Tuesday, 4 October 2022

Simon the Sorcerer – WON!

Written by Will Moczarski



Last time I took a break having solved all of the puzzles and finished all of the fetch quests in the game's rather large overworld. I thought I might be ready for the endgame but didn’t think it would be that straightforward. Actually I thought I’d just try to enter the tower and get the lay of the land without taking screenshots or completing my map – and then it was all over in about 80 minutes. Thus I had to replay the whole section for this post but as it’s quite short that was not a problem.

First I had to figure out how to enter the tower. As you can see above there’s a fiery pit separating me from the entrance. I had just obtained the witch’s broom so it wasn’t much of a puzzle. Simon mounted it, winked at me and flew straight into the stone doors. But I had still made it in one piece. Now that I was closer Simon was able to discern that the doors were big, heavy, magically enchanted, and wouldn’t budge. I remembered that somebody in the game had told me how to enter the tower in the very beginning so I went over my notes and found one that said the druid might be able to help. I went back to the druid but he just said hello and offered no dialogue options, behaving as if I had no further business with him. I also stopped by the Drunken Druid (this game’s SCUMM bar) but the wizards wouldn’t talk to me anymore either. Finally the valkyries confirmed (although I’m quite sure that I had first heard it from the wizards) that the druid might be able to help if somebody wanted to enter the tower. I then realised how stupid I had been.

A few hours ago I picked up some frogsbane on Skull Island because the druid had asked me to. When I brought it back to him he gave me a green potion labelled “DRINK ME” in return. Now I understood I had to consume this if I wanted to enter the tower. The Alice reference didn’t end there. Simon shrank to the size of a mouse, lost all of his belongings in the process and entered the tower through a small crack. Inside I was reunited with my dog who just carried me to the next room which turned out to be...a giant garden. 



Now THAT bucket's got a hole in it.


Or rather a regular garden but it sure seemed humongous to tiny Simon. I was carrying a strand of white dog hair and the postcard, meaning I was still able to save my game but unable to return to any of the locations I had visited before entering the tower. I rather like these kinds of endgames. They don’t make you guess which items you haven’t found a use for yet, and they clean up your inventory, dispensing with red herrings in the process. 

I found a maple leaf, a stone and a matchstick which was hidden inside a rusty bucket on the first screen of the garden. On the second screen there was a rusty tap, a screw that couldn't be picked up (or interacted with in any other meaningful way) and three hotspots: a lily leaf, some seeds, and the centre of the puddle. 



The pond of no return


I used the hair with the tap and Simon threw it over it like a lasso. Because the tap was rusted stiff I was still unable to pull it open, and when Simon attempted to climb the tap he always slipped off and fell into the puddle. It took me a while to figure out I could (try to) pick up the lily leaf, prompting Simon to pull it closer to the shore, enabling me to stand on it. The rest was easy: The matchstick and the maple leaf turned the lily leaf into a makeshift boat and I was now able to reach the seeds on the other side of the screen. With only two items left in my inventory the next step was clear, too. I used the stone on the seeds, prompting Simon to crush them with the stone and salvage the oil. Then I oiled the tap and pulled on the dog hair again. This opened the tap and some water poured into the puddle. The first time I played through this section I didn't even figure out what this did. But on my second playthrough of this section I tried to cross the puddle without opening the tap. That didn't work because it was necessary to raise the water level of the pond. If I neglected to do that the boat would run aground in the centre of the pond, forcing me to return to the tap. On the other side of the puddle there were a fishing dwarf, the head of a statue, and a frog who would try to eat me as soon as I got too close. He spat me out stark naked and then spat out my clothes about a second later, prompting Simon to crawl offscreen in shame to put them back on. 


Not suitable for work.


The solution to this conundrum was some more careful pixel-hunting. Our frequent contributor El Despertando found this puzzle quite rewarding but I tend to disagree with him on this. To me this feels like the weakest part of the endgame. You first need to find out that there is a tiny hotspot called “water”, investigate the water, find a tadpole in there and talk to the frog in order to tell him that you’ve taken the tadpole hostage and he should hop out of the way to guarantee for the safety of his offspring. I only found this easy because I had tried talking to the frog before finding the hotspot. Had I not tried to do that already I might not have known what to do with the tadpole which could have been quite frustrating, I imagine. 

The frog then left the screen and I was now able to pick up a mushroom labelled “EAT ME”. Consuming the mushroom enabled me to return to my regular size again and finally enter the tower for real. Before doing that I pixel-hunted all over the now regular-sized garden and I’m glad I did because I found a branch that way. 


Midnight in the garden of good and evil


Inside the tower a chest with legs and hands (a Discworld reference, I reckon) chased me back outside right away. I was able to re-enter the tower and stick the branch in its mouth, rendering it unable to attack me. Now it was possible to explore the tower. I found a metal shield and a spear on the ground floor. One floor up I found myself in Sordid’s bedroom. There I found a pouch, a sock reeking of Gorgonzola and a magical surveillance mirror that would enable me to spy out of every mirror in the land. Finally I found Sordid’s magic wand and, quite oddly, a book with instructions on how to destroy it. It said that the only way a magic wand could be destroyed was to throw it into the fiery pits of Rondor. 

On the upmost floor of the tower I found two gambling, smoking demons who openly discussed what they should do with the intruder, i.e. me. Their loyalty to Sordid seemed limited, however, and they decided to just keep on gambling instead of taking me prisoner. On the other side of the room there was a large teleporter. The demons told me this was the only way out and they’d only tell me how to work it if I magically sent them back to the fiery pit. I agreed to do just that and handily found a spell to return demons to hell in Sordid’s spellbook which was just lying around on one of the shelves. It said I’d need a double square with 8 candles, a mouse and a human skull for the spell to work. Also I had to know the demons’ true names. Asking them about them seemed futile so I went looking for the ingredients. I had spotted a mouse on the floor below and reckoned that the metal shield with a face on it might work as a stand-in for a human skull. There was a hook right next to the demons and I was able to place the shield there, making me more determined that was the correct solution. However, I also found some chemicals which Simon identified as some magical metal polish. 

Now the magical mirror had complained that Sordid never cleaned him but Simon wouldn’t use the chemicals there. He would clean the metal shield with it, though, making me realise that my theory was wrong. Instead I could use the magical mirror to look through the metal shield and spy on the demons. Now this to me was one of the funniest moments of the game: The two demons, unaware that I was listening in, had a conversation about their real names and how stupid they sounded (they're called Belchgrabbit and Snogfondle, in case you are wondering). This is such a silly solution to this puzzle, I thought it was delightful.



Cleaning mirrors is a job I could really see myself doing.


Catching the mouse was also pretty easy. I stuffed the sock into the pouch and used it as bait. The mouse couldn’t resist and now I was only missing the candles and the human skull. It took me a while to find out that there was another exit leading down to the basement of the tower from the ground floor. After that the rest was easy. 



Spying on the demons.


In the basement there was a veritable torture chamber. There was also a human skull hanging from the ceiling. I could reach for it with my spear, causing it to fall down to the ground, and then pick it up. On the right side of the room there was a small chest I could not open, so I took it with me. On the left side there was a lever and when I moved it a heavy block was lifted up into the air. I was then able to place the chest underneath, move the lever again, and crush the chest, revealing a set of candles. 



It seems that I play a lot of games featuring torture chambers for this blog.


Now I had everything I needed to send the demons back to hell. True to their word they explained how the teleporter worked but the instructions were just “push the big red button”. I entered the machine and was able to escape the tower and teleport straight to the fiery pits of Rondor. They turned out to be a tourist attraction and once again I didn’t have any money and couldn’t afford a ticket. The attendant only handed me a brochure and I was left to my own devices. 

Luckily there was an elastic band around the brochures and I also found a sapling and a pebble lying on the ground. I was able to combine the elastic band and the sapling to build a slingshot and shoot the pebble at the fire alarm, causing the attendant to flee in panic. 



IT'S A (tourist) TRAP


There was now a new hotspot for an item called “souvenir matches” and they were necessary to solve the game. I didn't see them the first time I played and had to backtrack and pixel-hunt on every screen once more which seemed like an unnecessary obstacle put there to prolong the (relatively short) endgame. The next screen had a bridge and a bucket of floor wax. I picked up the floor wax and on the final screen I had to deal with...Sordid. The dark wizard was peeved because "someone" had caused the fire alarm to go off. The sprinklers put out the fiery pits and Sordid was trying hard to set them ablaze again. 

Before he could manage to solve the problem I turned him to stone using his own magic wand. I now needed to relight the fire myself if I wanted to throw Sordid's magic wand in the lava. This is where the souvenir matches were necessary. It's not an unfair puzzle, just some unnecessary pixel-hunting involved. When Simon destroyed the magic wand by dropping it in the lava he cockily leaned on Sordid and told us that all of the statues would now come back to life. That included Sordid, of course, and the final showdown ensued. 



It ought to be possible to end the game right here and get a mediocre ending.


But before it did a phone dropped from the ceiling and Calypso called, pretending he was with a life insurance company. He told me to stall Sordid for a bit and then he would come help me which was quite misleading because this was not what you had to do in order to finish the game. When Sordid asks you who the caller was you can let Simon reply “I was just taking you out of my will” which I find quite amusing. Stalling Sordid worked only for a few seconds. Simon will then run offscreen and because Sordid’s magic somehow broke the bridge on the next screen he would drop straight into the ravine. He was back up in no time wondering what might have happened to the bridge and then we were finally able to take on Sordid for real. When the dark wizard’s next spell backfired Simon dropped the floor wax, causing Sordid to slip and fall. Simon then automatically pushed him into the pit and Sordid exploded beautifully. 



Fireworks! (Just like LeChuck.)


And that was it. The lights went out and a cheesy show host asked Simon about the sequel. Then Simon was shown waking up in his teenage bedroom realising it had all just been a dream. Before he had the chance reflect on that, a strange portal appeared and a monstrous hand pulled him inside, prompting Simon to accept the sequel as a necessity.  This was all very meta and quite all right. The game then ended with a short sequence showing the two demons dancing very much like the monkeys in the opening sequence of Monkey Island 2, fittingly ending the game with a final homage. 

How do I feel about all of this? Well, I’ll need some time to think about it. The whole endgame was not very challenging but still a lot more pleasant than the rest of the game. It was the part I enjoyed the most by far – the puzzles were still average but the dialogues were so much better than all of the preceding ones. Next I’ll give the talkie version a shot (if only to hear how they handled the demons) before I decide on the final rating of the game. I’ll probably discuss both in one final post about Simon the Sorcerer, though. You stay classy, San Diego!





Session time:     1.5 hours
Total time:         12 hours 15 minutes

22 comments:

  1. congrats on beating this classic ! my thoughts:

    Love the art style of the fortress, that red tints and statues outside the main door are amazing, we had these kind of style in other games like KQ5, and maybe last Atlantis rooms in FOA, but this one is also amazing.

    They did the "discard every useless junk item" in story, that's really good and not sure if many other games did such an elegant solution, you can even see the broom and other items in the pile of junk you leave behind. You also see the statue head in the garden when you are tiny, and then the headless statue when you are regular size again, very good attention to detail.

    The chest is a mimic, famous in a lot of other games like Dark Souls .. and really not sure who created it first, was it really Discworld ? That's really interesting.

    I have no proof, but if I have to guess, I think they run out of time/budget for the last part. You wonder around the dangerous fortress and there's almost no danger apart from the chest and the harmless demons. Was there any reference in the whole game about destroying Sordid's wand ? I don't really recall, did they throw that at the end ? Also, the convenient teleport to Mount Doom, no .. Fiery pits of Rondor (Mordor?). Why was Sordid in there ? What was he trying to do ?

    He is also a villain like Sauron in the sense that you never see him in the whole game, feels a little weird that you never got a cutscene, or something showing him or even Calypso. Also, what's with the boxart showing a huge dark lord ? Is that supposed to be Sordid ? looks nothing like the real guy.

    I would say, most graphic adventure games (specially LucasArts), have a 10/10 really strong start or first act .. a really good and nice mid game .. and then by the end, they run out of time, or ideas, and the quality drop is noticeable. With tons of inventory options, tons of locations, almost no hinting, dialogues not being that witty. In Simon, it's probably a subverted case, since the end act gets most stuff right (except for the length maybe).

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    1. They did the "discard every useless junk item" in story, that's really good and not sure if many other games did such an elegant solution

      Monkey Island did it well. I'm having trouble thinking of non-Lucas games that did it well (or at all), off-hand.

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    2. Toonstruck (a personal favourite of mine) pulled off a well-judged inventory cleansing between the first and second acts.

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    3. Here you go: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/BagOfSpilling/VideoGames

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    4. "The chest is a mimic, famous in a lot of other games like Dark Souls .. and really not sure who created it first, was it really Discworld ? That's really interesting."

      Mimics already were a thing in the Dungeons and Dragons monster manual (1977), so it's not clear whether this was cribbed from Terry Pratchett or just a regular fantasy/RPG gamer trope.

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    5. Hey Anonymous, another Anonymous guy here. That list is quite interesting! But it seems to be mostly about how games explain losing objects when moving from one game to the next one on the series. Only a couple of examples are about losing non-important items within a single game. They should probably split that trope into 2 IMHO.

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    6. Thank you, Alex!

      The chest is a mimic, famous in a lot of other games like Dark Souls .. and really not sure who created it first, was it really Discworld ? That's really interesting.

      You're right, it could well be a mimic. I was thinking of The Luggage but now I see that I was probably on the wrong track.

      I have no proof, but if I have to guess, I think they run out of time/budget for the last part. You wonder around the dangerous fortress and there's almost no danger apart from the chest and the harmless demons. Was there any reference in the whole game about destroying Sordid's wand ? I don't really recall, did they throw that at the end ? Also, the convenient teleport to Mount Doom, no .. Fiery pits of Rondor (Mordor?). Why was Sordid in there ? What was he trying to do ?

      I don't think so. It's quite common in conventional plotbuilding to speed up the narrative close to the end. I do agree, however, that even in the beloved Monkey Island games the best parts are the opening and middle sections. I think that Monkey and Dinky Island are both vastly inferior to Melee and Scumm/Phatt/Booty Island. And don't get me started about LeChuck's fortress which is the weakest section in my otherwise favourite Monkey Island game.


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  2. I look forward for the ratings on this. Still haven't played this one, but the giant map scares me considering the slow walking speed.

    It was one of the main reasons I abandoned it after only a few minutes about 20 years ago. I also remember not being a fan of the dialogs and the overall look, but the screenshots seem to prove the graphics are great.

    If you're going to force the players to walk in such as huge world, you better have some good music. Fortunately I just checked and it seems the music, while not a masterpiece, is up to the task.

    So who knows, maybe I will play Simon 1 and 2 next. I even consider speeding up DOSBox if the walking speed gets too bad.

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    1. So who knows, maybe I will play Simon 1 and 2 next. I even consider speeding up DOSBox if the walking speed gets too bad.
      If my memory serves me right, it works much better in ScummVM. Then again, most things do compared to DOSBox, when it is supported.

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    2. The giant map is somewhat remedied by the teleport function, Anonymous. The game still feels quite slow, however. I'm currently working on the final rating and it's not easy. I'll try to be as fair as possible.

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  3. Although the puzzles are average and the humor is more miss than hit, this game looks gorgeous almost 30 years after being released

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    1. That's quite an astute assessment, Leo.

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    2. Regarding the visuals, the backgrounds possibly were originally supposed to be scrolling: https://forums.scummvm.org/viewtopic.php?t=14868

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    3. @Laukku This actually makes a lot of sense and would explain why there are so many screens that are simply scenery to walk through or places with small "find the exit" hotspots with little indication - if they originally weren't meant to stand all alone, but always intended to be a part of a literal 'be bigger picture'! Thanks for the link!

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  4. Hm, probably could've phrased it better - I didn't exactly think it was the most rewarding section, but I felt threatening the frog by holding the tadpole hostage ("Let me through or the tadpole gets it", or something along those lines) was one of the funniest and more original moments the game had to offer - though in retrospect, you're probably right, the puzzle chain to find out the names of the demons is probably more deserving of that notion.

    I found the ending very anticlimactic. The showdown against sordid is kind of cribbed from how Guy rush finishes off LeChuck in Monkey Island 1 (use the one item the new location has to offer at just the right moment), and then... Cut to black, and a weird show host shows up. It was such a strange, kind of surreal way to end the game.

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    1. If anything, "it was all just a dream" is even lamer than MI2's trippy theme park ending. It turns the game into a Shaggy Dog Story, i.e. absolutely nothing that the main character did made any difference.

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    2. Well, at least they do some sort of "Double Fake Out" here: Simon awakes in his bedroom, thinking it was all "just a dream", only to then immediately being whisked away again by a giant hand reaching through a magic portal, going "well, I guess I be don't have a say in whether there's going to be a sequel". It's all very meta, because suddenly he's become aware that he's a video game character. As a spur of the moment joke it's alright - but it isn't really a satisfying conclusion to the overall events of the game.

      And the sequel ignores that meta joke anyway, it directly follows the "Simon defeated Sordid" event and completely ignores questions like "but how did he get home?" Or "Wait, was it all a dream?" Minor spoilers (it's resolved immediately in the intro of Simon the Sorcerer 2, but rot 13 just in case): Ab, Fvzba qbrfa'g trg qenttrq onpx vagb gur snagnfl jbeyq ol n tvnag terra unaq yvxr gur svany fprar bs FGF vafvahngrf. That bit goes completely ignored and unexplained.

      Come to think of it, Adventuresoft always was a bit rubbish when it came to bringing their games to a satisfying conclusion...

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    3. Regarding "It turns the game into a Shaggy Dog Story, i.e. absolutely nothing that the main character did made any difference."

      The sequel makes quite clear in the intro that what Simon did actually did make quite a difference. Too bad that this isn't resolved in the original game's ending though! Maybe it's meant to be a joke/commentary on how many earlier adventure games just ended on some variation of a "Congratulations, you've won" splash screen or text box - the game show host seems to hint at that IMO - but if anything it made the ending sequence more confusing than satisfying.

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    4. @LD: I agree that the ending was anticlimactic, didn't mind it too much, though. The gameworld was so boring that a change of pace was really welcome at that point.

      @Anon: I LOVE MI2's trippy theme park ending because it's so much more than just the same old "it was all a dream" twist. After the credits Elaine Marley is still clinging to the rope (like she was during Guybrush's whole flashback story, i.e. the whole game) and wondering if LeChuck might have bewitched Guybrush down there. The whole backstage metaphor of the bowels of Dinky (Melee?) Island also lends itself to further interpretation. I actually think that MI3 really did a bad job of picking up the plot after that (although, to be fair, they had to cater to a new audience seeing as it was released a whopping six years later).

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    5. Return to Monkey Island also had to wrestle with MI2's strange ending, and they have done something interesting with it (saying no more at the risk of spoilers!).

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    6. The ending of MI2 along with the whole first two games lend themselves for very interesting theorising. (Linked video essay predates Return to Monkey Island by a few days, so no spoilers for it. Haven't yet played it so dunno how the theories hold up...)

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  5. Congrats on finishing. The mirror puzzle is one of the better puzzles in the game, requiring you to creatively apply gained information and taking place in two separate rooms. It (like the whole endgame) also happens in a small area, rather than relying on spreading its components over a vast world like much of the rest of the game.

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