack and when partaking in multiplayer, you can perform a combo with the aid of a fellow Simpson. When you’ve had enough of your fists, or er, vacuum cleaner, doing the talking, there are also items scattered through the levels you can fling to inflict damage. It’s a rudimentary system and the repetitiveness becomes draining after a few levels.
The game supports 4 player co-op so friends can get in on the action as well. Obviously, the more players there are, the easier it is to breeze through throngs of enemies. Since you’re so often outnumbered and death can feel cheap and undeserved, this is a good thing, but be warned a party of 4 can lead to the screen being extremely cluttered and confusing.
Those already familiar with The Simpsons Arcade Game will find themselves right at home. The emulation is spot on and longtime Simpsons fans will take pleasure from seeing some of the series’ lesser known and forgotten characters (yes, that is Bleeding Gums Murphy) hanging out in the background. Though the game provides some fan service in offering visual gags, it lacks the polish and tone that we’ve come to associate with The Simpsons. More recent titles featuring the family have been full of humorous dialogue that rivals that found in the show’s finest seasons, and plenty of allusions that hardcore fans can pick up on. That can be attributed to the technological limitations of the day and the fact that in 1991 The Simpsons hadn’t yet hit the peak of its humor, but it’s worth mentioning that the few funny moments in the game will be in the form of visual gags and not the side-splitting dialogue or situational humor the show has come to be associated with.
Fans of the show's early seasons will enjoy sights like this one, but that's where the humor stops.
The game doesn’t look awful, considering its age, but it definitely doesn’t stack up to modern games. The animation is often stiff and characters look block-like, but for players of the original, it’s preferable to a visual update with the same dull mechanics. The locations of levels are interesting, even if they don’t make sense within the context of the game. Areas like the graveyard and the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant are diverse enough to keep the scenery looking fresh and Dreamland is a trippy, monochrome delight. In the event you needed to be reminded you’re playing an arcade game, there’s a border around the screen to resemble an arcade cabinet by default. Personally, I prefer to turn the option off because it takes up too much of the screen and doesn’t add value to the experience.
Enter Dreamland and find yourself facing an oversized bowling ball with boxing gloves. Why? Why not.
Needless to say, with a massive improvement in technology over the last two decades, what passed as quality gaming in the early 90s seems far less impressive by today’s standards. Though the game deserves accolade for being a spot on emulation, it’s those who have a fond nostalgia for the arcade game who will bestow praise on it’s latest incarnation as a downloadable title. Undeniably, The Simpsons Arcade Game has noticeably aged and those discovering it for the first time may be easily turned off by the blocky animation and simple mechanics. Younger audiences and new gamers are likely to gloss over the positive facets and focus on how poorly it stacks up to contemporary games. I know it sounds unfair to criticize a game that came out over 20 years ago for looking old, but truthfully its age shows and the gameplay isn’t enough to make up for it. The replay value is low, and after beating the game there’s little incentive to try for a second playthrough.
Believe it or not, kids, this game and this family were considered visually appealing in the early 90s.
Overall, Konami‘s port of our favorite yellow family’s arcade adventures is a sound choice if you’re looking to take a stroll down memory lane, but those picking it up for the first time could have disappointment in store.
The Simpsons Arcade Game
|Pros||Excellent emulation of the arcade game; Diverse levels with interesting art design; Fun co-op|
|Cons||Combat is over-simplified and a bore; At around 40 minutes the game is extremely short; Low replay value; Exhibits little of the series' trademark humor|
|Verdict||If you loved the arcade game, you'll probably enjoy the port though it's obviously aged poorly. If you've never played the arcade game and don't have a nostalgic investment in it, steer clear.|