Back when the Xbox Live Arcade initially launched and we saw the digital re-release of classic arcade titles one of the games that fans of side scrolling beat ‘em ups cried out for was Konami’s The Simpsons Arcade Game. Now, some 20 years after the game was originally released, The Simpsons Arcade Game is available to download on Xbox Live Marketplace and the Playstation Network.
The basic premise involves the Simpson family stumbling into the path of Smithers as he robs a jewelry store for Mr Burns. Somehow the youngest Simpson, Maggie, winds up with a gigantic diamond in her mouth, and Smithers snatches the child. You’ll fight your way from Downtown Springfield all the way to the Nuclear Power Plant, fighting everything from a man-eating bear to Mr Burns in a mech suit, in order to get Maggie back.
You play as one of four members of the Simpsons family – Homer, Bart, Lisa, or Marge – and move from left to right, beating up any foes that get in your way. Each Simpson is armed with their own weapon, Marge has a vacuum cleaner, Bart a skate board, Lisa a skipping rope, and Homer… well, Homer has his fists. As the game is about 20 years old you shouldn’t expect too much in terms of gameplay variety.
There are only two commands to perform, punch and jump, but, when playing multiplayer games, two characters can interact with one and other to perform a more powerful double team attack, such as Homer and Marge rolling together as a ball, or Marge flinging the children across the screen.
Graphically very little has been done to the game to improve the visuals. An unambitious grey border, designed to look vaguely like an arcade cabinet, fills in all of the empty space on the sides of the screen. This can be switched off, but there’s little reason for doing so, unless you like staring at vast empty black spaces. It is disappointing that more wasn’t done to improve the graphics, but something can be said for purity of the game’s retro look.
Similarly sound design is fairly limited beyond a few groans, grunts, and general sound bites provided by the show’s cast. Each character has their own catchphrase that they use at the end of each level, and periodically throughout the game.
As this was originally a coin operated game you can expect to die frequently. While there are plenty of health pick-ups and powerful weapons to find, enemies deal a great deal of damage with every hit. Fortunately there are no limits on the number of lives you have by default. There are two more challenging options, one where the four players have 40 lives to share between them, and the other where players have 10 lives each. However, only those looking for an old school challenge should even consider trying this mode.
Playing through the game shouldn’t take much longer than about 45 minutes. Upon completing the game you unlock a separate Japanese rom of the game, which has a different point system and features new weapons, such as an atom bomb. Completing the game with each character also unlocks a variety of additional content, such as music tracks and design documents. These unlockables are fairly basic, and hardly a necessity, but it is nice that Konami bothered to include them at all.
This game is definitely at its best when playing with friends in the same room as each other as the online multiplayer experience is very uneven. For each flawless game I have had there have been just as many that have been an unplayable mess. In one match that I joined midway all enemies on screen randomly disappeared, and we were all stuck on screen with nowhere to go. Playing locally the experience is flawless, if a little chaotic, and is evocative of the old arcade experience, which is fantastic.
When playing in single player the whole experience feels very hollow, and after you’ve beaten it once there is little incentive to go through it again. Yes there are online leaderboards that record your best times, but does anyone really care about their standing on the leaderboards?
Graphics: 2/5 – Bold and bright graphics that really captures the old school arcade feel. While there is something to be said for this, it would’ve been nice to see a bit more effort put in to cleaning things up a bit.
Sound: 3/5 – The game’s catchy little tunes are let down a little by some generic sound bites delivered by the show’s cast. Not terrible by any means, but really shows how far we’ve all come in 20 years.
Gameplay: 3/5 – As a game that was designed to kill you as frequently as possible this game succeeds in spades. Playing solo isn’t anyway near as much fun as playing with three friends in the same room. As of writing the online multiplayer experience is uneven, but this could easily be fixed with a patch later on.
Longevity: 2/5 – The entire game can be beaten in under half an hour by skilled players. Completing the game with each of the four characters unlocks a variety of behind the scenes content. Beyond that there’s little else to encourage repeat playthroughs.
Overall 3 out of 5
Definitely one for fans of old school games. It’s brutal, punishing, but great fun in multiplayer. While those new to the game will likely be left scratching their head wondering what all of the fuss is about, those of us that are old enough to remember playing it the first time around will have a blast.
- Luke Mears