If one were to discuss the gameplay elements of a perfect co-op brawler, The Simpsons would be a great place to start. A robust four players can team up to beat up the bad guys, and each character is unique; no palette swapping here! The environments are somewhat interactive, though this is limited by the technology of the day. Homer can jump onto a car, Bart can hide behind a tree, and some objects can be picked up and thrown as weapons. But the environment can be harmful, too: doors swing open, mashing unlucky players, and in one memorable scene, an amusement park ride in the background spins out bad guys in whirling teacups that players must dodge. Donuts and apples, alongside other foods, replenish lost health. Though just two buttons are needed, several different combinations have different effects, like a spinning move, or even a flying kick. Though the gameplay in The Simpsons is simple compared to modern brawlers, it's still elegant and satisfying to play today.
If the distinctive animation style, the humor elements, and excellent gameplay were all that The Simpsons game had, it would be a great title, and remembered as a fine example of 1991-era gaming. But for fans of co-op, The Simpsons holds an even more important place in gaming history. The Simpsons was the first brawler to have a two-player combination attack. By standing close to each other when attacking, powerful special attacks could be used. Each combination of players had their own unique attack. Homer and Marge wheel around the screen, head over heels, clearing enemies left and right. Bart and Lisa spin around like a top, dropping clothesline moves on the bad guys. Six different animations had to be programmed for the team-up attacks, which means the designers knew it was an important feature. The much-discussed Fusion attacks of recent brawler Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 owe their existence to The Simpsons arcade game, as do many other co-op games through the years.
I'm a bit ashamed that I waited so long to use The Simpsons Arcade Game for a Co-Op Classics column. My exposure to the show has been quite limited, but I do remember playing and enjoying the game when I played in in arcades, nonetheless. After playing it again, these many years later, it became clear to me that The Simpsons was an important milestone in co-op gameplay. The cartoon-like graphics, irreverent sense of humor, and innovative co-op work together to make a fantastic, classic co-op title. Given the continued popularity of The Simpsons, who knows? Perhaps an Xbox Live Arcade or Playstation Network release could come to pass. If that isn't possible, I think many people would be proud to have The Simpsons Arcade Game in their virtual Xbox Game Room. If you have the chance to play The Simpsons, don't pass it by, or you might have to say "D'oh!"