VHS Revival brings you all the arcade and console news from May/June 1991
When any sort of new technology is made available for public consumption, there’s a portion of the population that will resist it and a portion that will embrace it wholeheartedly.
Consumers of video games are no different in this regard. 1991 was a couple of years into the 16-bit revolution thanks to home consoles such as the Turbografx-16/PC Engine and the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, but there was still a portion of the population clinging to their 8-bit NES.
You can’t really blame anyone who had spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on a console, games and peripherals over the past 4-5 years to not be willing to just drop the NES like your high school girlfriend or boyfriend after graduation. Nintendo’s own 16-bit effort, the SNES, had been released in Japan the year prior and would soon be making its worldwide debut, so Nintendo fans knew the end was coming for their beloved NES. That being said, Nintendo made the smart business move to continue to develop and release quality games for the NES throughout 1991 while the fervor for the SNES built up in North America and Europe.
One of the biggest and most anticipated (some would say over-hyped) releases for the NES in 1991 was Battletoads. Battletoads was an action platformer starring muscle-bound, attitude-heavy, green space amphibians with obnoxious names such as Rash, Pimple and Zitz.
Battletoads was clearly Rare and Tradewest’s response to the popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and as a result appeared to be a blatant knock-off on the surface. As a subscriber to Nintendo Power at the time, I was treated to images and “coming soon” articles hyping up Battletoads as the next big thing. To me, Battletoads looked derivative. It looked like it was going to be the Mac and Me to TMNT’s E.T. The Critters to TMNT’s Gremlins. That might have been the truth if Battletoads had sucked, but the reality is there are a lot of gamers out there today that prefer Battletoads to the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES, and even some of the sequels, such as The Arcade Game or The Manhattan Project.
Regardless of what side of the anthropomorphism you prefer, Battletoads is widely regarded as one of the most difficult video games of all time. Just try playing the Volkmire Inferno level (or better yet, Youtube it) and you’ll see what I mean. Battletoads is best played as a 2-player co-op game for the simple fact you can share in the misery of this brutally difficult game with a friend.
At the opposite end of those 8-bit Nintendo hold-outs, there was a new generation of Sega-led video gaming that was well under way. While the Genesis/Mega Drive had been a success with gamers ready to take that next technological leap, there was no indication that it would be much more than a second place console once the Super Nintendo was released later that year.
What most couldn’t foresee was the impact that a little blue hedgehog that had to “go fast” would soon have on the buying public. Sega released their flagship-in-training console war game changer, Sonic the Hedgehog, on June 23, 1991. The game was an instant success thanks to extreme and clever marketing tactics by Sega. Much has already been made about Sonic’s impact in closing the sales gap on the Nintendo juggernaut. For those of us alive and gaming in the summer of 1991, Sonic mania was in full force, and whether you owned the console or not, you couldn’t escape his smirk and waving finger.
PC gamers seemed to always have a decent selection of adventure and role playing games to choose from and one of the more notable PC releases from May/June 1991 was Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Eye of the Beholder. Eye of the Beholder is a first person point-and-click RPG developed by Westwood Associates and published for PCs by Strategic Simulations Inc. Released for various DOS based computers as well as the Amiga computer prior to being ported to the Sega CD & SNES a few years later, Eye of the Beholder allows you to maneuver a team of four characters through dungeons in an attempt to thwart the evil beholder’s attempts at taking over the city from underneath.
The amount of strategy needed to master this game requires a large learning curve, which is what makes this kind of RPG/strategy game perfect for those who enjoy investing the time & patience. Once the 1990s kicked in, I typically (right or wrong) associated PC gaming with RPGs and strategy or text-based adventures as opposed to the arcade conversions PC gaming was previously known for in the 1980s. The first person shooter phenomenon would soon be upon us, but until then, games like Eye of the Beholder ruled the PC gaming roost.
If a gamer felt like leaving the comfort of his or her home, grabbing some quarters and engaging in the social experience of an arcade, what might that person have played in late spring/early summer 1991? There’s a decent chance that The Simpsons arcade game would have been gobbling up the quarters of fans of co-op beat ’em ups and the popular television show on Fox. The Simpsons had reached maximum pop culture saturation by 1991 with the TV show having just finished it’s second season, The Simpsons: Bart vs the Space Mutants having been released for the NES earlier in the year, as well The Simpsons Sing the Blues, a popular CD tie-in with earworm songs such as Deep, Deep Trouble & Do the Bartman catapulting Bart Simpson to the top of the popularity heap.
Konami‘s The Simpsons seemed like a no-brainer success by allowing gamers a chance to play as one of the four main Simpsons family members in a 4-player beat ’em up style. The gameplay of The Simpsons bears more than a passing resemblance to the Teenage Ninja Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game also developed by Konami. It would have been easy for Konami to use the bones of the TMNT arcade engine in order to quickly release a Simpsons game that could capitalize on the hype of the television show.
The plot of the game revolves around Montgomery Burns and Waylon Smithers after they kidnap Maggie in order to retrieve a stolen diamond that she accidentally swallowed. Each of the Simpsons characters has a unique fighting style and/or weapon, such as a vacuum cleaner for Marge, skateboard for Bart, jump rope for Lisa and basic melee attacks for Homer.
In order to save Maggie, the Simpsons clan have to battle a variety of enemies, some familiar, some created specifically for the game, in locations such as the streets of Springfield, Moe’s Tavern, Krustyland Amusement Park and the Nuclear Power Plant.
The Simpsons Arcade Game is colorful, filled with recognizable characters, tons of humor and action and is way, way more fun to play with friends. One of the many aspects of The Simpsons that makes it unique is the option for players to use each other in a variety of combinations to perform deadly melee style attacks which can take out multiple enemies at once. The Simpsons is recognized today as one of the best co-op arcade experiences alongside Double Dragon, Gauntlet and of course, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The Simpsons Arcade Game was the perfect game at the perfect time and remains a bona fide classic.
Jason Breininger: Author and Chief Games Writer
Retro gaming enthusiast and blogger that grew up on the classics from the 80’s and 90’s. Enjoying the process of documenting my extensive video game collection & providing personal retro gaming experiences on my Cartridge Corner blog.
My wife and two daughters, classic video games, Alien franchise, the music of Prince, the films of Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, and Jack Nicholson, indie rock, classic hip-hop from the golden era of ’87-’94, musician related biographies.