Spoiler Alert: The Simpsons Arcade Game is not a very good game. The sad fact is, it never was a good game. Oh sure, we all loved it when it sat next to the Super Sprint cabinet at the local pizza parlor, but we were wrong. This is a repetitive action game with only a four-player option and a good license working in its favor.
The Simpsons Arcade Game has a number of obvious flaws, all of which can be deal breakers depending on who you are. At its core, The Simpson is a reskinned version of Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men arcade units. You walk around a beautifully hand-drawn world beating people up until the game ends. It's your typical 2D brawler, where players mash buttons, fight bosses and walk on a predictable path through familiar locations.
Unlike those action-oriented comic book brawlers, The Simpsons brand isn't known for its all-out violence. The reason the show's 500 episodes are so memorable is because of the sharp writing, featuring some of Hollywood's brightest talent. Sure the characters are over-the-top and purposely silly, but they're also easy to relate to and deeper than people give them credit for. Throughout the seasons we've come to know and care for these characters in an emotional way, and all that is thanks to creative situations and great script writing.
Unfortunately, The Simpsons Arcade Game ditches all of that depth in order to bring you a paper-thin action game that reduces these characters to walking punchlines. Hey look, Lisa has a rope and Marge fights with a vacuum cleaner. Did Bart just tell me to eat my shorts? Hysterical. Konami tosses out everything that makes the shows so much fun and created a lifeless game that gets by on its good looks and nostalgic importance.
There is barely a plot here. The story involves an out-of-character jewelry store robbery by Smithers. In the chaos surrounding the escape, Smither's accidentally drops a large diamond, which finds its way into Maggie's mouth. Instead of simply taking the diamond out of Maggie's mouth, Smithers decides to kidnap the Simpsons' infant. This sends Homer, Marge Lisa and Bart on an adventure that takes them into downtown Springfield, through the national forest, in the channel six TV studios and into the heart of the beast, the nuclear power plant.
Players select from one of the four characters and walk from left to right pushing the attach button. Don't expect a bevy of techniques to master; pushing the attack button is just about all you do. From time to time you can jump kick and multiple players can team up for a power move, but outside of that there isn't much outside of hammering one button until everybody gets knocked out.
From time to time you'll run into a boss battle. Usually these involve minor characters from the show or, inexplicably, a giant killer hot air balloon. Like so much else in this game, these boss fights make little to no sense and will only hold you up for a few minutes. They aren't particularly funny or charming; they just exist to take quarters out of your pocket.
Whether with a friend or by yourself, it won't take more than 40 minutes to see this game through. The eight stages are all short and straight forward. Sadly, they also lack variety. You'll fight the same batch of baddies in just about every stage, which made me wonder if there was a much more interesting side story involving a cloning machine. The most inspired stage involves a dreamscape full of the family's most cherished possessions. You still walk from left to right, but at least this dream lets you fight killer doughnuts and other new foes.
There's a reason why so many people are excited to get their hands on The Simpsons Arcade Game. For whatever reason, this 1991 brawler never found its way to a home console. For the last two decades it has only been playable at the arcade, adding a layer of mystique to an otherwise ho-hum game. Most gamers haven't played the game in well over ten years, only remembering the great graphics and cartoony situations. They remember the good old days of tossing quarters into a machine and getting a half hour of fun.
Will gamers speak as highly of The Simpsons Arcade Game now that it has finally hit a proper game console? Probably not, but maybe that's beside the point. Even though the core of the game is a repetitive mess, this is a product that needed to be released eventually. On the Xbox 360 you get sharp visuals and online four-player functionality.
Beyond the 40 minute long story, players can unlock a number of cool bonus features and modes. The most notable is the Japanese ROM, which tweaks the difficulty and the scoring system. There's also a survival mode, which only gives the player one life and no continues. The rest of the options include a sound test, art gallery and other odds and ends.
Had this come out at five dollars I would have noted the problems and given a tepid recommendation. It's not a great game, but it's certainly worth going through with friends once. But ten dollars seems a bit much for such a light package. The extras pale in comparison to things we've seen in recent Capcom re-releases. This is the same price as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remake, which involved a team of designers writing the game using polygonal graphics. Somehow I doubt as much time or money went into uploading this 18 MB Simpsons game.
For a lot of people my complaints won't matter. They won't care that the entrance to Moe's Tavern is hidden under a tombstone. It won't bother them that Smither's out of character actions are never explained. They won't mind that they spent 40 minutes with four of the funniest characters in television history and not once did they laugh. They'll be blinded by nostalgia. I don't think that's worth ten dollars, but I took off those rose-colored glasses a long time ago.