The Simpsons Arcade: Fireworks Candy & Puppy Dogs Store, or Box Factory?
It’s been just over 20 years since The Simpsons arcade debut, and fans have been demanding a home port ever since. It was passed over during both the 8 and 16-bit eras in favor of a handful of disappointing titles published by Acclaim, while Konami released successful ports of several other arcade beat-em-ups to the home market. Finally, a year after their port of fellow two-decade holdout X-Men, Konami and Backbone Entertainment have finally brought The Simpsons to XBLA and PSN. Was it worth the wait, or have the ravages of time once again proven victorious over sweet, sweet nostalgia?
As a huge fan of both 90’s arcade beat-em-ups and the Simpsons franchise in general my excitement levels for this release were running pretty much unchecked. The question “will it hold up?” was never even given a moment’s consideration. I looked at it like this: I would have paid anywhere from $40 to $60 to get this game on the Super Nintendo in the mid 90’s, so the $10 asking price for this version seemed like nothing. I bought it, day one, without so much as checking out the demo. After a quick playthrough, I can’t say that I definitely regret my hasty purchase, but at the same time I can’t say I’m still super excited about it either.
I don’t expect a Simpsons game from 1991 to be filled with references and in-jokes like I would today. The show was still in its infancy, secondary characters were sparse, and nobody’s personality had really been nailed down yet. But at the same time, you can’t help but notice that every game featuring The Simpsons for the duration of the 90’s was put together in a way that completely ignores the fact that the show has always been a comedy. This one starts out with Mr. Burns and Smithers robbing a jewelry store (???), after which there’s a stumble-and-swap that results in a giant diamond replacing Maggie’s pacifier. So naturally, Smithers and Burns kidnap Maggie on the spot, and the rest of the family has to get her back. Obviously you’re not going to go into an arcade brawler expecting a cohesive plot, but this one is still noticeably worse than the rest.
The journey to rescue Maggie seems to contain a lot of detours, and you’ll find yourself fighting through a lot of random locations. Again, the level choices feel odd even for the genre. There’s an amusement park, a forest, a cemetery, a version of Moe’s Tavern that is roughly the size of an amusement park…the list goes on and never really starts to make sense. All that’s missing is a sewer level, and maybe a lava level. Enemy types occasionally include zombies, bears, or ninjas, but that’s not as much fun as it sounds. Mostly you’ll be fighting endless waves of random suit guy up there. The bosses make even less sense, counting a sentient Krusty balloon and a Kabuki samurai among their ranks.
This game isn’t all bad though, and I might actually recommend it if you can talk three other people into the purchase, or get them over to your place in person. Like most other games in the genre, The Simpsons is vastly improved by co-op. In fact, I would say co-op is even more necessary here than usual. Most beat-em-ups have some sort of character-specific special attacks to break up the monotony of hammering on the punch button for 30 minutes. Not so here-if you’re playing solo you’re in for a lot of punching. There are special attacks in co-op however, and they vary depending on which two characters team-up.
The port itself is about what you’d expect for a release like this. There’s a smoothing option for the graphics, which is nice because they look pretty awful on a larger TV. Pixels the size of a baby’s fist! Beating the game with each character provides some unlockable content, but it’s just sound test modes and the like, nothing spectacular. The Japanese ROM is included, but it’s just the same game with greatly inflated point values. As far as I’m concerned Capcom’s Final Fight: Double Impact is the gold standard for 90’s arcade brawler ports, and if you’re going to charge $10 for a similar title you need to at least try to live up to that one. This release of The Simpsons, sadly, does not.
I’m glad this game came out, at least. It was nice to finally play all the way through, to finally see a robot-suited Mr. Burns exclaim “Welcome to your grave, suckers!” in his generic Konami boss fight voice. Is it a must-play though, a release worthy of both the license and the anticipation? No, not really. Unless you already bought everything else, there are literally dozens of games at this price point on PSN and XBLA that are far more worth the money. My recommendation is to rest assured that you now have the option to purchase and play The Simpsons Arcade in the comfort of your own home. You’ve waited 20 years, you can probably wait for a sale. Alternatively, write Konami a letter and promise to buy this if they promise to release Sunset Riders.