In the late 80’s and early nineties, Konami had a knack for turning its licenses into monster arcade hits. Following in the footsteps of such coin-op pay-dirt as Aliens and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons was yet another example of Konami’s knack for translating licensed properties into pure pixilated wonderment.
Taking many cues from (and, in fact, utilizing the same game engine as) Konami’s hugely successful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles machine, The Simpsons was a Final Fight inspired side-scrolling beat ‘em up that hit arcades at just the right time when the genre was at it’s peak of popularity and The Simpsons themselves where riding their first wave of fame.
Released to coincide with the end of the second season of The Simpsons in 1991, the arcade game put you in the shoes of one of four members of the Simpson clan; Homer, Bart, Marge, or Lisa. With your character selected, if are free to begin kicking Krusty imitators, punching zombies, and skateboarding faces through familiar Springfield locals on the trail of Waylon Smithers who, after a pacifier/priceless diamond mix-up, kidnaps Maggie Simpson. Yeah, the story’s thin, but no thinner than modern day Simpsons episodes, and what it lacked in story in most certainly made up in game-play and gorgeous visuals.
The goon smashing game-play begins in downtown Springfield, continues through 8 lavishly detailed and brightly colored levels, including Krustyland, Springfield Discount Cemetery, Moe’s tavern, Springfield Butte, a nightmarishly surreal dream level, behind the scenes at Channel 6’s studios, and a final boss fight at the Nuclear Plant.
Much like TMNT, the game was released in two variations of four-player cabinets and was also available as a two-player conversion kit.
Each of the four selectable characters has their own weapon, reflecting their character within the early canon of the show. Homer, true to his ape-like intelligence, uses his bare fists, Bart smashes skulls with his skateboard, Marge uses an upright electric vacuum cleaner, and Lisa brandishes her skipping rope like a whip.
At first glance the game could be written off simply as a Final Fight clone, but Konami added several elements that helped it rise above the glut of beat ‘em ups that flooded the arcades at the time. It employed a team-up system where you could join forces with a fellow Simpson family member and combine to do a unique double attack. The type of attack varies depending on which characters join together, such as the Bart/Homer piggyback attack or the Homer/Marge human Ferris wheel.
As great as the game-play in The Simpsons is, it pales in comparison to the game’s greatest achievement, which is its attention to detail. Although the game may seems barren of recognizable references nowadays, it is none-the-less stuffed full of sight gags and visual nods to the first two seasons, and even include cameo’s by the rabbits from Simpson creator Matt Groening’s (somewhat forgotten) Life In Hell comics.
The graphics of The Simpsons hold up remarkably well, even when revisited today. The game features fully animated, vibrantly colored backgrounds, and detailed sprite animation. Its as close to playing a Simpsons cartoon that we would ever get.
Sadly, unlike the TMNT arcade games, The Simpsons arcade never made it to the home console, thanks to rival publisher Acclaim possessing the exclusive console publishing rights to the franchise, and as we are all well aware, they used this to shovel us such garbage as Bart vs. the Space Mutants and Virtual Bart.
If you ask any group of people what their 5 favorite arcade machines are, it’s a pretty good chance you’ll see at least half with ‘The Simspsons’ on their list, and with good reason- it’s an amazing experience that sticks with you long after the quarters run out.