The Simpsons Arcade Game: review

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  • Format: XBLA (version reviewed), PSN
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Backbone Entertainment
  • Players: 1-4 (offline), 2-4 (online)
  • Site: http://www.konami.com/simpsonsarcade

If you’re cowering in your late twenties to mid thirties and you’ve been gaming since you were a wee lad or lass, you’ll almost certainly have fond memories of The Simpsons Arcade Game. It was arguably the jewel in Konami’s crown at one point, further cementing its position as one of the major players in arcades during the early nineties. Over twenty years later, a perfect home version is finally available; but with the rose tinted specs removed and crushed underfoot, what do we see?

For those that don’t know, this is a scrolling beat ’em up for up to four people. Players take control of one of the four older Simpsons – Homer (who punches people in the face), Marge (who, being a woman, carries a vacuum cleaner at all times), Lisa (who hits people with her skipping rope), or Bart (who rides and – yes, hits people with – his skateboard) – and fight their way through eight brief stages. Why? Because an entirely out of character Smithers steals a diamond (what?), kidnaps Maggie when she accidentally takes said diamond (whatwhat?) and, when you finally catch up to him, he tries to kill you with explosives (whatwhatwhat??!?).

Whether you go for ‘sharp’ or ‘smooth’, the heavily pixelated graphics are undeniably dated – yet still manage to hold up surprisingly well in 2012. This is thanks to the Groening flavoured graphic design which, in turn, has changed very little in the Simpsons cartoon series over the years. Take note publishers, this is how to get your developers to create graphics that age well. Not lens flare, cleavage and muddy browns – smart and original art direction.

Mr Burns looks on as Marge and Homer... um... er...

The sound hasn’t aged too badly either, though the music and sound effects are supremely forgettable. Unfortunately, the rather more important element of gameplay has suffered the most bumps and crashes on the journey through the decades. You move from left to right beating up everyone and everything that gets in your way till the next stage – and that’s it. There’s the occasional health pickup, and it can be fun taking the opportunity to pick up and throw Snowball II or Santa’s Little Helper at an enemy – but, apart from two super-brief minigames you only play once each, that really is your lot.

Combat, such as it is, is achingly simple. There is a button to attack and a button to jump. Yes, you can jump attack – woohoo! Of slightly more interest are the combination attacks possible when two players team up, but they add little to the experience. You’ll still be doing little more than button-bashing your way through the same handful of enemy designs across eight stages, and it’s even possible (depending on difficulty chosen and number of players present) to finish the whole game in less than half an hour; indeed, there is an achievement/trophy for doing so.

The value of this package, therefore, hinges on replay value. There are no secrets to speak of, and no alternative routes, so the game itself contains very little. The Simpsons license has been squandered quite badly, too. Although the voices of the original actors are present, they only speak the same few words throughout. There is no original, fully-featured script; no easter eggs to hunt down. That said, it can be fun (the first time through, at least) to see how many characters and references you recognise in both the foreground and background – especially as the game was made so early in the cartoon’s life. People old enough to remember the original release will probably wistfully think “mode 7” when they come up against the giant Krusty ball boss…

This vacuum cleaner picks up dust from tiny nooks, cleans carpets, and easily kills human beings!

This release is a little more than a simple ROM dump. Local multiplayer is still present but online multiplayer has been added too, if you don’t have £120 worth of joypads to play with but want to try it as a four player game (which is easier and a little more enjoyable). There are online leaderboards too, with an admirably large selection of filters. Finishing the USA ROM grants access to the Japanese ROM; which is almost entirely the same game, the largest difference being the presence of smartbomb-style pickups now and again. Also, finishing the game as each of the four characters gives access to extras from the main menu – none of which, sadly, are very interesting. A sound test does have a certain retro appeal, though.

Finally, there is the issue of price. PlayStation Plus subscribers get the game for free, and they should rush to download it immediately if they haven’t already. It may crush fond memories of just how good it was, but it’s still far from being a terrible game, and is sprinkled with an important pinch of Simpsons magic. The XBLA release costs 800MP – which, to be frank, is far too much. Almost everybody who grabs this game will have exhausted its supply of fun in less than a week, and it’s easy to imagine many getting all they can out of it in a single day.

So who is this for? If you have young kids yourself who love The Simpsons then they’ll doubtless have a blast with this, though it’s difficult to say for how long. If you’re determined to revisit the game for yourself then go ahead – but don’t say we didn’t warn you. If you never played the game the first time round and find yourself playing this home re-release, well… you may find yourself wondering what all the fuss was about.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He’s the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you’ll find something he’s written in there.

Luke doesn’t have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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