One of the bigger problems with the Xbox Live Arcade has been lazy ports of games, both old and recent. They're often little more than old ROMs put through an emulator with some quick customizations to meet Microsoft's requirements. Foundation 9's Revolution Entertainment division has applied its porting technology to The Simpsons Arcade Game (not to be confused with The Simpsons Game from a few years ago). This is only the second time the classic has graced home console screens, and it's sad to see such little effort expended on this iteration.
The Simpsons Arcade Game was released in 1991 to critical acclaim. It was a surprisingly innovative take on the brawler genre because it introduced team-up attacks, which allowed two characters to combine their effort. There was also a boggling array of items that players could pick up and use as weapons, impressive use of sprite-stretching techniques, and a surprising amount of detail. These elements were amazing in the early days of the 16-bit era, particularly when combined with 10 classic boss battles and some superb animation. All of this was done on the same engine that powered the equally beloved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade series.
The good news is that all of the gameplay is present in this port. The bad news is that, by brawler standards, The Simpsons Arcade Game has not aged well. Within minutes of playing the game, you'll notice the limitations of two-button controls and the extreme amounts of repetition. Its previously groundbreaking ideas are now so old hat that they're core assumptions in many games.
It's a short game, and the laziness of the port certainly doesn't help. The sole acknowledgment of the existence of high definition is a quickly drawn arcade cabinet to fill the screen. The option to smooth the graphics (off by default) using a typical filter makes things look even worse. Otherwise, it's the exact same game, with absolutely nothing new. While many will respect the nostalgia value, the game doesn't do a lot to justify the $10 price.
Konami has attempted to make things more interesting and replayable with several unlockables, but these are also rather unimpressive. Beating the game earns you the ability to play it with the surprisingly rare Japanese ROM, which adds two zeroes to the end of your score, allows your life bar to go over 100%, and introduces screen-clearing atomic bomb power-ups, among other tweaks. Each character you use to beat the game earns you one of four small "Cool Stuff" stacks, including a few arcade flyers, a music test menu, a separate sound test menu, and some character artwork. Otherwise, the only really neat things here are the difficulty and credit options. With four difficulty levels and four credit modes, there's a little variety here.
The requisite online cooperative multiplayer is ruinously bad due to poor netcode that makes the game slog, the music cut in and out, and the graphics skip if any lag issues occur. Further, there is no option to have multiple players on your machine and then go online to fill out a party; this feature has been in many other games of this sort. Unfortunately, the result is that the features are so wrecked that they're useless.
The Achievements are a rare bright spot. Most of the 12 are pretty well thought-out. You'll easily pick up several during a first playthrough, but others, such as hunting down four hard-to-notice secrets in a single playthrough, do a good job of slightly extending the game's value.
A few things were taken out of the game. There are no leaderboards, local or online, in this iteration — a sad issue if ever there was one. The intro also lacks the classic Konami logo, but it adds the modern 20th Century Fox Entertainment logo before going — jarringly — into the classic introduction.
Perhaps it is simply that brawlers have become better over time. Perhaps this arcade classic just does not work as well at home.
Mostly, The Simpsons Arcade Game is a phoned-in port. With so many companies generating improved remakes and ports, it's sad to see that Revolution has chosen to run something so simplistic for a game that hasn't aged very well. It's especially disappointing because this game was intended to celebrate the television show's upcoming 500th episode. Ultimately, the classic exception to the rule "Simpsons Games Suck" is now just another example. It's worth the download for PlayStation Plus members, who can get the game for free. However, I cannot recommend it at $10, even for those who enjoyed it back in the '90s. If the price drops down to $5, then it's worth a shot.
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