Price: 800 MSP/ $9.99
The Simpsons Arcade Game Review
If you ever stepped foot into a video arcade during the 1990′s, chances are you’re familiar with The Simpsons Arcade Game. Originally released in 1991, just two years after the series’ beginning, this game was immensely popular with arcade crowds. The game’s vibrant personality made it a smash hit, despite the fact that it offered little diversity from the gameplay of the average beat-em-up of the time. If any of us kids had been told at the time that we’d one day be able to own this game and play it whenever we wanted at home for just forty quarters (800 MSP, $9.99), it would have been a dream come true! Fast forward more than two decades. The dream has finally come to fruition, but is it too little too late? Unfortunately yes, it kind of is.
If there’s one thing about The Simpsons Arcade Game that had successfully stood the test of time, it’s the game’s undeniable charm. There’s a certain subtle humor to the way the game constantly erupts into colorful chaos. Both the visual style and the sound design do much to reinforce the Simpsons license. Four of the five family members (Maggie excluded) are playable characters, with loads of other Simpsons show notables appearing randomly throughout the course of the game. The sparse voice over work (and I do mean SPARSE) is acted by the show’s original cast, throwing a pinch of audible authenticity into the mix. All of this loyalty to the source material is essential to the games’ fun times. Peel off the aesthetic layer, remove the Simpsons characters, locations, and thematic elements, and what you’re ultimately left with is a dull game that hardly shoots up to par even by ’91 standards, let alone today’s.
The action follows an inane story line involving Maggie mistaking a priceless diamond for her pacifier and subsequently getting kidnapped by the uncharacteristically hell-bent Mr. Smithers. To rescue their precious daughter/sister, the rest of the Simpsons family pursues Smithers across a variety of locations. While each environment is visually distinct and offers up different enemies and boss encounters, there’s little to do across the entire game’s length aside from walking to the right and mashing the attack button. With no individual moves beyond simple attacks and jump attacks, the combat completely lacks any sense of depth. Sure, items can occasionally be picked up for brief use as melee and/or thrown weapons, and characters can stand still next to one another to initiate team attacks, but these are minor distractions from the endless repetition otherwise found.
The game’s difficulty is incredibly unbalanced, a result of its arcade heritage. Back in the day, these games were designed for one purpose – to separate kids from their quarters as much as possible. Death comes frequently, and only obscene amounts of practiced skill can enable players to get through a level smoothly. There are a number of options for how many ‘quarters’ are available for play, but none really hits the sweet spot. Most offer too many continues, allowing for a leisurely stroll through the 30-40 minute campaign, while the game’s new survival mode grants only one credit, making the completion of even a single stage a staggering concept. There are different difficulty settings to couple in with these quarter settings, enabling a pretty wide range of challenge levels, it’s still quite a task to find a happy medium between breezing through and bashing your head against the wall.
Upon completing the game, you’ll unlock the Japanese version of the game. This adds some depth to the scoring system, allows for health to be collected past the 100% maximum, and adds new pickups including the screen-clearing atomic bomb. While this offers a slight change of pace, and another element to the variety of setting choices, it’s not quite enough to really feel like any sort of major overhaul to the dull gameplay. What does make a big impression, on the other hand, is the inclusion of both online and offline multiplayer.
The game shines in offline multiplayer, where you can sit on your couch with up to three friends and relive the glory days of your youth, cracking jokes and reminiscing while beating up baddie after baddie. The option to take the game online makes playing solo more fun than it otherwise would be, but it’s not without problems. One player acts as host, and should they encounter any networking difficulties, the game stutters along at an unplayable rate for the rest of the gamers until everyone gets disconnected. Voice chat is a nice addition that allows friends and strangers to chat while playing, though the usual excessive noise associated with in-game chat functionality is present. The option to search for online games with voice chat turned off was a well thought out decision on the creators’ parts. Despite these shortcomings, the online multiplayer component really does go a long way towards making this an enjoyable package, as this really isn’t a very fun game to play alone.
It’s funny to consider just how much of an impact nostalgia can potentially have on a game’s marketability. In most cases, the idea of spending ten dollars on a game that’s over twenty years old and has seen little change over the years is a laughable offense, but it actually works pretty well in this case. Sure, there are loads of far superior games available on XBLA and PSN for the price, but The Simpsons Arcade may just be one of the best offerings available for those eager to take a nice trip down memory lane. If you’re on the market for a game that offers satisfying combat, an interesting story and/or any reason whatsoever to actually use your brain, this isn’t what you’re looking for. If, however, you’re one of the multitudes of us gamers with fond memories of this game and you’ve got friends in the same boat, then the one-time price of forty quarters will be quite reasonable in comparison to what we all used to spend on this game back in the day.
The Simpsons Arcade Game was reviewed with a code provided by Konami. You can download the game in the Xbox Live Arcade or Playstation Store for 800 MSP/ $9.99.