Gaming History 101

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Now & Then: The Simpsons Arcade Game

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Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review.  It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games.  Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now.  Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.

Last week The Simpsons Arcade Gamereleased on the PSN, the XBLA version coming out a few days earlier, and completed Konami’s classic beat-em-up licensed arcade series.  For some reason media outlets decided to review this game – this makes little sense to me given that by definition the game will be outdated and any potential customer has already played it – but I know plenty of freelance reviewers that have amassed a decent collection of free retro games by trading a review for a download code.  Although this is not the best arcade brawler on the market, even among licensed peers X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s probably the most popular.  There’s a good reason for this, as Simpsons mania took America by storm at the beginning of the 90s, it was impossible to avoid the disfunctional family from Springfield, USA.

Then

It was a completely different world in 1991 when this arcade game made its first appearence.  Arcades still existed in abundance, the fighting genre had yet to gain momentum from Street Fighter II, which would release that summer, and you couldn’t enter a pizza joint, bowling alley, amusement park or theater without one.  Previously two arcades had been staples to most of Chicagoland: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Capcom’s Final Fight.  That was before some genius at Konami looked over potential arcade licenses and realized that of the most popular television shows out there, the animated format and family setup of the Simpsons would be perfect.  Since the family contained five members, Maggie always being a side note in most episodes, that a four-player brawler could easily be crafted on the series.  By this point the Simpsons was nearing the end of its second season and Thursday nights belonged to Fox.  Bart, the foul-mouthed troublemaking son, was a favorite among pre-teens and equally hated with parent groups.  Couple him with the other quirky members of the family – brainchild sister Lisa, moronic manchild father Homer and scratchy-voiced homemaker mother Marge – and you had a game on your hands.

This wasn’t the first time a Simpsons game had come out, but attempts at pathetic Bart-centric platformers (ie: Bart vs. the Space Mutants) failed in every way on home consoles.  Little did Konami know that its decision to include the whole family as a single unit would allow for better marketing as the show aged into varying degrees of character focus.  Series staples Mongomery Burns, Homer’s aged greedy boss, and his assistant Smithers would play the antagonists, as they did so frequently on the show.  It came packaged in a bright blue four-player cabinet with a large 25″ monitor and different colors that corresponded to each player.  No matter what arcade you entered, there would always be a crowd of players and bystanders attempting to save Maggie, Bart’s blue controls would always be taken and Marge would be ignored.

Given the circumstances of gaming and arcades at the time the phenominally short campaign – I usually clock in at about 30 minutes completion time – was never realized by most gamers.  Back then arcades were slogs of bad guys intent on taking your quarters and it was nearly impossible to complete the Simpsons on even a few quarters, let alone one.  Furthermore we arcade gamers usually refused to continue on someone else’s game, their progress was not ours, so we’d always start over from the beginning.  As a result, no one ever saw the end and late levels like the Channel 6 news station were such new environments whenever my sister and I would reach it that we would die before reaching the samurai boss.  Back then it was also customery for parents to come yank you away from the game when your pizza was ready, the game of bowling started or the movie was starting, so we couldn’t beat it even if we played a “perfect” game.  In addition, the popular characters – in my neck of the woods it was Homer and Bart – would usually have broken joysticks or buttons, so you’d start a game only to find out you couldn’t jump.  It was all part of the experience of the arcade and the Simpsons.  It was a different time and I loved every second of it.

Now

The Simpsons Arcade Game suffers a major flaw that all modern arcade ports have: it tries to make a retro-style title out of a quarter-chugging arcade.  These games were never intended to be very skill-based and your urge to continue was supposed to drive you to cough up more money.  Once you limit continues, increase difficulty or attempt to beat the game in one life you are trying to do something the game didn’t intend you to actually do.  When this happens, especially in the interest of making a lengthy game out of something that isn’t, frustration or boredom result.  Attempting to beat this game on one life (or 10 total on Expert) is a crash course in masochism and with endless continues you’ll rarely feel like beating it more than a few times.

Not only that, this port is an afterthought at best.  Backbone has ported the game over, sans many of the functions and features they have included in other arcade ports, in a quick bare-bones version of the arcade.  Even the screen side art, which is necessary for widescreen TVs that want to avoid horizontal black bars, is nothing more than a black outline of an arcade cabinet.  Really?  It’s nearly indistiguishable from no art at all.  There are two options for graphics: sharp and smooth.  Sharp takes the pixels from the original 288×224 presentation and giant-sizes them for 1080p (1920×1080) resulting in a bad version of blown up sprites from the mode 7 days.  Smooth does what you’d expect, blends out pixels so it looks like the poor resolution blurry mess we all remember from the arcades, so be sure to keep that as your visual option.  Even the inclusion of the Japanese rom does nothing more than change the scoring system and refill your life at the end of a level, nothing I feel lucky to recieve.

What I used to love best about The Simpsons Arcade Game was playing it with other people, which ended up being my sister most times.  Now that I have the option to play with online strangers I figured it would be more fun but the interactions I’ve had are limited to silent people avoiding enemies to unlock an achievement or people who join and drop games like it’s a professional sport.  Trying to get four people on the couch is not only difficult, but expensive these days as I don’t have four $60 controllers to spare.  At a price point of 800 MS points/$9.99 it’s just expensive enough to be a tough sell for most of my friends.  Thankfully this game was a free title on PSN+ and just like many of the retro titles before it (mostly Sega games), this is the type of free content I appreciate.  It was a great nostalgic romp from days I have forgotten, but sadly even on my own MAME cabinet that provides an actual arcade as opposed to a virtual one, The Simpsons Arcade Game is best in short, infrequent doses.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Now & Then

Tagged with , , , ,

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