There’s no question that The Simpsons established itself long ago as one of the greatest television shows of all-time. It is the longest running American sitcom and animated program in history. So it should be no surprise then, that this Sunday will see yet another milestone added to the list of the show’s many accomplishments with the debut of The Simpsons 25th season.
The show quickly established a strong foothold within American life right from its debut on December 17, 1989. It’s expanded its reach over the years to include many different forms of entertainment outside television, most prominently a successful movie and quite a few video games.
But long-time fans of the franchise know that it was one of those games in particular that helped cement the franchise’s staying power during its early years.
I’m Bart Simpson, Who The Hell Are you?
In 1991, video game arcades were still at the height of their popularity. When Konami released The Simpsons Arcade Game that year, it combined the most popular television show of the day with every teenager’s favorite after school activity. The game was an instant success, receiving ports to the Commodore 64 and MS-DOS soon after its arcade release.
While at first glance it may seem like Konami struck gold by taking advantage of the popular Simpsons license, let’s be clear here. The Simpsons television show was not the main reason The Simpsons Arcade Game was so successful. Throughout the last two decades, there are plenty of examples of other television shows using their popularity to make a quick buck on a video game, sometimes with cringe-worthy results.
No, the real reason The Simpsons Arcade Game was such a hit is that it remains to this day one of the best made arcade games of all-time.
How did Konami develop such a successful game? It probably helped when starting development that they didn’t have to look far for inspiration.
That’s right, The Simpsons Arcade Game used the same engine as Konami’s immensely popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game that was released two years earlier. The game featured the same beat em’ up button-mashing gameplay that players were accustomed to.
With the basic gameplay already designed for them, Konami was able to focus on other matters that proved critical to the game’s success.
Four of the main cast members from the television show, Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright and Yeardley Smith, were signed to provide voice overs for the game. Every “D’oh” sounded just as authentic as if you had heard it on FOX.
Konami also crafted an original story, using all of the most popular characters from the show to great effect.
The game’s plot revolves around all five main family members: Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie. The family is taking a stroll through Springfield when they notice a jewelry store being robbed by Waylon Smithers, Mr. Burns’ evil henchman. During the incident, a diamond from the jewelry store ends up in Maggie’s mouth instead of her pacifier (suck-suck-suck), and Smithers runs off with the baby and the diamond.
Over the ensuing levels, the characters visit classic locations like the Channel 6 studio and Krustyland. There are eight levels in total, plus two bonus mini-games where players can compete with each other in between new environments.
Just like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the game supported up to four players. Each player could choose between Homer, Marge, Bart and Lisa. The game had unique special moves where two players could team up with each other to unleash a powerful attack. While the game was certainly not the first beat em’ up released, these special combined attacks represented a unique innovation for the time. And just like the Turtles game, the ability to play co-op with friends made the title the center of attention at every arcade when it was released.
The game was great at fan service, providing a cameo for just about every character from the show, all the way to the final boss battle with Mr. Burns.
The success of The Simpsons Arcade Game created a long-lasting legacy for the title. It was often cited as an inspiration for many other games based on the franchise over the years, and it can be argued that no other title has come close to replicating the original’s success.
Acclaim released The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants for the original Nintendo Entertainment System the same year as the arcade game, but it received mixed reviews. That same trend would continue as Acclaim released multiple titles throughout the 90s and Konami even jumped back into the mix with several more efforts. Many of the games still sold well–it was The Simpsons, after all–but no developer every really found that same magic again.
Given the gluttony of only-average titles in the series, one of the oddest facts about the original arcade game is that it was never released on one of the popular consoles of the day. (Sorry Commodore 64 fans, that doesn’t count.) This situation was rectified only in 2012 when the original game was released with updated graphics on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network.
Konami released the game after seeing the success that Electronic Arts had in 2010 with an iOS title that was inspired by the original game. That game, however, had clear differences such as Homer being the only playable character. With its 2012 re-release, Konami tried to give players the same experience they remember so fondly. A game mode called “Quarters” limits your continues in the game, to simulate the fact that you might have run out of quarters while playing the game back in 1991. Gamers can button-mash together on the couch or can team up through online play, bringing back the possibility of those epic and nostalgic combined attacks.
As The Simpsons enter their 25th season, the power of the show’s license shows no signs of slowing down. EA released Tapped Out for mobile devices in 2012 and the free-to-play microtransaction based game was near the top of the iOS app store’s top grossing list for months. It frequently updates with new parts of Springfield to build and explore.
So if you’re looking to get pumped up for Sunday’s big premiere by playing a Simpsons game, you certainly have plenty of options. But a true life-long fan knows there’s really only one game worth your time. The Simpsons Arcade Game is still the best Simpsons game ever created.
Related: The Decline of The Arcade