Anyone that frequented video arcades in the early 90s should remember what is probably the best (and arguably only good) Simpsons video game ever made – The Simpsons Arcade. It’s one of the rare times when the characters and environments of the now legendary prime time cartoon where rendered favorably, and the game play was actually fun. To the best of my knowledge there was never a port of the game to any home console. Now we have the next best thing in Simpsons Arcade for the iPhone. Granted you don’t get the thrill of directly controlling other members of the family beyond Homer, but at least they all make an appearance, as does most every important character that I can remember over the years. The game play may be old hat at this point, but it has a charm only the Simpsons can protrude and a retro feel that few modern games capture quite so well.
If you care about the plot, Homer accidentally momentarily consumes a donut containing a microchip that will do evil things for Mr. Burns. When the donut gets knocked out of him he decides that this donut is too important for him to let it get away, and thus your quest begins. This is true Simpsons storytelling if I ever saw it. The game itself plays quite like the original Simpsons Arcade, or if you’re actually not familiar with that game think Double Dragon or Streets Of Rage. If those don’t mean anything to you it’s time to hit Wikipedia.
Anyway, the various locals of Springfield are laid out in a side scrolling manner, and you control Homer as he travels these memorable locales taking out one bad guy after another. You move Homer with a virtual joystick, and punch and jump with two buttons on the right side of the screen. Depending on proximity you’ll punch, kick, head butt, or even grab and toss your enemies, all with one action button. If you jump and then attack Homer will do a belly flop and take out all nearby enemies. The controls work surprisingly well for being virtual, though this game suffers just like most of it’s kind in terms of depth control – you can move “in and out” of the screen as well as left and right, and often it’s hard to tell if you’re lined up exactly with the bad guys you want to attack or not.
In addition to all of your standard attacks you can break boxes to reveal power ups. Bart will temporarily ride on your back and slingshot anyone that gets too close. Lisa does a power jump rope move that takes down anyone on the screen, and Marge sweeps in with Maggie to bop you on the head and send you into a temporary “whirlwind” mode where you can hit the bad guys but they can’t touch you. There are also certain items like Mailboxes and trash cans that you can pick up to toss at people. You can even gather a wide array of weapons from a huge wooden mallet (ala Itchy and Scratchy) to a taser (probably my favorite weapon in the bunch). All the weapons are temporary and will fade away more quickly if they get knocked out of your hands.
The part that’s kind of disappointing is the “array” of villains. Except for the boss guys, which are true Springfield inhabitants and actually kind of interesting, you’re basically fighting Simpson-ized versions of characters out of the Matrix. At least it would have been nice to have a wider array of villain types. In between levels you can play mini-games to try and earn extra continues. And, should you happen to lose a life while fighting the bad guys, you get the pleasure of swiping the screen to slap Homer across the face to revive him. The “3 Stooges” fan in me loves that part.
The graphics are all Simpsons. The characters are perfectly rendered, the animation is well done, and the backgrounds make you feel right at home (if you’re a Simpsons fan, that is). I especially get a kick out of watching Homer dance as he successfully completes each level. Even the health restores are perfectly suited to the atmosphere, whether a donut for a small boost or a sub sandwich to restore the full health bar. The sound effects are also vintage Simpsons. It would have been nice to hear the voices, but otherwise well done. The music, on the other hand, is a bit disappointing. The video game version of the opening theme is great, but everything else sounds more like generic action game music than something reflective of the zany antics of the Simpsons.
For those who need all the fancy 10 button, 300 move action heroes that “modern” games have to offer, you might not find enough about the more simplistic nature of The Simpsons Arcade to enjoy. If you remember what all the great side scrolling slug fests of yesteryear were like, or if you’re content with the likes of Zombieville USA and similar games, this should be right up your alley. Should you happen to be a fan of the Simpsons and you haven’t already purchased this game, I’d question your loyalty. There’s nothing real original here, but the game play is solid, the atmosphere is fun, and the audio and visual make you feel like you’re living the cartoon. Just watch out for Homer’s drool…