To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the sublimely funny and influential television show The Simpsons, EA Games is releasing The Simpsons Arcade for the iPhone and iPod. To gamers, it’s been nearly two decades since the last good game based on the show has hit the arcades. But now, clearly inspired by the old school beat-em-up style of 1991’s arcade game, EA is seeking to end that drought.
The game begins in typically absurd fashion: Homer accidentally clobbers Mr. Smithers, knocking loose a mysterious doughnut. Never mind that the doughnut in question is actually implanted with a USB drive containing the plans for Operation: Mission Project, a diabolical scheme to deplete “all of the world’s resources or whatever,” cooked up by a group of “Springfield’s most powerful citizens” and controlled by the villainous Mr. Burns.
This is not Homer Simpson’s concern, however, as he pursues the doughnut through six levels. Though The Simpsons Arcade is reminiscent of the classic arcade game starring the Simpson family, fans should be aware that the similarities between the two games are limited. For example, during the old-school version you could play as multiple family members instead of just Homer.
Thankfully, if you don’t know anything about The Simpsons, no matter, because the jokes are still funny. When you first encounter Chief Clancy Wiggum as a sort of “boss,” a thought bubble challenges you to defeat the “fattest and laziest” cop in Springfield. Even if you aren’t familiar with the past 20 years of this guy’s antics, it’s still worth a chuckle.
The game’s format is familiar and the controls completely intuitive. You use the on-screen joystick to advance and the jump or punch buttons to defend yourself. The bad guys include some of Springfield’s best-known citizens who have been bribed by Mr. Burns—Chief Wiggum, Kent Brockman, Rainier Wolfcastle among them—and various shady-looking characters in suits. In order to advance in each stage, you’ll have to furiously press the punch and jump buttons until you’ve cleared the stage of enemies.
The game automatically progresses from jabs to uppercuts to body slams as you hit the “punch” button, so you don’ t have to think very much about an attack strategy any more complicated than continuous tapping. The option is there, however, if you want to hold down the punch button to charge an enemy, or run then jump to belly flop. It’s much easier to survive some of the later stages of the game if you master some of Homer’s more complex combat moves. Of course, you’ll want to keep a look out for crates to smash; they’ll often provide essential health-giving sandwiches and doughnuts or even weapons like tasers. Some crates contain Family Frenzy power-ups that bring in Bart, Lisa, or Marge and Maggie to help you out and help clear the area of bad guys.
On a technical level, the graphics are true to the cartoon series and the sound effects right on point, with voices from the show’s real actors. The multiple stages within each level are challenging enough that you probably won’t master them on the first try, increasing the game’s playability time.
Despite the intuitive controls, the joystick-and-button combo runs into some of the same problems as many similar iPhone games. The joystick can be hard to hold down and run with, and I often found myself turning my back to the bad guys when I meant to face them.
The controls are also semitransparent in this game, so it can be hard to see their colorful shadows with your thumbs moving all over the screen. Luckily, all of this can be accommodated with a little practice.
Despite a few quirks, The Simpsons Arcade is just the right mix of silly, challenging, and creative. Die-hard fan or not, anyone who enjoys beat-em-up games will enjoy this one.
[Meghann Myers is an editorial intern at Macworld.]