Review: The Simpsons Arcade Game

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In my house, The Simpsons are like a comfort food.  Between random episodes airing in syndication or multiple season DVD viewings, there are very few things in my house that everyone will agree upon watching if there is nothing else, but The Simpsons is one of them.  The EA published The Simpsons Game, released in 2007, was pretty much the perfect realization of the yellow skinned family and the huge franchise machine that the title characters have become.  Plenty of cameos, inside jokes and collectibles filled out a game that dabbled in a little bit of all types of video games, from the open world framing of the game to action/platform levels as well as a psuedo-JRPG Final Fantasy level. Fans of the TV show (and video games in general) could find something to love in the smorgasbord of so many different offerings that title had to offer.

Gamers today have become spoiled with the level of detail that is found in most video games.  Vast open worlds, collectibles, various mini-games, and twisting plot devices are all commonplace in many games today.  Features that many ADD gamers (and OCD ones as well!) come to expect in video games in order to have a full experience, else a game can be viewed as incomplete, or unpolished or simply not worth paying the full asking price of a typical retail game.  But what about the retro fad of releasing original titles with an HD sheen?  How well does nostalgia hold up to the standards of most gamers’ finicky modern tastes?

Backbone Entertainment and Konami have joined up to release the original 1991 arcade hit for PSN and XBLA.  While this is a retro game released for modern HD consoles, the development team has opted to keep the original look and feel of the arcade classic by maintaining the original 4:3 aspect ratio while also giving players the option to render the game with smoother sprite animation as well as “zoom” the field of view in so that less of the arcade box frames the gameplay.  Personally, I think the original jaggy characters and world design look better (more authentic to my memories of playing at the local arcade so many years ago) and seeing the game framed in an arcade cabinet just gives an added nostalgic touch.

20 plus years of gaming had erased my memory of what the story of the game is about. A brief cutscene lays out the premise that Mr. Smithers has stolen a diamond for Mr. Burns but in his haste, the diamond ends up being swapped for Maggie Simpsons’ pacifier.  Instead of simply swapping the diamond and pacifier, Smithers takes Maggie and thus the rest of the Simpsons chase after him in order to retrieve the darling baby.  What 20 years had also erased was my memory of just how difficult (or rather almost cheap) the game is in regards to lack of fairness from enemy attacks throughout the various stages.  By cheap, I mean that the game was designed to be fun but never give the player an advantage as attacks from enemies tend to always land their mark. Of course, the whole point of arcade games back in the day was to entice players to continue pumping quarters into the machine.  What better way to do that than by giving players a fun yet challenging brawler that constantly drained away health but, with additional continues, kept levels and enemies easy enough to defeat?

To the credit of Backbone and Konami, this modern release of the coin-op beat ’em up has a freeplay mode which allows for unlimited credits so that the game can be easily finished without having to worry about running out of credits.  Additional modes include a pooled credit mode in which there are 40 credits available for the entire playthrough but any one player could use more credits to continue than another. There is also a limited credit mode in which each player only has 10 credits at their disposal to continue through the game.  Finally there is a survival mode which gives no additional credits, challenging players to see just how far they can get on a single life.

Drop-in/drop-out local co-op works flawlessly (assuming you have 4 controllers), and there is an online mode which offers a quick match option allowing players to drop in to any random game. An option to create a private online game and send invites to people on your friend list is available as well.

While the story doesn’t quite make sense in the context of Smithers stealing Maggie to deliver the diamond, what makes even less sense are some of the bosses at the end of each stage.  A giant Krusty the Clown head with arms, or a huge bowling ball (which eventually sprouts arms and shoots missiles?!?), or the initial stage of the final encounter with Smithers throwing cherry bombs from a trench coat — some of the design choices are a bit of a head-scratcher.  But the quick pace of the game mixed with a ton of character cameos makes for a fun romp.

Fans of the series as well as fans of retro gaming should not miss this title.  Between the original US ROM and the Japanese ROM (which is unlocked after beating the US version), the various modes to play in, as well as the quick online options, The Simpsons Arcade Game is a joyful blast from the past.  Available for $9.99 (currently free for PlayStation Plus members) or 800 Microsoft Points, this is a game that is a fun, quick diversion and goes to show why this title was such a hit when arcades were king.

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Pros:
+ Four player co-op local and online
+ “Unlimited” free play mode
+ Good replay value with lots of different modes and unlockables

Cons:
– Overall experience is short (only 8 stages)
– Enemies can feel like they have a cheap upper hand

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN; also available for Xbox 360 via XBLA
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Release Date: XBLA – 2/3/2012, PSN – 2/7/2012
Genre: Beat ’em up
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4 (local and online)
Source: Free PlayStation Plus download

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.