Simon the Sorcerer
Following on from 'brat-pack' adventures of the Monkey Island ilk, through Indiana Jones, up to and including Day of the Tentacle, like me you may have become, not necessarily sick, but certainly concerned with the overt American-ness of pc adventures. You know the drill: plots about 'cute' American pirates, American computer geeks, square-jawed American heroes, sexist American sad-oes (called Larry). If your concern extends this far, then Simon The Sorcerer may just seem like a draft of the purest Buxton Spring. Simon The Sorcerer is the new, sarcastic, tongue-in-cheek, Union Jack flying high above old Blighty, stiff-upper lip, elevenses, we are not amused, 'John Cleese eh? -what a star?' adventure game from Adventuresoft. Instead of gags about mulberry pies, Dan Quayle, Vietnam, and George Washington, we have jokes about Wagon Wheels, the recession, er Dan Quayle, Cornwall and J.R.R. Tolkien. Bliss.
Gee, I love your accent
The story concerns Simon, a young English boy, who is given a spell book by a puppy (I know this sounds twee but it gets a lot more 'sarcastic' later on). Not unperplexed by this delivery, Simon places the book in his attic and promptly forgets about it. Later on, while exploring said attic, Simon rediscovers the tome, opens it and is portalled into another world. As you are.
Unfortunately, the portal leads straight into a goblin's cooking pot. Oh no. But wait - luckily, the wizard Calypso's pet dog is on hand to scare the goblins and rescue him. Hooray!
When Simon arrives at the wizard's house, he's gone awol. The evil, cackling wizard, Sordid, has abducted him and now the Dark Army is on the rise. This is where you pick up the game. Simon (and you) are suitably bewildered and set off exploring the countryside and village surroundings with only a blatant 'borrowing' of the Monkey Island scumm system to help you.
For the unacquainted and, as yet, unpatronised, scumm stands for Script Creator Utility Maniac Mansion, a now accepted and much emulated graphic adventure system. Boxes. You have three boxes. One contains verbs (walk to, pick up, talk to, move, give etc.), one contains your inventory (graphically represented) and the final largest box is the playing area. Sweeping your mouse cursor over the playing area, say for example the tavern, will point out the important objects on the screen (the barman, Valkyries, and so on) which you can then go on to manipulate in any way you see fit. Adventuresoft heavily disguise their system with the acronym agos -Adventure Game Operating System.
It's that green place with castles
Simon The Sorcerer may have a sugary story-line and a fairy tale aura, but its puzzles really are (excuse me) bitch-mutha, hard-rocking, X-rated, Gott in Himmel affairs. They're, kind of, stacked on top of one another. Although you have a couple of simple use A on B type problems, several objects can only be obtained by a convoluted method. Find A, use A on B, talk to C, go to D, use B to dig up E, tell F that you've found E, wait for G to turn up and in the meantime use H on I to make J, then get E back off F in exchange for J, give J to K who'll give you M, go back to B, push B with M, and then finally receive N which is part one of subquest two, which, in turn is but a quarter of the main quest. Although the puzzles are quite logical, the distance between the first object you find and the eventual object you win can be massive.
Also, your first hour of play will be mainly exploratory, but you may find, as I did, that there aren't enough things to explore. There's a wealth'of screens, but only objects and characters of any use can be 'clicked'. So when you're faced with a large screen of bottles and jars and boxes, you can only glean any information about the two objects you can pick up. The rest are just blank.
Minus the 'gaps', the location graphics and animation sequences are done very well with slight comic touches (Simon slips on his personal stereo if you wait too long). The continuous soundtrack shifts to match the locations and adds a sizeable dollop of atmosphere, as do the standard 'comedy' sound effects (bells clanging, doors knocking etc.). And now, ladies and gentlemen, onto the gripes...
When you're playing a game as outwardly amusing as Simon The Sorcerer, you get into the habit of waiting for the gags. When they don't come, you're disappointed. When they c3"do come, you can still be disappointed. The humour, (although British (i.e. marvellous) and derived from Pratchett and Python, pastiching Tolkien, Narnia and fairy tales) is a bit suspect in places. The writers have obviously concentrated on one-liners and punch-lines, instead of putting a bit more effort into characters and comic situations. Conversations, too, are milked to death.
The magician's circle and Billy Goat Gruff sequences go on for far too long. You can butt in, cutting them short, but risk missing some vital info. Also, Simon's replies, though occasionally witty, are a bit kiddie and may not tickle seasoned adult comedy buds. But gripes and sense of humour loss aside, Simon is a good-looking, challenging and, on the whole, respectable competitor to the Americanised graphic adventure market, typified by Monkey Island. I know. I know. I keep going on and on about that game, but when you've played Monkey Island, every other game shuffles into perspective. Monkey Island stands up like a big stone croquet stick on the lawn of gamesplaying, like a 60 foot Harryhausen dinosaur above the heaving bosoms of Raquel Welsh, like a very tall thing surrounded by a multitude of smaller things. Games like Legend ofKyrandia, Day of the Tentacle, The Last Crusade and Space Quest V all bow and scrape and rub their chins on the floor in front of Monkey Island. Simon, too. I'm afraid, joins that long queue of not-quites, but we are pleased to say that it is certainly at least second in line to the throne, after Fate of Atlantis. And besides, any game with lines about the British culture icon of 1980 - namely Wagon Wheels - will get a thumbs up and a Recommended from us.
When we first reviewed this game way back in October last year, we trumpeted it as the proverbial jewel in the current crop of English developed adventure-games crown. With its sparkling wit and humour, colourful scenarios and cutsey-come-sarky characterisation, Simon The Sorcerer was enough to make every gamer place his hand on his or her chest and proclaim that they were proud to be British. Finally, a witty, tongue-in-cheek jaunt around fantasy land that wasn t crammed full of Americanisms, gags about blueberry pie and sad characters called Larry, was the cherry on the cake. What more could every Union-jack-boxer-short-wearing gamer ask for?
A sound move
Well, speech actually. The conversation and dialogue in the original Simon was, well, quite entertaining, although it did get a little annoying, whilst cutting in could lose you some vital info. Seeing reams and reams of text flashing up on the screen all for the sake of a weak gag did not do anything much for the frustrated gamer who was left tearing his/her hair out looking for that vital clue!
Now don't get me wrong in a "Oh, he's going to say how truly wonderful this game is now just because they've thrown the warblings of some dodgy amateur dramatics bloke in there and re-released it on cd-rom, claiming it's really different and great" kind of way, because they haven't. What you've got with Simon The Sorcerer cd-rom is positively quite different from anything that has been developed in the UK before in that it uses English actors to do all the talkie bits. A positive breath of fresh air for all those developing a mild case of Americanaphobia.
For a start it's got Chris (Red Dwarf/Brittas Empire) Barrie reading the main role as Simon - a bit of a coup on the part of Adventure Soft to say the least. And although the gags haven't changed, the way Barrie delivers his lines in his ever-familiar Rimmer/ Gordon sarky-come-cheesed off voice is a joy to behold or behear, or whatever it is you do when you hear things.
With other voices by Roger Blake of
Spitting Image fame, and a bunch of other actor types, the characters (who were pretty colourful to start with) take on a whole new depth. Instead of wanting to cut short the dialogue, you actually find yourself going through every option just to hear the characters speak, thereby opening up much more of the game.
Adding voices to a game will ultimately only be worthwhile if the characters that are made to speak are interesting in the first place and the voices that they are then given suit their personality. With this in mind, you'd have to say that Adventure Soft have got it absolutely spot on with Simon The Sorcerer on cd-rom. The speech (over two hours worth) matches the characters and mood of the game perfectly, whilst the vocal performances of The Swampling (singing the praises of his swamp stew), the yokel local wizards (with their dodgy accents) and the ramblings of the Wordworm ("Got any balsa, mate?") are used to excellent comic effect.
Home grown humdinger
With an improved soundtrack, better sound effects and excellent use of speech. Adventure Soft have succeeded in turning what was an amusing and, at times, quite difficult adventure into an absolute belter. If you've got the original game, it may not be worth forking out for the cd-rom version, but instead wait for Simon 2 which is due out in the Autumn on disk and cd-rom. This will once again use the talents of Chris Barrie et a! and boasts even better graphics, scrolling screens and loads of animated sequences. Let's just hope that Chris Tarrant doesn't get in on the act!
For those of you who own a cd-rom drive and haven't yet played the original, get a copy of the talkie version to experience the best in British entertainment.
Download Simon the Sorcerer
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode