I don’t know why I love The Simpsons arcade game so much, or what exactly makes it so special over other famous side scrolling beat-em-up platforms.
My earliest memory of playing this game was at the local ice rink. They had The Simpsons arcade game and Mortal Kombat II. I would kill time playing games while my sister took her ice skating class. I didn’t really need to be there, but I tagged along because I wanted to play the arcade machines and eat Butterfingers (My sister was mad later when she discovered I was eating Butterfingers while she was working her ass off).
The first time I actually beat this game was when I was on vacation with my family, years later. I don’t remember exactly where I was at this point in time, but I remember it was somewhere in Cape Cod. The arcade machines were in a small room connecting the pool to the main hallway. I was so determined to see the end of this game I had been playing for so many years that I spent countless quarters in the end boss battle with Mr. Burns. I was so proud of myself when I finally beat the game, although my Mom was not so proud of the fact that I had spent her entire bag of $30 worth of change. Whoops.
The Simpsons was published by Konami and released in 1991 for arcades. There were also two very strange ports of this game produced for MS-DOS and the Commodore 64, but I wouldn’t recommend playing them. The game allowed up to four players simultaneously in the game, each associated with a respective member of the Simpsons family — Homer, Marge, Lisa, and Bart. Similar to games like Double Dragon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Streets of Rage, this was a side-scrolling beat-em-up game. Each Simpsons family member had their own weapon of choice to fight: Lisa with her jump rope, Bart with his skateboard, Marge with her vacuum cleaner, and Homer with his fists. I always preferred to play as Bart because I thought fighting with a skateboard was pretty cool. If enough people were playing together, you combine the Simpsons together into special move sets, for example: Bart/Homer, Bart/Lisa, Lisa/Marge, and Lisa/Homer.
The story was simple: Wayland Smithers had been amidst a jewelry store heist robbing a precious diamond for Mr. Burns when he crashes into Homer on the streets. The diamond slips out of Smithers’ hands, flies up in to the air, and lands in Maggie’s mouth, replacing her pacifier. Smithers decides he has no time to simply remove the diamond from Maggie’s mouth, so he grabs her and runs off with Maggie. The story is silly, and this version of Smithers is evil and wildly out of character, but hey — maybe he would go to these great lengths to please his boss, Mr. Burns. Love makes you do crazy things. It still manages to fit the overall silly atmosphere of the game, and honestly gets a good laugh out of new players to the game.
The Simpsons traverse their way through Springfield on a series of different levels, including Downtown Springfield, Krustyland, Springfield Discount Cemetery, Moe’s Tavern, Springfield Butte, Dreamland, Channel 6, and the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant. All classic locations from the cartoon… well, except for Dreamland, which was set in the clouds of the Simpsons’ wildest dreams (or nightmares) where they are attacked by flying saxophones. Sadly, they don’t make their way through Springfield Elementary School or the Springfield Mall. I also want to clarify that “Springfield Butte” is a level that takes place in the city’s state forest. By definition, a “butte” is “an isolated hill with steep sides and a flat top”, but I think the creators just wanted to make a Simpsons-related butt joke.
The boss battles in The Simpsons made just about as much sense as Smithers being the antagonist of this game. None of them are not from any particular Simpsons episode, but they feel like they are characters you just can’t quite remember from the cartoon – whether it be a wrestler, a town drunk, or a really angry bear. The only recognizable characters are Mr. Burns in a mech suit and Wayland Smithers twirling around in a hot air balloon shaped like Krusty the Clown’s face.
The music and sound effects in this game is from an era that will bring you right back to the years of Chuck E. Cheese. Whenever I would drop a quarter into the machine, it would chime the tune of The Simpsons theme song. Speaking of which, this arcade game had a fully recreated animated opening of the cartoon in video game form. It was actually pretty cool.
The Simpsons was a great game. I would be so excited when I found a cabinet in the arcade as a kid. I am still excited when I find the game in an arcade as an adult. That hasn’t changed. It’s up there with arcade classics like X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was from an era of gaming designed specifically to be played in arcades with friends as a group activity, and eat quarters. I still play this game now, back when I was able to download it on the PS3. The console is getting old and janky to play (seriously, it takes a ridiculously long time to load Hulu), but it’s worth it every time I hear the sounds of a 1991 arcade boot up right in front of me.