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Hard as it is to believe, there was a time when the Simpsons were new and the novelty of a dysfunctional family in an animated series was fresh. And those same characters starring in a videogame was even more unique. Decades of Simpsons games exist that range from god awful to tolerable, but until now there’d never been a proper home version of the Simpsons’ original arcade adventure. The long overdue re-release has finally happened, and while it’s hardly deep, The Simpsons Arcade Game is at least an entertaining trifle.
Cut from the same cloth as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade and Final Fight, the side-scrolling beat-‘em-up works the same as it has since the big bang. Move your character forward, knock out everyone on screen, eventually face the stage’s boss, and move on to the next wacky adventure. The Simpsons follows that same formula to a T, and we're glad the days these titles once went for full retail prices are long ago.
At its core the Simpsons is at the height of early 90s design for arcade games and was a perfect quarter-gobbler back then. The graphics are still impressively colorful, set in a commendable pixel art recreation of a very early version of Springfield, based mostly on the first season of the show. Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa look like their former selves, but the whole concept doesn't really fit the sitcom, as it’s strange seeing Lisa punch grown men in the face, let alone giant bowling balls. Also, casting likeable lackey Smithers as the game’s baby-stealing villain is a particularly odd choice.
The levels are particularly creative, as the sillier, cartoony world allows for more creativity than in X-Men or Streets of Rage. Things shift from theme parks to forests to dreamscapes so gradually, we didn’t even notice. (Yes, we did notice, we just wanted to paraphrase that quote.) Anyway, the stages and imaginative bosses were still notable, but the countless thugs Bart, Lisa and the rest punch into unconsciousness are painfully repetitive.
Simpsons Arcade really shows its age in its length, as the whole adventure probably won’t take you and your friends more than an hour to complete once. There’s some modest bonus material and the slightly different Japanese version, but that won’t keep you going too long. Whether that’s enough to warrant $10 really depends on how big a Simpsons fan you are. Will seeing Principal Skinner and Sideshow Bob walk by give you a chortle?
We’re the most diehard of Simpsons buffs, so of course we got it day one and happily relived those heady days in the local arcade for as long as the brief run time lasted. Should that describe you, you’ll feel the same way. If you weren’t around for it in the early 90s, it’s still a fun diversion and could be an eye-opening experience for younger Simpsons fans that regard season nine as “the good ol’ days.” Ultimately, Simpsons Arcade is much richer with history than it is with content, but we’d easily play this over Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge.