Tracking "The Simpsons Arcade Game's" Long Road to Home Release

Video game giant Konami has become known for its memorable arcade "beat-em-ups," where four players could team together to take down enemies and bosses while fighting amongst themselves for the high score. A number of these games transcended typical game popularity and rose to the level of "fan-favorite," including the six-player "X-Men: The Arcade Game" coin-op and both "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" games. One game that has been played constantly for the past two decades is "The Simpsons Arcade Game," a game that quickly rose to the top of any number of gamer's "favorites" list as it faithfully implemented characters and elements from Matt Groening's popular show. Fans have been clamoring for a home release since it hit arcades in 1991, but the journey from cabinet to console hasn't been an easy one.

The game features four playable characters form the long-running animated Fox sit-com -- Bart, Lisa, Marge (with vacuum cleaner in hand) and Homer -- as they battle thugs and boss enemies while attempting to save Maggie, who's been kidnapped by Montgomery Burns' right-hand man, Smithers, during a bank heist. The story spreads across eight stages through various locations in Springfield, starting downtown before eventually moving through a cemetery, into Dreamland, up into the mountains and finally, the town's nuclear power plant, where a showdown with Burns awaits.

Following the arcade game's success, Konami brought the game to both Commodore 64 and MS-DOS platforms, but due to the limitations of the video game hardware at the time, no console versions were planned. Since that time, the game rights for the Simpsons have been constantly passed around, most notably being the time Acclaim had the rights and ended up releasing such forgettable game fare as "Bart vs. the Space Mutants," "Krusty's Super Fun House" and "Itchy & Scratchy," among others.

After Acclaim closed up shop, due in large part to releasing inferior games based on TV show and movie licenses, the rights went to different companies. Fox Interactive teamed up with Activision to release the awful "Simpsons Wrestling" and equally bad "Simpsons Skateboarding"; Vivendi Entertainment held the license for a short while, resulting in "The Simpsons: Hit & Run," a game not unlike the "Grand Theft Auto" series (many consider it one of the better released titles for the franchise); and Electronic Arts offered a number of games starring Springfield's denizens, including its own variation of "Simpsons Arcade" for iOS devices, "The Simpsons Game" for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and "The Simpsons Road Rage" for previous consoles. Yet despite its title characters maintaining a constant video game presence, it seemed like the arcade game would never get its due.

That changed November 9, 2011, when the Australian Classification Ratings Board released a rating for "The Simpsons Arcade Game" on its website, listing Backbone Entertainment -- a team very familiar with old-school game emulation -- as its developer. Rumors ran rampant over the next few months regarding its release, but Konami remained silent on the subject.

However, mid-last week, a post appeared on Sony's official blog stating that "The Simpsons Arcade Game" would be available as a free download for PlayStation Plus subscribers on February 7. And with that, the 21-year old arcade classic was finally confirmed for a home release. Konami officially announced the game's release a day or so later, citing its release as part of the show's 500th episode celebration and indicating that Xbox Live Arcade owners would get it four days early, on February 3, for 800 Microsoft points.

The wait was certainly worth it. The game is arcade perfect, from its original visuals (with an option to tweak them with sharp and smooth filters) to its upbeat soundtrack and its co-op multiplayer, which players can take part in either locally or online through Xbox Live or the PlayStation Network. As a bonus, Backbone Entertainment has also thrown in several unlockable options, including the rare Japanese ROM set (with minor changes), unlockable character guides and flyers and numerous gameplay options, such as being able to get as far as you can on only one life. (For those who want to see it all the way through, a "free play" option with unlimited continues is also available.)

"The Simpsons Arcade Game" will definitely appeal to two types of fans, those who spent hours on end stuffing quarters into the original arcade machine, and newcomers who have been looking to play a good "Simpsons" game, a rarity considering how many bad ones have clogged store shelves over the years. No matter which side you're on, this is well worth the ten dollar purchase. Enjoy, and if you're a true fan of Groening's work, watch out for a cameo from "Life In Hell's" Bongo!

"The Simpsons Arcade Game" is available now on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network.

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