The arcade scene of the early 90's was a great time for spare change. A handful of coins was more than money. In between laps of the roller rink and mouthfuls of pizza, any coinage you had left became tokens into another world, giving you one more shot at toppling your nemeses of choice, whether that be Shredder, Magneto or Mr. Burns.
When it came to licensed arcade brawlers, Konami was king. Many of us will likely recall fond memories of pairing up for bouts of TMNT: Turtles in Time, X-Men Arcade and, if those cabinets were full, Bucky O'Hare. If you loved The Simpsons back then (who didn't?) chances are you drained copious amounts of coinage into their arcade game. But after nearly two decades, how does Konami's 2D brawler hold up?
Gameplay-wise, The Simpsons Arcade Game levies quite a challenge, making for an experience virtually impossible to complete without dying a ton of times. For some, this may sound off-putting, but the game comes with enough options to tailor the parameters of failure to your liking.
Looking for a classic play though? Go for Quarters mode, which gives you ten continues apiece to complete the game with, the equivalent of $2.50 back in the day. Sound too rough? Set it to Group Quarters, then; this doles out 40 continues — regardless of the amount of players — which anyone can use over the course of the game. Free Play lets you breeze through the game with endless continues, but if such hand-holding make you cringe, we dare you to tackle Survivor mode. Here, you get one life, no continues. Good luck with that.
The 2D action is a nice return to roots, but may seem a bit rudimentary to younger gamers. With only two action buttons – jump and attack – there aren't tons of ways to dole out your beat downs. Still, there is a level of nuance to the gameplay that rewards players who don't resort to button mashing.
For instance, pressing nothing for a few moments near an ally pairs the both of you up, enabling a powerful combo attack that lasts for a set period of time. Also, timing jump attacks results in either a fast diagonal attack or a floaty descend. Lastly, each player has a special manoeuvre triggered by pressing both the jump and attack button at precisely the same time. Pulling this off is harder than it sounds, and slight mistiming can result in unwanted punches to the face. There are also a bunch of weapons scattered throughout, like slingshots, brooms or straight-up rocks, with throw-able appearances from Santa's Little Helper, Blinky and more. Many items are hurled automatically, but those that are swung can also be launched by pressing both buttons together.
So while the combat relies on just one attack button, we'd hesitate to call it a button masher. Unless of course, we're referring to the irreverent bonus stages. Here, you have to hone your inner Takahashi Meijin, slamming down buttons in rapid succession to prove that you can pump up a balloon in your likeness or slap your own face faster than anybody else.
One of the finest aspects of the game is how perfectly these old 2D graphics capture the world of The Simpsons. Each character has unique gestures and facial expressions, enemies all rock the token Groening overbite and the highly detailed settings are pulled straight from the show. You'll battle drunks in Moe's Tavern, destroy TV sets at Channel 6 and face down Smithers in the nuclear power plant. Backgrounds are littered with cameos from the series, and while the game tosses in an archetypal elevator stage and makes you beat up a bear, even these outlandish segments retain some cartoonish Simpsons charm.
Konami also throws in numerous nods to Life in Hell, the comic strip Groening penned before creating the Simpsons. Binky, a rabbit character form the comic, appears between stages and doles out health from hidden spots. One particularly charming Binky reference comes from the character animation of Marge when she gets zapped by electricity, her beehive hairdo revealing the tall-eared skeleton of Binky himself.
You wouldn't expect Konami to merely port the ROM over with no extras, so aside from online four player co-op, the game also features an unlockable Japanese ROM and a bevy of Trophies. The Japanese ROM adds in more weapons – namely a nuclear bomb – and the ability to increase your health bar to two levels. Some Trophies are tough, like the Mr. Burns-inspired “excellent” gold Trophy, earned by beating the game on expert difficulty. Others are just brutal, like the comically named Mr. Sparkle, which tasks you with reaching the third level bosses on the Japanese ROM on one life alone.
Its not the 90's anymore, and translating an arcade experience to home consoles will inherently alter the experience. Not just because you're 20 years older, but because the gaming landscape has changed. Thankfully, the source material is the finest of its kind, and adapts enough modern bells and whistles to make the game well worth your while. You may be able to breeze through its simpler modes rather quickly, but the tough Trophies, comical presentation and appealing 2D aesthetic make this game a pleasure to revisit many times over, both for new and nostalgic gamers alike.