The Simpsons has enjoyed a lot of unique video games to its name in the last 18 years. Even the Grand Theft Auto knock-off, Hit & Run, felt special just because it was The Simpsons in all its Matt Groening glory.
My personal favorite is probably still Bart's Nightmare on the Super Nintendo — because it was the only game that I could beat that my big brother couldn't. His claim to fame is still the old NES game, Bart vs. The Space Mutants. But both of us will always remember The Simpsons Arcade game from Konami as the ultimate Simpsons video game. It was the only one we could get our parents to play with us, and they only one we never ever beat because we always ran out of quarters in the dream world.
What Is It?
The Simpsons Arcade for the iPhone is a beat 'em up, much like the Simpsons Arcade of yore — but other than that, it's a totally different game. Featuring six levels with a boss and mini-boss each, the game stars Homer Simpson at the center of a plot involving Mr. Burns' sinister plan to suck Springfield's resources dry. The control scheme uses a virtual joystick and two virtual buttons that give the appearance of playing the game in an arcade cabinet.
What We Saw
I played the Krustyland level and saw sections demoed at the beginning of the game, at the end of the game and at Channel 6 News where you fight Bumblebee Man as a mini-boss.
How Far Along Is It?
Near final. EA declined to give a specific release date, but all the levels and sounds were in place and everything looked pretty finished.
What Needs Improvement?
A Little Slow On The Combos: Homer can perform punch-kick combos as well as an area-affect shoulder-check or belly flop that you can follow up with a second attack. It's great when it works, but it takes some work to master the timing needed on the virtual buttons. Worse, since you're not getting that physical feedback of pressing a real button, you're not always sure if you messed up the combo because you were late on a button press or because the touch screen didn't pick up on it.
Can't Store Family Members: Bart, Lisa, Maggie and Marge show up in gameplay whenever Homer finds a pickup with a family member's face on it. This triggers a Family Frenzy attack where said family member will show up on screen for a short time and help Homer attack enemies. For tight spot situations, it's not a bad system — but I wonder if it would be more fun to hang on to those family icon pickups until you assemble the whole Simpsons clan for some kind of super attack. It'd definitely reinforce that family feeling I remember having while playing the old arcade game with my parents and brother.
What Should Stay The Same?
Authenticity: EA got a lot of the main cast of the Simpsons (Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer) and a Simpsons writer (Michael Price) to work on the game. The result is a product that not only looks, feels and sounds authentic — but one that can take as many risks as it wants with the story and dialogue. For example, when you're playing through the Channel 6 level, you can hear Kent Brockman making snide news reports on the loud speakers and every menu selection results in Homer yelling "D'oh!" or "Whoo-hoo!" That would get old if these were knock-off voices or the writing was a hollow imitation of a real Simpsons writer — but because it's the real deal, it's actually quite pleasing.
Homages Galore: There are a couple of mini-games in Simpsons Arcade iPhone — and one of them is a direct throwback to the inflatable heads bonus level in the old arcade game. Dedicated Simpsons fans will have a lot of fun picking out all the homages to other Simpsons exploits throughout the game. Also, Binky the Rabbit of Matt Groening's classic Life in Hell comic series appears on all the loading screen. Awesome!
A Complete Gaming Experience: It's nice to have a portable game that's actually paced for portable play. I can easily imagine picking up and putting down this game while waiting in line at the movies or during a long commute. I just might have to resort to using headphones because all the "D'oh!"s are sure to piss off other commuters who easily recognize the Simpsons but can't join in on my fun.
Sorry guys, Comic Book Guy isn't in the game. You'll find plenty of other character cameos, but EA felt that Comic Book Guy was way overused.