It’s one of those games that, when you tell a younger buddy about it, you initially sound like you’re kidding: the first ever Simpsons video game was a 4-player beat-’em-up, Streets of Rage-style, starring Homer, Bart, Marge, and Lisa. The last boss is Mr. Burns in a mecha suit.
Konami’s The Simpsons is a real game, though, back from the heyday of ’90s video arcades. It was later ported to the Commodore 64 and MS-DOS as The Simpsons Arcade Game, but didn’t make it to consoles until the early 2010s.
There was a brief window starting in 2012 where you could buy The Simpsons Arcade as a digital download for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but it was quietly removed from both storefronts at some point afterward. Sure, you can play The Simpsons on emulators, but if you actually wanted to buy it, you’ve been out of luck for almost a decade.
Playing the Classics
That streak got broken at this year’s virtual E3, as Arcade1Up has announced they’re bringing a standalone The Simpsons arcade machine to market, which happens to coincide with the original game’s 30th anniversary.
Like the original cabinet, the Arcade1Up Simpsons is designed for four players standing side-by-side; like most Arcade1Up machines, it’s roughly three-quarters the size of the original, at 22″ x 31″ x 57.8″, weighing 104 pounds.
It’s also planned to ship with wi-fi built in, so players of one Simpsons cabinet can play co-op with other people on different cabinets, and a second pack-in “mystery game” that has yet to be announced. (My money’s on The Simpsons Bowling, another Konami arcade game from a few years later.)
The game itself has a fair amount of early-installment weirdness baked in. It debuted in March of 1991, in the back half of the show’s second season, before the introduction of many elements that are now considered staples of the series. Lisa in particular feels weird in retrospect, given the development of her character in subsequent seasons; she’s a pacifistic vegetarian Buddhist by season 13, but in The Simpsons Arcade, she and her trusty jump rope can smack the taste out a thousand mouths.
The game’s got the typical excuse plot. The Simpsons are in downtown Springfield one afternoon when Smithers, fresh off a jewel heist, crashes into them. Maggie ends up with a diamond in her mouth instead of her trademark pacifier, so Smithers runs off with her.
When the rest of the Simpsons give chase, they end up having to plow through an army of Mr. Burns’s bodyguards, as well as every angry rando in Springfield who’s capable of making a fist. At one point, you get to beat up a bunch of theme park mascots, many of whom are cameo appearances by characters from Simpsons creator Matt Groening’s indie comic strip Life in Hell.
There’s a lot of DNA in The Simpsons from Konami’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games in the same period. The level design may be a particular highlight, as Konami really runs through a lot of the then-existing Simpsons shout-outs early on.
After that point, it gets creative; there’s a nicely hallucinogenic dream sequence, an inexplicable fight against ninjas (were you really popular in the ’90s if you didn’t fight ninjas at some point?), and a boss fight against a random dude with a naginata, just in case you ever wanted to know what Kyoshiro from Samurai Shodown would look like in the Simpsons house style.
You can also cooperate with a co-op buddy for character-specific team-up attacks, such as Bart and Lisa uniting into a rolling ball of doom, or Marge giving one of her kids a boost. This is about as close as The Simpsons comes to a screen-clearing attack, and comes in handy in the later stages when the number of enemies starts to skyrocket. Make no mistake; this is an old-fashioned quarter-muncher at heart, so it’s not meant to be fair.
Arcade1Up’s The Simpsons cabinet will go up for pre-orders on July 15th, and reportedly will cost $599.99.