The world is certainly a very different place to when The Simpsons Arcade Game was released way back in 1991. For one thing, back then, The Simpsons brand hadn’t become stale and was only just about to hit its heyday, where the gags were actually funny and the characters hadn’t become pale clichés of their former selves.
Almost twenty one years on, the landscape of gaming is completely different to how anyone could ever have imagined and Konami and BackBone Entertainment have decided to bring back the Arcade title for release on PSN and XBLA. The question is whether this virtually untouched title still has a relevant place in today’s very crowded market.
The game is undeniably as odd a concept today as it ever was. By now we’ve had countless different Simpsons games, from platformers to side scrollers and even driving games, but the idea of taking a show about the off the wall adventures of an American family and turning it into a beat ‘em up certainly doesn’t sit easy, even now. It’s always been something of a novelty, so it’s a little hard to approach this game as anything else.
From the moment this port starts, complete with scratchy voice samples and bleep-bloop rendition of the famous TV theme tune, it’s clear that the game has aged badly. In terms of updating, this release feels like it’s very had little love sprinkled on it to help ease its birthing into an age where 720 / 1080p have become second nature expectation for gamers. The end result is something that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Microsoft’s doomed Games Room venture, which shouldn’t be a surprise given Backbone’s involvement there too.
In line with the visual fidelity at the time of the original release, it’s jagged and messy with the smoothing filter that’s provided doing little to improve things. Whether you see this as a good or bad thing will depend on what place this title holds in your heart, but even those who remember it fondly from back in the day will be hard pressed to square up the imagery they hold dear in their head with how it actually looks.
It isn’t just the visuals that are a throwback either, with the simplistic gameplay of random button mashing faring badly too. The limited move sets to each character, coupled with no special moves or rage modes, all help cement this as a title from an era where staples of the genre that we now take for granted, hadn’t even been dreamt up yet. Lest we also not forget that all arcade games back then were design to eat your money, so the difficulty level wasn’t necessarily pitched towards fairness. Shoving coins into your PS3 or 360 isn’t required (and would probably void your warranty anyway) so it makes the difficulty level retained here, and the often unfair enemy tactics that accompany it, feel unnecessarily punishing.
There is the inclusion of online play and, credit where it’s due, the netcode is very solid with no problems at all. Standard leaderboard options and the chance to unlock the Japanese ROM release are also present, but overall this feels like little more than a quick and dirty port of a title that has a cult following at best.
In fact the only people who will get something out of this release are those aforementioned people who have heady, nostalgia fueled memories of playing it back in the day. For a select few, revisiting this will probably touch a fond note of remembrance which may warrant the (rather steep) purchase price. However for everyone else, it’s difficult to see the appeal that this sort of release would hold, other than to serve as a demonstration of just how far things have moved on.