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The Simpsons Arcade Game (Xbox 360) artwork

The Simpsons Arcade Game (Xbox 360) review

"Certainly, youíll see a large number of recycled goons, but the variety is still impressive considering the gameís era. There are pot-bellied businessmen, women with afros, ninja warriors, ghosts and lanky janitors, among others. New stages always have a new threat or two, and even familiar adversaries will mix things up by bringing weapons to the brawl. You can do the same thing yourself."

Even if youíve been playing games based on The Simpsons cartoon for as long as theyíve been available, a span of time that includes more than two decades, you can probably count the number of good experiences the license has produced on one four-fingered hand. You might even have a digit or two remaining. Matt Groenigís fictional Springfield has often been the victim of crippling play control, unimaginative and repetitive levels, insane difficulty and just plain bad design. Yet there have been a few exceptions to that well-documented rule, cases where nearly everything went right. The most well-known of those exceptions is The Simpsons Arcade Game.

Until this week, you had to drop quarters if you wanted to experience that classic gameplay. You had to find a bulky arcade cabinet if you and up to three friends wanted to terrorize Springfield on the way to rescue Maggie from her nefarious abductors, Smithers and Mr. Burns. With the gameís release this week on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 Microsoft Points, though, itís much easier to relive the arcade glory days. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, you and your friends no longer even need to occupy the same building.

The Simpsons Arcade Game asset

The Simpsons Arcade Game conversion was handled by Backbone Entertainment. You probably donít have a lot of trust in that name if youíve played too many retro compilations, but donít worry; many of the interface issues that plagued past titles from the likes of Midway and SEGA are blissfully nonexistent here. Controls are smooth and responsive, plus it easy to configure the game so that you can experience it the way you want. Furthermore, the visuals are sharp and crisp, with a suitable border around them so that they really pop even on a large widescreen television.

Of course, the core game hasnít changed. You start your quest to rescue Maggie by choosing from one of the four remaining members of the Simpsons householdóBart, Lisa, Homer or Margeóand then you battle your way through eight stages that take place in familiar locations from the earliest and most classic episodes of the cartoon. Youíll start in the city streets, but your quest will also take you to Moeís Tavern, the Nuclear Power Plant, the television station and the cliff where Bart and Homer learned a valuable lesson about skateboarding. Youíll even venture off into a dream world version of Springfield where giant and very hostile doughnuts try to cut short your mission.

The Simpsons Arcade Games plays out like a number of other popular titles from its era. If youíve played Konamiís classic take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or if youíve played retro brawlers like Final Fight or Double Dragon or Streets of Rage, you have a good idea what to expect. Environments are largely decorative, mere arenas that you clear by violently smashing anything that gets in your way as you progress from left to right. What makes this effort stand apart from the crowd of similar titles, though, is its attention to detail. Konamiís little team slapped the original game together in less than a year, but clearly someone on board took the time to watch a lot of episodes.

The Simpsons Arcade Game asset

As you tear apart Springfield, youíll encounter familiar faces. Barny stands at a bar, waving his arms like a buffoon. Nelson hands you a slingshot before you walk along a ledge in front of a waterfall that is teeming with three-eyed radioactive fish. Bleeding Gums Murphy puts on a show with his band in the news station, a Homer-like Sasquatch attacks you after emerging from a cave in the forestÖ the list goes on and on. Even moments that you might not recognize from episodes have a comfortable familiarity, such as when you venture too close to a bakery door and the woman inside opens it so quickly that youíre flung toward the screen.

The playable characters also have unique fighting styles that are true to their cartoon personas (at least to the extent that is possible, given the gameís unlikely premise). Bart swings his skateboard around as a weapon. Homer swipes with his fists. Marge hefts a vacuum cleaner or swings her bony hips. Lisa whirls her surprisingly lethal jump rope. If youíre playing with friends, you can also team up for special attacks. You havenít lived until youíve watched Bart and Lisa run around the screen, holding hands and dodging between thugs.

As for the thugs, the variety on display here is a pleasant surprise. Certainly, youíll see a large number of recycled goons, but the variety is still impressive considering the gameís era. There are pot-bellied businessmen, women with afros, ninja warriors, ghosts and lanky janitors, among others. New stages always have a new threat or two, and even familiar adversaries will mix things up by bringing weapons to the brawl. You can do the same thing yourself; thereís a seemingly endless supply of knives, soda cans, brooms and hammers that you can put to use along the way. You can even heft the family cat in one instance, or toss Santaís Little Helper across the screen to clear out a line of adversaries.

The Simpsons Arcade Game asset

Boss encounters are similarly memorable. Youíll battle an overweight wrestler who drops down from a blimp in the first stage, and later youíll face a large bear, a Chinese warrior, a Krusty balloon and several other unique adversaries. Itís never necessary to memorize complex patterns in order to win. You simply have to wail on anything that moves. Itís a cathartic release, though, made all the more enjoyable by the familiar characters and the catchphrases they shout on occasion.

Unfortunately, the eight stages can be cleared in less than a half-hour, particularly if you play on the lower of the gameís four difficulty settings. Thereís only so much to see here, and youíll probably tire of it by the time youíve earned an achievement by playing through the game as each of the four characters. You can keep going as you try for a better place on the leaderboards, or as you play Survival mode and limit yourself to just one character. Itís also possible to play the Japanese ROM, which lets you gobble down food to extend your life meter while you attack with fresh weapons. Thereís also some interesting extra content that you can unlock, including character profiles (as if you donít know who the characters are by now) and a timeline that outlines the arcade gameís original development and release. Playing with friends always makes things better, too.

Despite the enhancements, The Simpsons Arcade Game really is an adventure best relived by those who remember days spent slapping around joysticks and sticky buttons when they played the old arcade cabinet at the Laundromat, or at a convenience store, pizza parlor or even at a proper arcade. If you grew up loving the cartoon and playing bad games that didnít capture that fun, this is a palate cleanser. For the newer generation of gamer, itís mostly just another reminder that times and games and even The Simpsons themselves have changed.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (February 04, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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