Any fool can be funny, but you've got to be clever to be witty. A joke attempts to make you laugh, but a witty remark invites you to understand it and, if you do, then you'll feel both amused and pleased with yourself. Simon the Sorcerer is very, very witty. It's also easy to tell it's English, because they've spelt the swear words correctly!
Simon is a graphic adventure game in the same mouth as such blockbusters as Monkey Island and Indiana Jones. Unlike those megagames that come from America, this game is a homegrown product from a small British company called Adventure Soft. Okay, I know that at this point the wiser heads among you will be pursing their lips and switching into sceptic mode; but that's all right, I like a fight. Right then, just let me slip into my John Bull waistcoat and lace up my Yank-Kicking boots, and we'll begin, (Cue 'Land of Hope and Glory.)
Let's face it, is it likely that a game from a small, English software house van produce something which can really compare to the games from huge American companies employing legions of art directors, squads of software designers and zillions of dollars? No, it's not likely. Nevertheless, they've only gone and done it.
The plot of this crazy story involves a modern teenager being sucked into a world of wizards and magic. And you'll be surprised to know that he must save this sad kingdom from the bad guy with an unpronounceable name. Nothing new there then. You could say that what we have here is the plot for 'Adrian Mole Goes To Hobbitland'. In short it's English honor at its best. It's sharp, wicked and at times a little rude. Simon is a teenager with a dog, an attitude problem and a walkman. The dog is left behind in the early stages of the adventure, but the boy's attitude stays with him to the bitter end. Simon also keeps his walkman available just in case should you pause for thought. If he gets bored waiting for your next great idea, he will remover his wizard's hat, put on the earphones and listen to music until you make your next move.
PICTURES WORTH A THOUSAND PIXELS
The game's scenario takes place against a background of enchanted forests, snow-covered mountains, picturesque villages and dingy dungeons. The characters and incidents in this magical adventure are culled from a variety of folktales which you'll have no difficulty recognizing. You'll meet Billy Goats Gruff, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk and the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. All of the graphics are brilliant, with some of the animated forest scenes reminiscent of Disney's Bambi. As you wander in the forest you'll be accompanied by flitting butterflies, cutesy birds and the occasional wolf.
Admittedly, if you happen to have been stuck with a problem for the last two days, the cutest of floppy bunnies will get on your wick, but on the whole I thought it looked really good.
The guy who turned out to be my favorite character, and I'm sure you are going to love him too, is the Swampling. Imagine that you held a party and nobody came - that's the fate of the poor Swampling. There he is with a cauldron of mud stew, and nobody to help him eat it. Now surely you won't be as hardhearted as the rest of the forest creatures? All he wants is someone to drop in for a little while, play a few games, and enjoy a nourishing bowl with him. Euck! The Swampling's house is beautifully drawn, and the animated sequences which take place inside his hollow tree home are guaranteed to make you chuckle
There is a constant musical background to the game which can be turned off if you like, but in this case I actually found I liked it - and when did you last hear a reviewer say that? In the interests of balance it should be mentioned that the neighbors called round to say that they thought it was rotten, but then it was 2am.
TO HINT OR NOT TO HINT?
Adventure games are great fun when you are getting somewhere, but they can drive you nuts when you get stuck. Game producers never know what to do about this problem; should they enclose a hint book with the game, provide a telephone help-line, or just leave you to the tender mercies of Vampyra? In this case Adventure Soft has decided to provide two lines of attack. Firstly there is a built-in mentor in the form of a wise old owl. In the center of the forest an old owl sits snoozing in a tree. If you speak to the owl he will provide random nuggets of information which will give you clues concerning the sneakier puzzles, but just to keep things fair his information is also mixed in with other homilies such as: 'Always brush your teeth after meals'. As Simon is the original smart-Alec teenager, you can guess what he makes of these remarks.
If the owl's cryptic hints still don't provide enough information to get you out of the mire then you can ring Adventure Soft directly. Each evening between six and seven you can ring 021 352 0847 and put your questions directly to one of the game designers. This service is available because Adventure Soft also want to talk to you, find out what you like and what you would like to see in future games.
The game uses those controls that now appear to have become the standard for graphic adventures. No typing is required, so there is no need to guess some unlikely word of phrase to solve a problem. Any objects that have any importance will be indicated as the mouse pointer passes over them by the appearance of their written description on-screen. This does mean that these objects are sometimes deliberately drawn a might small and difficult to find, but in the main this isn't a problem.
A full list of possible commands is permanently displayed on the lower half of the screen, and you simply select the commands you wish to use. You can also 'click' on the object you have in your list of possessions to examine or to use them. There are a few cases where you must issue a command to combine one object with another, but this is a typical puzzle in these types of games and in most cases is pretty straight forward.
PUZZLES AND CONVERSATION PIECES
The game's puzzles take the usual form of 'find object', 'pick up object', 'use object1 with object2'. To do this kind of thing you have to spend time searching into the nooks and crannies of the screen with the mouse pointer to find those objects that may be lurking. There are also lots of humans, monsters and other weird races that you will encounter, and then you can have conversations with them. You manage these conversations reading what the other person is saying, then selecting your reply from a list of possible options. This chat normally degenerates into a slanging match as Simon can't seem to resist insulting everyone, and you won't be able to resist the temptation to get into trouble as well. For me these conversations are the high spots of the game, and Simon's rye comments are genuinely funny. For example, there is a point when Simon is talking to some gents in a pub, and he refers to them as wizards. One gent asks Simon why he thinks that they are wizards. To this Simon swiftly replies, 'Well when I move the mouse-pointer over you, the computer says "Wizards".
What helps make this joke funny is the fact the game designer has being doing his darndest up to that point to make you forget that you are playing a computer game.
WHERE'S THE COMPUTER GONE?
One clever touch that this game has, which others would do well to copy, is the way it handles your interaction with other characters.
If you intrude into a scene where two people having a conversation, and you interrupt them by asking a question, the characters treat you in the same way as real-life characters would. Instead of the computer obviously stopping their conversation dead and switching into reply mode, they attempt to answer you, then pick up where they left off instead of simply standing motionless waiting for your next input. The computer characters will also amend their subsequent dialogue if your comment influenced anything. In fact, the script has been specially constructed with loads of these 'jump-points' in it to ensure that it can deal with most situations.
This is not something that you see too often in other games and it really gives a different feel to a scene. This is a game where the computer has been hidden as much as possible.
Nothing is perfect, so where is the downside you may ask? If pressed (and I don't really want to say anything which detracts from this super game) my only criticism of the game would be that the gameplay tails off a little towards the end. During the initial stages there are a million things to do and see and there are many parallel paths for you to wander. Towards the latter stages things get restricted, the path get straight and narrow, the puzzles become simpler, and more and more you become a spectator to animated sequences. I began to feel that the game designer had just received the delivery deadline from the publishers, so everything was being wound up swifty to meet a deadline. The first quarter of the game could take a fortnight to figure out - the last quarter could take an evening. I am willing to be taken to task for that comment, perhaps you won't agree with it, but it's only a small gripe after all. To get full enjoyment out of this adventure you should forget about trying to solve the puzzles and getting through to the end, for the real fun comes from deliberately doing things that you suspect won't solve the problem. In this way you will discover what fun the game designer put in to teach you a lesson for being rude or silly.
There are no illogical puzzles in the game, and simple persistence will see you through to the end.
Hardened adventurers will solve most of the game without too much difficulty, so if would like a fun adventure, but have never been successful with them in in the past, this is the one for you.
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Simon the Sorcerer 2: The Lion, the Wizard and the Wardrobe, Secret of Monkey Island, The, Secret of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge AGA, Simon the Sorcerer, Loom, Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade, Simon the Sorcerer 3D, Shadow of the Beast 1
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