Any kid who had access to an arcade in the 90’s surely spent a good chunk of their allowance pumping quarters into The Simpsons arcade cabinet, but is the game still worth your time and money on the PS3 and Xbox 360? That’s debatable.
I don’t remember what year it was exactly, but it had to have been sometime during the early to mid nineties. My cousins and I would always celebrate our birthdays at the local arcade/mediocre pizza place, and there were always two games we would inevitably end up spending all of our quarters on: the skee-ball machine that payed out the most tickets (which we would later exchange for a bunch of flimsy styrofoam planes,) and Konami’s classic Simpsons brawler. We were all definitely too young to understand the sardonic brilliance of The Simpsons back then, but it didn’t matter– the game was simple, mindless fun and early 90’s culture had taught us to mindless assume everything with Bart Simpson on it was cool. Even when it blatantly wasn’t.
My generation was raised on The Simpsons, and I can’t remember a time in my life when The Simpsons hasn’t been on. Sure, I may have given up on the show ever being good again, but there’s certain jokes from those first ten or so seasons — Homer repeatedly falling down Springfield gorge, Poochy the Dog, Lisa’s Florida costume, etc. — that still cause me to break out in laughter just from the very mention of them. For most 20-somethings who grew up in America during the 90’s, The Simpsons is a cultural keystone who’s influence is unrivaled by any other piece of media.
Another key element of growing up in the 90’s were video games, so naturally there was a lot of Simpsons games back then. Most of them were terrible. I remember receiving a copy of infamous NES shovelware “classic” Bart vs. The Space Mutants as a birthday gift and immediately being dissatisfied with it within minutes of plugging it into my NES; that game might have given me my first frustrating experience with a video game. But while most Simpsons games weren’t worth the plastic they were manufactured from, Konami’s Simpsons arcade game was the one exception. Its bright graphics perfectly captured the show’s style (well, as perfectly as one could reasonably expect from the technology at the time, anyway,) and, at least by my grade school reckoning, the game play was fun and fair enough to keep me playing. There were a lot of sidescrolling beat-em-up’s in the arcade in those days, but Simpsons was always my go-to, guaranteed fix for mindless fun.
Of course, things have changed a lot since then: The Simpsons tv show is a pale, humorless, and formulaic shadow of what it once was, and the old school beat-em-up genre has more or less gone extinct. Outside of the occasional retro throwback like Ubisoft’s excellent Scott Pilgrim vs. The World game, the closest thing you can find to a classic arcade style brawler is Tecmo’s Dynasty Warriors series, and even then, that series’ brand of mindless, button-mashy genocide is on its last legs. Tastes have changed, games have evolved, and as much as I love retro games (my SNES, Genesis, and Turbo Grafx 16 still see regular use,) some games just aren’t as much fun as they used to be. The Simpsons, like most of it’s other beat-em-up contemporaries, is one of those games.
Now, don’t get me wrong, The Simpsons Arcade Game is one of the better 90’s arcade beat-em-ups you can get. But that’s sort of it’s problem: games in this genre were designed to eat quarters, not to provide a fair challenge, a lengthy experience, or hold your attention with nuanced gameplay systems or anything resembling depth. Boss battles were purposefully designed to be cheap and unfair so that you’d spend more quarters. Gameplay as intentionally kept simple so people could walk by, play for a few minutes, and then leave, freeing up the machine for the next customer. The flaws of The Simpsons Arcade Game are the same flaws that are intrinsic to every game in the genre.
With that said, it’s still possible to have a lot of fun with The Simpsons Arcade Game. Sure, the enemies are cheap and the one-button based combat has about as much depth as Martin’s pool at the end of Bart of Darkness, but if you have 3 friends to play the game with (trust me, play it locally, for some reason arcade games like this are just not the same online,) the game can still provide an hour or so of mindless distraction. While the game is obviously a very, very loose adaptation of the show created by Japanese people with only a trifling familiarity with the source material, there’s still enough in-jokes and just plain bizarre and funny imagery contained within the game to make any Simpsons fan go into a nostalgia-induced euphoria. The game’s charm and style make an admirable attempt at compensating for the lack of actual gameplay depth.
In terms of bonus content, the port adds some unlockable scans of promotional material for the game, but inexplicably, doesn’t give you the option to zoom in on any of the included flyers or ads for the game, negating any potential interesting material that might be contained on these scans. While the game doesn’t look terrible on an HDtv, it doesn’t really upscale spectacularly as well (see the recent Sonic CD HD port for a beautiful example of how to properly upscale an old, pixel-art based game.) The game offers some interesting options to customize your experience, such as being able to choose between shared or individual continues, or the ability to play the Japanese ROM of the game, but all in all, don’t expect much in the way of longevity or unlockables from this bare-bones port.
In the end, your enjoyment of The Simpsons Arcade Game will likely be proportional to how much time you spent with it in the arcades back in the 90’s: kids who spent a fortune in quarters fighting a war of attrition against Mr. Burns’ army of suits will likely find the game’s $10 asking price to be a bargain compared to what they spent in the arcades, while anyone who didn’t play the game back then will likely be left wondering what the big deal was all about. It’s mindless, shallow fun that requires a well-worn pair of nostalgia goggles (and a few friends with similar tastes) in order to enjoy, so if you’re too young to remember George Bush Senior’s presidency or if you think $10 isn’t worth about one hour of brain-dead entertainment, you might want to pass on The Simpsons Arcade Game.
Final Score: 6.5/10