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Blast from the past: ‘The Simpsons Arcade Game’

By Gordy Stillman

Section: Arts

February 10, 2012

Last Friday, for the first time in my life, I felt old while playing a videogame. “The Simpsons Arcade Game” had just been re-released as a port on XBox Live. It was the same game I had played every chance I could get in a real arcade when I was a kid, no matter how many tokens it took.

“The Simpsons Arcade Game” is more than the average arcade game. Even though the show didn’t have the extensive history that it currently has when it was first released in 1991, the arcade game took enough from the early seasons to make it feel like something worthy of “The Simpsons” franchise. While some arcade games feel overly generic, as though a popular series was pasted on top of it, this game felt like it was built from the ground-up with the Simpsons in mind.

The Simpson family is walking through Springfield when Smithers and a few goons run out of the jewelry store. The two groups collide and baby Maggie takes a giant diamond and uses it as a pacifier. To avoid being caught, Smithers grabs Maggie and runs, setting the stage for the game: to save Maggie from Smithers. After progressing through seven side-scrolling levels and an eighth final level, the Simpsons face off against Smithers and Mr. Burns before rescuing Maggie. As the family heads home, Homer throws the diamond in the garbage, apparently ignorant of the value of the jewel. The game is overall very simple and unmemorable.

There are four character options: Bart, who can use his skateboard to attack goons; Lisa, who attacks enemies with a jump rope; Marge, who fights by swinging her vacuum cleaner; and Homer, who uses his fists. One of the more amusing elements is the ability to use combination attacks, which is a completely innovative idea. Combination attacks does not, however, mean pressing a combination of buttons to unleash a strong attack. It allows for two players to team up for a stronger attack.

Each duo has their own attack, for a total of six combinations. While I’ve always preferred to use Bart, the XBox Live port has allowed me to try out the other characters more than I usually would because I don’t have to pay quarters for every play.

Aside from the characters, the level design is great for its age. Various locales from the series, including downtown Springfield, Krustyland and the Springfield nuclear power plant make an interesting progression that flows naturally. Each level has a “boss” at the end of the level that requires a lot of work to defeat. The only level that is at all challenging is the nightmare “Dreamland,” which takes place near the end during a moment in which the characters are unconscious.

Aside from the characters and levels, the other big thing to consider when playing an arcade game is the music. “The Simpsons” game doesn’t disappoint with familiar music that differs from level to level. This makes each level fresh and unique, which is important with each passing level of new and increasingly stronger goons. Other classic arcade games, such as those based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or the X-Men, suffer in this respect because each series was originally developed as a comic, so they don’t have a library of musical accompaniments to keep things fresh.

Another great thing about the recent re-release is the inclusion of bonus content. While I don’t care much for the ability to play the game’s Japanese version, the bonus features that showed the making of the game proved to be interesting and a worthwhile addition to the experience. Xbox achievements and PlayStation trophies created replay value in trying to accomplish tricks and other challenges.

There are only a couple of arcade games that I would always play whenever a place has them and “The Simpsons Arcade Game” is one of them. It would be a great addition to any gamer’s collection.

Arcades are a dying breed. The rise of consoles and personal computers made sure of it because, thankfully, modern consoles and PCs have the capacity to extend the arcade game experience to newer generations of gamers. In that sense, while playing “The Simpsons Arcade Game” might make me feel old, it’s still a great addition to the library of top arcade games that are getting second lives with modern releases.

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