The Simpsons Arcade ReviewJoe Shaffer
I plan one day to tell my son about the lost relic known as "the brawler." Sometimes there was nothing more elating than guiding a muscle-bound crime fighter or your favorite cartoon character through a mission to crack as many text book villains' skulls as possible. Screens would flood with all manner of unwholesome types, from tux wearing terrors to orange-coated punks to jet-packed fops. The kitsch alone made many of these titles memorable. However, it's understandable that this genre would eventually fall. There are only so many ways you can make the same kind of game before the concept goes south. There have been attempts to revive it for over a decade, with Square releasing The Bouncer and AGO Games's The Asskickers, but such attempts have been utterly unsuccessful.
Konami knew better than to start cranking out new additions to a bygone genre. Instead they gave us retro junkies what we've wanted for years: digital versions of our favorite arcade beat 'em ups without having to make room for a bulky cabinet. No longer do I have drive to the other end of town to pop quarters into The Simpsons Arcade Game.
Taking control of Homer, Marge, Bart, or Lisa, you bash the sharply-dressed thugs hired by Mr. Burns in an attempt to pry Maggie from his villainous clutches. The Simpsons's rule system, mechanics and presentation haven't been tweaked or "modernized." It's left exactly as it should be, with plenty of cartoon violence, scores of enemies, instances of button-mashing (although not a great amount), and plenty of cameos. Many of us old-schoolers will relish the time we spend beating Krusty impostors to a bloody pulp, nabbing a hammer from Milhouse Van Houten for greater skull-cracking capabilities, or extracting an impressive belch from Barney Gumble with a quick swat to the gut.
Konami knew how to develop a great license title. There's more to it than haphazardly sticking a few familiar faces in a generic game world and hoping fans will be too blinded by their love and excitement to notice--you know, the LJN method. You can tell from your very first glance that Konami aimed to impress fans and show that the source material was in the right hands. The visuals mirror the art style of the show perfectly, from character design to color palette. Even a simple animal or random piece of scenery looks like it was lifted directly from Springfield. Various locations also serve as throwbacks to familiar settings and particular episodes. You'll battle through the oft-seen Moe's Tavern, relive Treehouse of Horror opening credits in the discount cemetery, crawl through the Springfield streets, and eventually cross paths with Smithers and Burns in the all-too-familiar over-sized office.
Although the show doesn't feature much in the way of brawler-appropriate villains, the developers made do with a wide variety of contrived nemeses. You meet many suit-wearing warriors, from overweight men in pink shirts to fedora-throwing felons. Konami figured we'd grow tired of the same faces, and also included level-specific baddies. You'll tangle with zombies in the cemetery, fight off Homer-lookalike sasquatches, and beat the living daylights out of anthropomorphic donuts in Dreamland. I won't say the array of enemies is unparalleled, but it beats other brawler entries who merely recolored the same four or five enemies.
Combat plays out with ease and speed. Unlike more hardcore brawlers, Streets of Rage comes to mind, there are very few sub-boss-like enemies or overly tricky scenarios. The Simpsons likes to challenge you and keep you moving forward by throwing in an abundance of opponents that take very few hits. This may make the rogues gallery sound weak, but we're still greeted with a measure of difficulty. Enough opponents arrive on the scene at the same time to slowly whittle your life down. You won't even notice you're dying until it's too late. Timing, patience and crowd control are still key elements, and losing your cool or failing to stay vigilant in a large crowd will get you nothing but killed.
Those interested in reliving this experience will probably have one important question: infinite or finite continues? Thanks to adjustable options, Konami gives us the best of both worlds. Those who just want to brawl unrestrained by challenge can set the continues to unlimited, but those who might be burned by such a challenge-nullifying feature can opt for a set amount.
While this sounds like a stellar nostalgia trip and a ride worth taking, it can only last so long. A single playthrough is incredibly short, and there's very little replay aside for the want to relive 1991. Players more accustomed to modern gaming might not find much joy in this abbreviated experience, and some will even be turned off by the game itself. In case you haven't noticed, brawlers aren't exactly "all the rage" anymore, and there's probably a good reason for that.
However, there will definitely be those of us who can look past the meager flaws and revel in the memories that this fine piece of software brought us. Reissues like these aren't out to grab the new generation of gamers and force them to love or respect classic titles--that's their own prerogative. These are for fogies like myself who frequently forget where we put things, yet remember arbitrary anecdotes, bits of useless trivia, and great old games like we experienced them yesterday. I praise Konami for their dedication to their older fans and their willingness to help us preserve our fading memories by resurrecting bits of our childhood and teenage years. Now, if I can just find my car keys...
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.