It’s been a rough go of it these last three-plus months since I last blogged, and save for a few posts on my photo blog and this article I did with my man Maestro over at Blister, I haven’t been blogging much at all. All apologies, I had to get back with it. Twenty-five years ago to the day, The Simpsons, one of my all time favorite shows, made its debut. In celebration of the enduring TV legacy of Springfield’s finest– Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie– we’ll be looking at the first video game based on the series, Konami’s 1991 arcade title. Now, I’ll turn it over to MC Al Gore (thanks to twister5voy) to kick off the festivities!
The origin of The Simpsons goes back to the 1980s, when producer James L. Brooks, then working on the Fox television variety series The Tracey Ullman Show, decided that the program could benefit from some animated segments. Brooks, familiar with the comic Life in Hell created by cartoonist Matt Groening, sought out Groening to do the animation. Initially, Groening planned to do the shorts based on Life in Hell, but decided against it when he discovered he’d lose the publication rights to the comic. Instead, Groening came up with the idea of a family (inspired by his own family) just before his meeting with Brooks. The characters consisted of balding patriarch Homer, tall-haired Marge, brazen brat Bart, gifted student Lisa and the ever adorable infant Maggie. Groening’s idea was accepted, and in 1987, the first batch of animated Simpsons shorts debuted on air.
The animated shorts were well received, and two years later a Christmas special called “Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire” (which tells the story of the family dog, Santa’s Little Helper) became the first full-length Simpsons episodes to air on television. In January of 1990, The Simpsons officially kicked off the remainder of its first season.
In the 25 years that The Simpsons has been on the air, the show has been wildly successful, earning numerous awards and receiving critical acclaim. A staple of international popular culture, The Simpsons has been huge in merchandise, with comic books, action figures, apparel and of course, several video games.
Released in March of 1991, The Simpsons arcade game is a side-scrolling brawler developed by Japanese company Konami. The plot of the game is rather bizarre, even for a Simpsons adventure. For some reason, Waylon Smithers, the loyal employee/servant of billionaire Mr. Burns, steals a diamond for his boss. As he’s fleeing the jewelry store, he literally runs into the Simpsons and the collision causes the diamond to get stuck in Maggie’s mouth. Smthers kidnaps Maggie, causing her family to give chase.
Players can choose from up to four Simpsons characters: Homer, Marge, Bart, or Lisa. Each character has a unique form of attacking: Homer punches and kicks; Marge wields a vacuum cleaner; Bart swings his skateboard and Lisa uses her jump rope. The action is similar to Konami’s previous four-player brawler, 1989’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Players battle a host of wacky characters, ranging from suit wearing goons to a boss fight with a maniacal bowling ball, throughout 8 levels set in the Simpsons’ hometown of Springfield (although the level Dreamland is actually a dream). There are a few bonus stages in between levels, which feature tasks such as using a pump to blow up balloons or slap one’s character in the face to wake him or her up from Dreamland.
Following its debut in the arcades, The Simpsons was ported onto some of the gaming platforms of its time, specifically DOS computers and the Commodore 64. In 2009, Electronic Arts Mobile published a truncated version of the title (which only featured Homer as a playable character) was released for iPhone. In 2012, the game was re-released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 via Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, again published by EA. Versions of the game have also appeared on BlackBerry and Windows Mobile phone.
The first time I played The Simpsons to remember it was most likely in a Chuck E. Cheese somewhere, maybe the one in Melrose Park, Illinois. I was a kid, maybe about nine or so and was completely blown away to see a Simpsons game which let me play out a wacky adventure in a digital Springfield. Everything about the game, from its art style to its sound design (which features voice work from the show’s cast), captures the spirit of the series, making it a joy to play. Mostly.
Despite all of the fun to be had with The Simpsons, it was no easy experience for me. I think the farthest I ever got in the game on my own was the second level, and I didn’t make much progress upon getting there. I rarely played the game in group too often, but the one time I did I think we made it to… the second level. Like any challenging arcade game, completing The Simpsons definitely required some serious token commitment.
Actually now that I think of it, The Simpsons was one of the first arcade games I actually saw someone complete in person. I don’t remember where this was (it may have been at Chuck E.C.), but I do remember a group of teen-aged guys pulled their wits and resources together to beat the game. I remember they blew quite a bit of money on tokens, at least around 15 bucks. It was worth watching it though, because I got to see the ending of the game without spending that amount of money.
Fortunately, today’s world features beercades, wonderful establishments that combine the arcades of old with the now grown-up kids and alcohol of today. Some of these beercades have the game set to free play, which allows people to play them without the use of money. Should I find a Simpsons arcade game at one of these places, I’m going for the win. Yeah, playing the game on free play is probably close to cheating for you sticklers out there, but that was the only way I beat Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Here’s to 25 years of animation’s favorite nuclear family! And due to the glory of syndication, I’m sure The Simpsons will be around for 25 more and then some time. Until next time.