It's insane that this day has finally come. For about 20 years now, I have wanted The Simpsons Arcade Game on a home console. Since the very first time I played it in the Smiths Falls Mall, I was hooked and the day I went there to find the game gone was soul crushing. I spent the next two decades hoping that in my journeys I would stumble upon it, and every few years or so I was lucky enough that this would happen. I loved that friggin' game. One of my fondest video game memories is when a friend and I stocked up all our quarters and actually beat the game with a crowd of people gathered around watching the machine. That was officially the last time I’ve ever had strangers impressed with my video game accomplishments. Sure beating the game was more a matter of having enough money and not so much skill but still, great memory.
A few years back when TMNT The Arcade Game was released on XBLA, it felt like we were potentially closer than ever to getting The Simpsons Arcade Game. A few more years went by and then we got an arcade perfect port of X-Men. Simpsons had to be next right?! Well there’s no story twist because yes, it was absolutely next. It is here and you can totally buy it right now!
Screw cliffhangers; guess what it was totally worth the wait. Now please please please click onward to see why!
The Simpsons Arcade Game is a simple beat ‘em up through and through. You get a basic story set-up, here it is that Maggie has been kidnapped by Smithers after a stolen diamond ends up replacing her pacifier. The only way to save her is to kick the shit out of anyone, man or beast, who dares to stand in your way. Your means of doing so are, as expected, quite limited. You can jump, punch, and do a special attack and that is the limit of your arsenal. You can pick up and throw items and occasionally pick up additional weapons such as slingshots and brooms, but for the most part you will be hammering the same button for 90% of the experience. It shouldn’t be fun but god dammit it really really is.
The game does make good use of the Simpsons license. Each stage is littered with cameo appearances from the show’s characters, although keep in mind that this game was released when the show was only a couple of years old, so there are many more recent characters that you won’t see here. Some merely appear in the background for a few moments, others you can interact with, such as Santa’s Little Helper who you can actually pick up and toss at enemies.
Of course this game is 20 years old at this point so you can’t expect too much visually but I was surprised at how well this holds up graphically. It’s bright, colorful, and yes pixilated as hell but that’s part of the charm. I’m very happy they didn’t go the Turtles in Time Reshelled route and try and modernize the look of the game. It works perfectly the way it is. The music is also fantastic, with the Krustyland music being a favourite of mine ever since the game was first released. Although they did get the actual voice actors to record some dialogue for the playable characters, they only say a handful of things throughout the whole game so get ready for a whole lot of repetition. Smithers and Mr. Burns also speak but wow they clearly didn’t get Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer for these. They didn’t even get sound alikes! It’s actually pretty hilarious.
I tend to judge a beat em up’s success on one primary criteria – how much fun is it to beat the hell out of things. Classics like Streets of Rage and Final Fight are great examples of this, as each punch is accompanied with a satisfying THWACK noise and it’s always a joy smashing your way through hordes of enemies. While I don’t thinkThe Simpsons Arcade Game quite hits those levels of satisfaction, it still feels great. Hit detection is solid and hurling an item through a row of bad guys, or using a hammer to smash a bunch of wayward tea cups, is absolutely delightful.
The game is just short enough that it doesn’t wear out it’s welcome, with each of the eight stages lasting I would say on average about 3 minutes. Each level is also completely unique from one another, with locations ranging from a downtown street, to a TV station where you fight robots and ninjas, to my personal favourite, the Dreamworld where you fight rampaging donuts and evil saxophones while running through the clouds.
Thanks to the achievements, there is a decent amount of replay value. In addition to standard fare like beating the game with all four characters, you have some more challenging ones such as beating the game on Expert difficulty with only 10 continues, or getting to the end of the third level without dying a single time. It gives some extra incentive to keep playing and are all challenging, without being impossible. Plus you get 4-player online and local coop, which I know I’ll be going back to at random times just for the pure fun of it.
If you’re wondering if a huge part of the appeal comes from nostalgia, I’m leaning towards yes. If this is the first time you’ve played The Simpsons Arcade Game, I can’t guarantee you’re going to get a lot out of it. I played through it with my wife who had never played it before and she was a little baffled as to why I spent two decades waiting for it. Then again if you have any affinity for the classic beat ‘em ups of old, like Streets of Rage, Double Dragon, and TMNT, then this should be right up your alley. But if you’re one of those people who saw the achievement for beating the game in less than 30 minutes and were outraged by the length, then stay away because clearly this is not your genre.
I love The Simpsons Arcade Game. I loved it when it was originally released, and that love has not disappeared. I played through the XBLA version 5 times and got every achievement. I then downloaded it on PSN (free if you’re a Plus member) and have started collecting all the Trophies there too. So if you were a fan back in the day, rejoice friends for our time has finally come!