Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Simon the Sorcerer - Rules of Enchantment

 Written by Will Moczarski


And so it's on. Simon the Sorcerer begins with a very long opening sequence which is reminiscent of the one in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. First, there’s the opening credits. They’re accompanied by Simon pulling things – and the actual credits – out of his hat, accompanied by his wry comments. The animations look a lot like those in Monkey Island 2 as well.

The second part of the opening sequence begins in Simon’s attic where his dog opens a mysterious chest and gets trapped in it. Simon leaves his bedroom and climbs up into the attic, frees his dog and finds a strange book inside the chest. When he drops it he accidentally opens up a portal to another world. 



I’ll have my magician well done, thank you.


The third part of the opening sequence introduces the actual setting of the game. Some fantasy creatures are assembled around a simple stone altar, and just as they are attempting to invoke a spell, Simon drops from the portal onto the altar dressed like a magician. He ends up being cooked over a small fire but makes a narrow escape by simultaneously sneezing and jumping out of the cauldron. In the last part Simon and his dog arrive at Calypso’s tower which is the opening location of the game. This is where we finally get to start playing the game. Calypso left a note for Simon describing the quest for us: save Calypso but first become a wizard. This is very reminiscent of the first Monkey Island game. 

I thoroughly examine the whole room and find two items I can pick up: a horseshoe magnet stuck to the fridge (har, har) and a pair of scissors. That’s all there is to the opening location. I make a note of the fact that the fridge is stuck shut and then I head outside to map and explore the world. And a large world it is! Simon the Sorcerer opens up quite extensively right from the start which reminds me of the first King’s Quest

Sadly, I find nothing of interest in front of the cottage. There’s another location in the back of it with a giant heap of magical compost. My guess is that I must be able to extract (or rather attract) some metal leftovers from it with the magnet but that is not the case. Surely I’ll be shovelling shit shortly instead.

It’s time to leave Calypso’s cottage behind, and so I leave the screen through the only exit to the east. The blacksmith lives next door, and while he’s busy working on some...metal, I guess…I pocket his rope and a clapper, e.g. a metal bar from inside a bell. The door to the forge is locked and I am unable to talk to the man because he is too engrossed in his work to hear me. 



HELLO YOUNG FELLOW


The next location is a marketplace of sorts with a “dodgy geezer” offering all sorts of goods, it seems. His fez and his moustache make him look like an oriental stereotype right out of an Indiana Jones film (or game). It’s not too bad but you have to wonder why he has to be the “dodgy” one. 

Talking to him is kind of funny, though. Everything on his mat is “priceless” yet he is willing to part with it for one gold piece each. Also, he constantly lowers the price without Simon’s haggling, offering the “strength potion” for ten, then five, then three gold pieces. Apart from the strength potion, the salesman has an invisible amulet on offer but that’s about it. I don’t have any gold pieces (yet?) so I’m not able to purchase anything but while I’m here I exhaust my options of trying to sell my precious few items to him. After all, this game is not supposed to have any dead ends so I might as well try. Unsurprisingly, he won’t take anything, telling me every time that he has at least ten (magnets, clappers, ropes) in his warehouse. I think that I can’t do anything here at this point so I move on.

First I take the left exit. There’s a half-timbered house with a thatched roof. I pick up the ladder leaning against one of the wooden beams and Simon stuffs it neatly into his hat. This is par for the course in an adventure game around this time and another joke inspired by LucasArts. There’s also a wagon wheel but I can’t pick it up because it’s too big for Simon. I can enter the building to find an empty and very cosy living room. A fire is crackling away, and lots of interesting magical ingredients are hung from the ceiling or stored away in glass jars. I can pick up a cold remedy that I don’t have a use for right now but that’s it. There are some suspicious herbs that look like the ones Simon’s brother grows (yes, we all know what he’s getting at) but I can’t seem to pick them up – maybe they’re just there for the joke. It makes me suspicious that Simon “can’t reach them” but trying to use the ladder does not solve this one. After some pixel hunting I discover a small specimen jar and that’s it. More items to offer to the dodgy geezer. The road ends further to the west at a cottage with a chocolate truffle door. I try to consume it (the only odd word in the bunch) but Simon thinks he couldn’t get through all that. The only other hotspot is a beehive but I can’t find a way to interact with it in a meaningful way. 



Not the President of the Galaxy.


The salesman doesn’t want any of my items and I take the exit on the right this time. On the next screen there’s a proper shoppe with loads of items but almost none of them are for sale. The two-headed shoppekeeper(s) make(s) up some excuse when I try to buy anything – only the hammer and the white spirit have a price tag (4 gold pieces and 1 gold piece respectively). It’s a bit tedious to click through all of the items but it’s also hilarious because the excuses are good fun. It doesn’t take me more than two minutes, either. The magic beans are also interesting. They don’t have an actual price but the shoppekeeper(s) say(s) that they’re too expensive for me. Maybe I’ll be able to trade them for something precious. 

At the end of the village there’s a pub. If I continue past that point I arrive back at the blacksmith’s, so I decide to enter the pub first. This is basically a close cousin to the SCUMM Bar in Secret of Monkey Island. I can interact with some of the guests in the first room and then talk to the four important looking wizards in the next. Also, I find a box of matches hidden on top of a perfectly anachronistic fruit machine. 

The barkeeper tells me that Calypso habitually takes off without telling anybody about it but even he is a bit more worried than usual because of Sordid. Our antagonist apparently lives somewhere in the Craggy Mountains which will probably be the site of the endgame. Sordid is helping to boost business because of the many heroes passing through this pub – and strictly speaking, I’m one of them. All attempts to order a drink don’t pan out, however, which is another puzzle that reminds me of Monkey Island 2. However, my ordering a drink prompts the barkeeper to look for it under the bar, leaving the beer barrels unattended for a few seconds. I probably need some kind of mug for this. 

I can also talk to two “nubile Valkyries” but if I use cheesy pickup lines or quote from Monty Python’s “Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook” they (predictably) refuse to continue the conversation. If I pose as a reporter for “Warrior Weekly” they agree to partake in a survey. They tell me about their quest to kill Sordid as well as their past adventures which sound even more dangerous. I can also ask them about their hobbies, their measurements (urgh) and about their further plans (which is the relevant thing to do). They tell me that the druid might be able to help but he has vanished – sounds like a clue. All of the other questions only lead to more mediocre jokes so I try all of them and proceed to talk to the wizards next door. 

I can overhear their conversation and find out that they are on a secret mission looking for something, and that the druid is indeed missing. The rest is just idle chat and I interrupt them at some point to tell them “I want to be a wizard”. (Yes, more Monkey Island quotes.) They immediately put on a faux working-class accent and insist that they’re farmers but I can call them out on it and tell them that my mouse pointer gives them away. This makes them drop their act and if I tell them that I’d do anything to become a wizard they tell me about some rite of initiation which is actually a fetch quest. They are searching for a magical staff that is about 6 feet tall and has a crystal sphere on one end. Its last owner was Nafflin the Necromancer but they don’t know what happened to it after he died. One of them thinks it probable that Nafflin was buried with his staff so maybe I’ll need to hang around graveyards some more. They promise to make me a wizard when (or rather if) I bring the staff to them and of course I agree to do just that. It’s a quest (although it feels like a red herring). 



The SCUMM...err, the Drunken Druid.


The only way that’s left leads me out of the village and into the forest. And what can I say, of course I immediately recognise the music. It’s a good theme but all things considered the soundtrack is (at least so far) not up there with those composed by Clint Bajakian and Michael Z. Land. Now the forest has a much more complex layout than the village and I think it’s best if I just described my encounters there without regard to the actual geography. 

In some of the locations there are cute birds fluttering about or squirrels chasing each other off screen. This reminds me of some parts of the King’s Quest series although there is a major difference. The animals in Simon the Sorcerer are there for my enjoyment only while in some of the King’s Quest games you must not miss them because they only appear once (was that in part V, for example?). Why am I talking about King’s Quest so much, you ask? Well, the first animal I encounter is a “wise owl” and, well, you know the rest. After all of my initial dialogue options are exhausted I can ask the owl for advice over and over again but nothing seems pertinent. “A druid’s potion can reduce your outlook” may be helpful, or “If you’re in trouble try talking to your reflection.” Most likely these are red herrings, too.



No witty remark – just to show you that it’s quite a pretty game.


The next location of interest is a stone table “used for the sacrificing of shaved lions”, according to Simon. It is also the place where I first entered this world. I have no idea what to do here at this point so I continue exploring for now. Some screens to the east I find a cross between a modern excavation site and a modern building site. According to a sign it’s a paleontological digging site and I can have a conversation with the man who’s down there. 



He’s fixing a hole where the rain gets in.


The guy turns out to be “the famous Doctor Von Jones”. He is looking for the missing link between man and vegetable which is kind of funny. The whole conversation is among the most entertaining in the game so far. Von Jones tells me to bring him any fossils I might come across which means I’ve got another task. 

Right next to the excavation site there’s a dwarf mine but I cannot enter because it’s for dwarves only. My guess is I’ll need some kind of costume for this one. There’s another screen with the back entrance but the doors only open from the inside. Somebody left their shopping list under a small rock here as well so naturally I pick it up. It’s a shopping list addressed to the storekeeper in town so maybe this is my chance to “buy” some things there after all!

Close by there’s the entrance to a cave. I can enter the cave and follow it to a strange hut overlooking a swamp. The lizardlike creature who lives there invites me in and thinks I have come to visit him on his birthday. There seems to be no way around insulting him first but when he cries Simon can be a bit nicer to him and cheer him up (depending on the dialogue options you pick). The lizardlike creature then goes on to serve me some horrible swamp stew that has been handed down from swampling to swampling (which seems to be the name of his species). If you agree to try it Simon turns to the fourth wall and tells me that he’d prefer it if I was in this situation instead of him. He gulps down the stew but the swampling only gives him another bowl full. This is quite a funny situation as it enables the player to be a bit of a sadist, stressing the often awkward connection between the player and her avatar in 3rd person adventure games. When the swampling serves Simon the second bowl, however, there’s a brief window of opportunity in which the stew can be filled into the specimen jar. After three bowls the swampling has run out of stew and heads out to find some more ingredients. This leaves us free to explore the hut. Moving a chest reveals a trap door down to the swamp proper but my progress is hindered by a loose plank which I cannot fix. I don’t want to harp on this but the swamp and the loose plank are more Monkey Island references. 

I climb back up and leave through the front door. From there I follow the path to the right which leads me into a snowy region. At the end of the road there’s a sleeping giant but I’m not loud enough to wake him up. I backtrack to the hut and all the way to the dwarf mine. When I arrive there I remember that I have a map and the sleeping giant and the dwarf mine are both on it (“centre of the forest”). I could have spared me the trouble but at least now I’m quite sure that I didn’t know about the map when I played the game back when it was new. 

Further to the east I encounter a woodcutter who’s in a deep blue funk. He tells me that his life is in ruins because the trees in this forest have some magical protection around them, rendering him unable to do his work. I suggest that he should move to a different forest but he says that all of his money is tied up in his house and he can’t afford to move again. The only thing that would help him is a magical axe made of milrith (“an anagram of mithril”). Sounds like something that I might find in the dwarf mine and then give to the blacksmith, maybe? The dwarves already gave him a metal detector, though, and when I offer to go looking for some milrith he gives it to me. Yay, another quest. 

This seems like a good place to stop for a while, also because there’s a proper cliff close by and this is now officially a cliffhanger, cliffdweller, cliffwaiter...whatever. Next time I will explore the other half of the forest and possibly encounter some actual puzzles. Hopefully.




Session time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour



24 comments:

  1. Great that you remember the forest song. One of my favorites in the game is the snow theme, you will hear at least 3 or 4 variatons of that same song, very immersive to travelling the far snow lands.

    Very interesting that you mentioned all those very obvious MI references, never thought about them. You could probably compare all the forest screens with Kyrandia 1, the difference is that instead of having copy and paste forest art, Simon features different art for (all?) of its screens.

    One little thing in the intro, you manage to escape the cauldron because of the sneeze and your dog actually sneaking on the goblins at the same time, it's easy to miss.

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    1. At this point I think that the whole game is a pastiche of previous adventure games and fantasy novels. Which is not a bad thing, mind you.

      Ha, I didn't catch that at all but you're right, of course. I just rewatched it. Nice!

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    2. Based on this post, the game doesn't sound engaging at all. It looks like they made a list of stock cliches that should be in a generic fantasy setting, randomly threw everything together, and called it a day. This is just like those movies called "disaster movie", "superhero movie", etc where the whole film is a series of pop culture references and there's nothing else. Just referencing something famous isn't automatically funny or clever.

      The art is very good, I'll give them that. But the characters, plot, and gameplay look utterly bland and forgettable.

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    3. I agree with at least some of that, Anonymous. The mishmash of pop culture references is probably intentional (and may be comparable to the films you named) and it is true that neither the story nor the characters are particularly engaging (so far). Despite all this it's more enjoyable than I thought it would be, mostly because of some quite entertaining dialogue options and the fact that there's a large world to explore.

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  2. The stone table "used for sacrificing shaved lions" is a reference to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

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  3. I find a box of matches hidden on top of a perfectly anachronistic fruit machine

    You just effortlessly solved the most frustrating pixel hunt that I experienced in the game. I am now hopeful that my score prediction will not be too high. :)

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    1. Well, I've made it a habit to methodically pixel hunt on every screen but that one didn't take very long, to be honest. The fruit machine is very easy to notice so that part of the screen already had my full attention.

      The shopping list under the small rock on the other hand...that seemed like a very lucky click to me. It's very easy to miss even with methodical pixel hunting.

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    2. The matches weren't a problem for me, but I missed the specimen jar in my recent playthrough, and thus got incredibly frustrated when I got to the Swampling and realized I needed some sort of container to stow away some stew but couldn't for the life of me figure out where to get one, until I finally resorted to revisit every single screen over and over until I finally found it. (I think I must've visited that room at least three or four times until I finally hit upon the jar)

      Since I played the game in it's Amiga-OCS-version on the A500 Mini, I also had quite a spot of trouble finding the shipping list; since that version uses less colors, the rock where the shopping list is lying under was hardly distinguishable from its surroundings, so I kept passing it over. (I checked later with the PC version and it's definitely clearer there). Speaking of the Amiga version, the Amiga OCS and AGA versions (not the CD32 one though) omits part of the intro; you get the credit sequence and then immediately skip to Simon entering Calypso's hut, the part with the dog in the attic and the goblins "summoning" and attemting to cook Simon were missing. So I didn't recognize the stone table at all when I saw it. And the bit of the intro missing actually gave my a bit of trouble later on where I was missing some context. You'll probably know what I mean once you get there.

      That being said, it seems like the game's penchant for pixel hunts made you miss at least one object at the moment though. Gur bjy qebcf n srngure jura lbh svefg rapbhagre vg, juvpu lbh jvyy arrq yngre ba.

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    3. The fruit machine is very easy to notice so that part of the screen already had my full attention.
      The problem that I had is that while most if not all other objects are at least somewhat discernible, the box of matches is brown on brown on brown. I gave the fruit machine and surroundings a cursory glance (with the mouse pointer) and then completely forgot about it.

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    4. Great that you're playing along, El despertando! It's odd that they cut the opening sequence short in such a peculiar way. Your last sentence kind of worries me. I'll revisit all of the locations at some point to find what I missed.

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    5. I can see that, Vetinari - so far the game is all fetch quests and pixel hunts but I hope that there will be some proper puzzles to solve soon.

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    6. @El despertando: The A1200 intro began at the stone table, skipping the attic part. Left me a bit confused as a kid.
      Maybe there were different Euro/US versions?

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    7. With Will finding the matches so easily, all of us familiar with the game know what that means...

      ...nofbyhgryl abguvat. Gur zngpurf ner arire hfrq va gur tnzr. Lbh ybfr gurz hcba ragrevat Fbeqvq'f gbjre naq svaq bgure zngpurf yngre.

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  4. I'm thinking this game has the same basic plot as Curse of Enchantia, i.e. "an ordinary real-world person is transported to a fantasy world and can only return by defeating its overlord, who's said to be evil but doesn't really do anything". I wonder how common such plots are; I think Altered Destiny does it, maybe Lure of the Temptress? Dark Seed? Shadowgate?

    It's not inherently bad but it's a bit lazy, and doesn't really give motivation to the main character.

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    1. you are very correct, Simon 1 however, will try to satirize every fantasy trope and story. It also has a british cast, which may be interesting for some audiences

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  5. As another anonymous said, I find the game's setting really uninteresting and when I started playing it some years ago, I didn't like the jokes either. In my case, I will go further and say I also didn't really like the art (characters look ugly, the main character walks too slow). So the only thing that could make me play this is the puzzles. Does this game have good puzzles?

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    1. Without spoiling too much, there's a few pixel hunts but otherwise the puzzles make (enough) sense. Most of the difficulty comes from the huge amount of locations to remember where something from your inventory may be useful.

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    2. I'm not sure, Anonymous - so far I really haven't encountered any. According to Laukku's comment that may change quite soon.

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    3. Finished my replay a while ago. My assessment on the puzzles was that yes, there were a few annoying cases of pixel hunts or "find the hot spot", but overall, I think the puzzle structure was quite solid. It's a comedy game, and if you play along those lines, most solutions came quite naturally - I was usually struggling more with how to apply the solution the right way rather than with coming up with the right solution in the first place. ^^

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  6. I just replayed the whole game over the course of a few days. My previous and only playthrough was from 2010. I had forgotten the solutions to pretty much all the puzzles except for ubj gb trg gur fbhfncubar naq jurer gb hfr vg, naq gung n orneq vf arrqrq sbe gur qjnes pnir. I only had to use outside help for the pixel hunts and va juvpu fperra gb hfr gur zrgny qrgrpgbe. Some vague memories probably helped me this time though.

    My 2010 playthrough was on a 32-bit Windows XP on which the game worked natively. But because I no longer have that machine, and my version of the game is for Windows rather than DOS, in order to play it (without resorting to ScummVM) I use a Windows 95 installed on a hdd disk image, which I boot in DOSBox-X. There's additionally some odd glitch with DOSBoxes with internal MT-32 emulation that, for my version of the game specifically, mutes the first notes of tracks and sets wrong instruments, but I got a workaround by using an external MUNT MIDI driver where fiddling with MIDI delay settings got rid of the problem.

    One thing that irks me about the talkie version is that there is AFAIK no way to have text, and the sound compression combined with sometimes poor acting makes the dialogue difficult to understand at times. At least in the sequel "t" toggles between voice and text, but you still can't have both.

    I agree about the music. While clearly above average, as a whole it's not quite at Monkey Island's or Kyrandia's level. The credits/town theme has a solid melody but the mostly generic chord progression holds it back. And too many pieces for my taste are variations of either the forest theme or the main theme. But just because there are even better soundtracks doesn't mean this one doesn't have praiseworthy aspects, and the forest theme is a standout that makes wandering around not just tolerable but surprisingly pleasant. The swampling theme nails being both appropriately quirky and bleak.

    If you groaned at Simon's lines for the valkyries you just wait for how his personality is handled in the sequel. ;-)

    The swampling is that type of character whom you don't like because he's annoying, feel sorry for because nobody likes him, or a mix of both.

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    1. Your assessment of the music is really spot on, Laukku!

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