The arcades were a magical thing, weren’t they? While still clinging desperately to life in some Western metropolitan cities and still being somewhat marginalized in Japan. However the advent of the home console, the arcade market started to dwindle. The beat ’em up was one of the arcade’s premier genres, sporting classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time, X-Men and The Simpsons; licensed beat ’em up games were in high demand.
But like the fighting games were an arcade vehicle, the beat ’em up is also making a resurgence, especially on the Xbox Live Arcade. The Simpsons, as a colorful, nostalgic and fairly easy game to port has decided to make its way onto the platform, as well as the Playstation Network the following week. However, how has it aged, when compared to other arcade classics and modern beat ’em ups? Will this bright, simplistic brawler showcase The Simpsons’ long-lasting appeal or will it taint the once beautiful, noisy memories of the arcade? Find out in this Hot or Not!
The game manages to evoke the silly, often frenetic feeling of the show as a whole and the game’s competently strung together linear progression shows off a higher-than-average attention to detail, than many beat ’em ups of its era. An escaped bear in one stage becomes a boss in a later stage, there’s a clear definition of how the Simpson family gets to each location and the Level 6 dream sequence is an exercise in trippy, bizzaro level design with a boss that shows an extra amount of nonsensical “Where did THAT come from!?” game designer logic.
Perhaps the greatest thing the game could be lauded for is its faithfulness to its source material. Instead of becoming Double Dragon with Bart’s face slapped over it, it becomes a unique specimen. Sure, Smithers is wearing a cape and sure, Mr. Burns is in a giant mecha and of course, besides a few cameos from the show’s characters, the entire game is disconnected from the show’s reality (“So if they killed Mr. Burns, where does Homer work now?”), but its decision to stray from the perfectly tied canon of The Simpsons allows it to showcase more personality in addition to the benefits of artistic freedom.
There’s nothing particularly offensive about the game’s design. There are little to no glitches, the game runs at a smooth rate and the port allows for a variety of options with which to play the game, even if a few are somewhat arbitrary, i.e. the game plays pretty much the same whether using the USA or Japanese ROM. The multiplayer is integrated the same as the arcade’s version, so it’s easy for players to drop in and out of the game at any time. From the game’s integral design and coding, there’s nothing to complain about. The mechanics the game used have been polished to a reflective shine. However, this is not and has never been a fact that has allowed a game perfection or even safe critical passage. Which brings us to…
This is direct port, unlike the iOS version, which means the game retains its greatest flaw, one prevalent even back in its time. There are only two buttons, attack and jump. It becomes immediately apparent that there is very little strategy in the game, except making the decision to jump and attack or if you feel like really stretching the game’s mechanics, doing a group attack. It may seem like a small gripe at first as plenty of old beat ’em ups only have one button combat, but never has it been more prevalent.
Being an arcade game where profit in a game wasn’t based on true game quality, but how many times the player lost. There is simply no way to play The Simpsons without taking a few hits. Eventually, one can learn to dodge a few attacks, but you won’t avoid them all. The simplistic controls might have gotten a free pass if the approach to difficulty had been handled better. Contrast to greater beat ’em ups of the past where difficulty was embedded in enemy/level design and differing unique challenges, The Simpsons is an example of artificial Difficulty. Considering the game controls your fate over your skills, it can quickly become quite aggravating.
Weird Difficulty Curve
Despite the above complaint, or perhaps as a catalyst to it, the game is remarkably easy. You’ll find yourself cruising on a luxury airliner through most of the levels. Your wandering eyes trying to take in the sites, as colorful as they are, perhaps musing the idea of playing another game. You may grip your controller with an occasional anger spurt at a cheap death, but never enough to qualify as legitimately frustrating. Then the last boss with Mr. Burns pulls out an insane amount of boss health, nigh-unavoidable attacks and an obstinate refusal to die. However, even then, the game couldn’t truly be considered difficult. The last boss will manage to burn through a considerable number of your allotted continues until your fingers are bleeding over the X (or Square) button and Burns falls.
Other level bosses feel often interchangeable in difficulty as well. The level 6 and 4 bosses pale in comparison to level 3’s boss. The level design, while varied and colorful, simply feels indistinguishable in gameplay and difficulty, leaving the end boss to feel jarring and anti-climactic.
Poorly Done Online Component
Easily one of the more slap-dash approaches to an online experience in recent memory, the game is plagued with horrible button delay. It never seems to lag on a superficial front, but controlling a character with any sort of latency issues in this game creates an unplayable experience. Even if you manage to snag onto a secure, well-running connection, the laziness in the online game’s design still manages to rear its ugly head. Whether this is true laziness or an unrealized attempt to replicate game-joining in the arcades, when choosing a quick game, the game will drop you into a random session, despite where it may be in its progression, even during the ending credits and stick you there until you exit or the credits are finished rolling.
The game simply doesn’t hold up for anyone except the deeply nostalgic, and even then, the trial will give you all the taste you’d need to keep the memories fresh in your mind. There’s simply no reason to buy it these days, especially on a downloadable network absolutely inundated with great beat ’em ups, both modern and classic, such as Castle Crashers, Scott Pilgrim and X-Men. Its only redeeming quality is the color and personality it showcases, which could easily be replicated by a single episode of the TV series. There’s simply no reason these days, with the higher standard of the genre in its modern resurgence, to recommend it or even lesser degree to buy it.
[Editor’s Note: The Simpsons Arcade was reviewed on the Xbox 360 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]The Simpsons Arcade Review,