The Simpsons Arcade Game Review

I am a little boy, barely five years old. I walk into the giant Gateway 26 Arcade on the Wildwood boardwalk, my eyes filled with flashing lights, my ears filled with the sounds of the games and people enjoying them. Singularly, they sound like normal arcade cabinets, but all together these games create a cacophony that is nothing short of startling.

I clutch the quarters in my pocket with one hand, my father’s outstretched arm with the other. We’re going to find a game to play together, the two of us. It’s my favorite part of being down the shore, and I know I’m going to be on top of the world.

I look around, not sure which to pick, but then my father points out a blue cabinet, The Simpsons Arcade Game, centering on a cartoon family that he (and eventually I) would grow to love. He asks me, “how about that one?” and I nod excitedly. There’s definitely room for both of us on this machine, so we shall play together!

He puts his quarter into Homer’s slot, and I into Bart’s, making sure the game mimics our real-life relationship. I press start, and the game begins. Smithers bombs the jewelry store, Homer bumps into him, Maggie is taken, and the rest is history.

Five-year-old me is having an absolute blast. The world in the screen is a vibrant place, filled with bright color and playing the sounds of a thousand childhoods. The game is simple enough to play, as most beat-em-ups of the time are: move the character with the joystick, attack with one button, jump with the other. Enemies come from all sides of Downtown Springfield, mostly slender men in purple suits but also a few variants, and we mow through them with relative ease. Suddenly we arrive at an overpass, a giant man in a suit comes down from the top of the screen, and the first boss fight is on.

There are seven more stages just like this one. We’ll take on many more enemies, including zombies, men in rabbit suits, a grizzly bear, and even a giant living bowling ball. We will lose a lot of lives, and subsequently a lot of quarters, trying to conquer this beast of a game. We’ll eventually discover that by standing next to each other, we can initiate a tandem attack where I would move and he would dish out some father/son pain. We’ll eventually be joined by two strangers, one controlling Marge and the other Lisa, and the four of us would embark on this journey to save a helpless baby girl.

This was the arcade experience personified, standard fare in five-year-old Jason’s world, and even though my father and I ran out of quarters before we could stand victorious, we still basked in the glow of an evening spent together, mashing buttons and enjoying life as if there was nothing more important than the game that stood before us.

This is the pinnacle of life to a five-year-old, a boy not yet expected to carry the weight of the world. This boy shared his favorite hobby with his old man, and the memory would stick with him for the rest of his life.

I am a 25-year-old man. The weight of the world no longer waits to force itself upon me. Marriage, home-owning, working, and everything else life throws at a young adult is hitting me like a ton of bricks. I have maintained my favorite hobby, but the arcade experience I used to revel in is all but gone, replaced by technological advances no five-year-old can wrap his head around. I can now simply turn on a console and connect to any of my fellow gamers without us having to congregate in a room filled with flashing monoliths. We need only our own televisions, our own consoles, and our own connections to the behemoth that is The Internet.

I have heard tell of a classic game from my youth returning to form on the online marketplace. I immediately rush to it, pay the online currency, and instantly I am downloading a game to my console that I thought I would never own. A game that I previously had to travel to a local mall or convenience store or a vacation spot just to play, and even then I’d have to make sure to bring a pocketful of quarters with me. I would now have that same game at my fingertips whenever I want it. Technology is grand and all, but one question remained: would The Simpsons Arcade Game stand the test of time? Would this game that I adored, that created a memory as cherished as the one above, still maintain the level of enjoyment I received from it twenty years prior?

After I finished downloading this game, I went to my game library, found it, pressed play…

… and I am five years old again. For this brief time, the warmth and joy I had felt some twenty years before rushes back to me as if it had never left.  I hear the sounds of my childhood, I see the same colors that awed me on that day. I even think my dad is standing next to me, mashing the buttons and laughing just as we did back then. There are extras thrown into this modernized edition, mostly rewards for finishing the game, but I don’t even notice. The troubles of the real world mean nothing; I am beating up gangsters with Bart’s skateboard.

Some time later, I call upon my brother and a friend to play The Simpsons Arcade together, to see if the integrity of the cooperative experience will hold as well as the single-player. The three of us laugh and yell, just as my father and I had all those years ago. This was FUN, a type of fun that sometimes is lost on us today as we continue to demand realism and authenticity in our games. Every once in a while, there’s nothing wrong with the mindless mayhem of yesteryear, something The Simpsons Arcade brings back with a vengeance.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It can bring joy, it can bring sadness. It can remind us of things past, and it can even mislead us into thinking the successes of before can carry into the present. The Simpsons Arcade Game is everything good about gaming nostalgia wrapped into one 1.8 MB file. It is an avatar of times gone by, when the place to be was crammed in front of an arcade cabinet waiting for your turn. Times when cries of “I GOT NEXT” were heard in every location imaginable. Times when crowds would form to watch a particularly gifted player put his abilities on display.

Most importantly, times when a five-year-old boy and his father would traverse a virtual world together, undaunted by that which stood in their way.


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Author: Jason Fanelli View all posts by
Jason lives and breathes gaming. Legend tells that he taught himself to read using Wheel of Fortune Family Edition on the NES. He's been covering this industry for three years, all with the Node, and you can see his ugly mug once a week on Hot Off The Grill.

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