The Weirdest Thing ‘The Simpsons’ Ever Did
There was a time when The Simpsons was the most hotly anticipated new thing we’d ever experienced. Being the era of analogue satellite communication, we didn’t get American shows in Australia until there’d gotten a season or two in the bank. The Simpsons was all over magazines and promotional materials in the months leading up to its release, turning it into a bona fide smash hit before we’d seen the pilot episode. Anything and everything with Bart Simpson on it was an instant best-seller in the first few years of the 90s.
This was also a peak time for arcade cabinets. Arcade games were packed into shopping malls, cinemas and fish and chip shops. They were good business, and attaching a lucrative license only helped things along. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles guarantied a crowd on onlookers waiting for their chance to feed coins into the machine. It was only a matter of time before a game based on The Simpsons would appear, and arcade cabinets had the most impressive technology for it to utilise. Whilst most properties popular with the game playing youth are well suited to video game mechanics, The Simpsons was a comedy sitcom. Publisher Konami opted for the most straight forward and crowd pleasing approach of the time, and slapped the licensed characters into a scrolling beat-em up. In doing so they created a surreal dreamscape version of Springfield that raises the kind of questions you never thought you’d be asking.
For those unaware, a scrolling beat-em up game a genre popularised in arcades by Double Dragon, and involved one or more players moving left to right through an area fighting a horde of villains using martial arts and various weapons. The first question you may have is how they built a Simpsons story that explained their behaviour in a beat-em up game. Well, obviously, we start with the Simpson family walking through downtown Springfield only to run into Smithers, who in the middle of robbing a jewellery store. Obviously he was robbing the store on behalf of Mr. Burns, who wanted a diamond. In the resulting collision with Homer, the diamond flies out of Smithers’ hands and lands in Maggie’s mouth like her signature pacifier, so Smithers abducts Maggie and with no other plan for the heist, escapes on foot.
Up to four players (or two on the smaller cabinets) take on the roles of the remaining four family members and have to fight their way through Smithers’ henchmen to save Maggie. Homer punches and kicks and Bart strikes bad guys with his skateboard. This is as far as the designers got with their knowledge of the Simpsons, though, as they had no idea what to do with Lisa and Marge. Lisa gets equipped with a skipping rope and Marge, being a housewife, handily had a vacuum cleaner with which to fight with. She is also lacking a catch-phrase, so instead she says ‘how’s my hair’? The characters can combine to perform extra moves, and can pick up weapons like slingshots and bowling balls. They pursue Smithers through Krustyland, the Cemetery, the hills and other locales.
As out of character and weird the set-up and premise is, the finer details make it all the more strange. When fighting through the cemetery, the ghosts and spooks are quickly revealed to be henchmen in disguise, right up until actual zombies turn up. Even stranger are the chain rattling ghosts who later appear and chase the henchmen (Royd and Russell being to two types), leaving the Simpsons to take refuge in a crypt. This crypt takes you to a service elevator that deposits you in an underground passage, leading to the entrance of Moe’s Tavern. It’s weird enough that Moe’s is located deep under a crypt, but it’s also an elaborate entertainment complex housing casino tables, live music, dancing girls, a hulking fire-breathing drunk and only Moe working the bar.
The distended Moe’s Tavern soon turns you out via cave elevator in Springfield’s hill regions. In the first season of The Simpsons, there’s an episode where they go camping and Homer is mistaken for the legendary Bigfoot. This game reveals that Bigfoot was real, and there’s a number of them hanging around the forest to the utter indifference of those who find them. This all gives way to a dream sequence where the family battle possessed saxophones and bowling balls, Devil Barts and cloud Marge’s who whamp you with her hair. After this you compete to slap your character awake the fastest.
The game doesn’t have anything even remotely realistic within The Simpsons canon. But we’ve got something much, much weirder related to the franchises lore that occurs in the game. It all has to do with Marge’s unique hairstyle. Inspired by show creator Matt Groening’s hair and the style worn by Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein. What people may not know is that Matt Groening intended to reveal a shocking truth about this hair, and that is what it was hiding.
Marge Simpson has large rabbit ears under her hair.
Story goes that this was a reference to Groening’s previous success, a comic strip called ‘Life is Hell’ which was about rabbit characters. Groening allegedly revealed to animators that Marge’s ears would be revealed in the season 1 finale, but was shouted down by producer Sam Simon, calling it a stupid idea.
These ears didn’t completely get written out of Simpsons lore, however, and this 1991 game showcased them. There are some animation sprites that reveal them, but they’ll most commonly spotted when Marge is electrocuted and her skeleton flashes on screen.
Most games of this type haven’t aged particularly well, as they were designed to drain loose change from your pockets. They are available on some modern platforms but when you have unlimited credits they become pretty repetitive. But maybe check this one out for the weirdness.
Thank you Sam Simon for the intuition that rabbit ears weren’t cool at all! :–)