Saturday 1 April 2023

Simon the Sorcerer - Final(ly) Rating


By Will Moczarski

Here goes nothing! It took me six months to rate this game which must be a record for the blog. What happened to me? Laukku put it very nicely: “Still distracted by BloodNet, he claimed not to have forgotten Simon the Sorcerer's final rating in that game's introduction post.” 

Sorry about the long wait, I was (and still am) busy playing BloodNet among other things. To refresh my memory I reread all of my posts and played through the whole game once more. There will be two more Simon posts in the near future (about the talkie version and about the contemporary reviews) but finally the score will be revealed. And what can I say? It sums up my opinion of the game quite well.

Puzzles & Solvability

Although Simon is full of puzzles on the surface it is really full of fetch quests and pixel hunting underneath. Once you’ve found the right items you will swiftly progress because the solution is really clear (let the piglet eat the truffle door) or because it is so obtuse that you will resort to trial and error (use the bucket with a hole in it and the torch to simulate a full moon in order to make the druid transform into a frog). The most unfair puzzle by far was a pixel hunt: discovering that the floorboards in Repulser’s tower were a hotspot. Had I not played the game for the blog I wouldn’t have stuck it out without a walkthrough at that point. It took me three hours of my life that I am never getting back to find that hotspot.

The endgame was the most consistent part of it by a long shot. It was like a secluded little puzzle box full of delightful challenges. You have to slog through a lot of rather boring fetch quests to get there, however, it’s well worth it.

Simon also took some positive cues from LucasArts, notably the lack of dead man walking scenarios and surprise deaths. 4.

Nonsensical, yes, but my favourite puzzle from the game. 

Interface & Inventory

The interface is a true copy of LucasArts’s SCUMM interface. It’s serviceable and clean. Also, the inventory was never cluttered with red herrings or too many items in general. I enjoyed that my inventory was emptied for the endgame. Saving the game and travelling the world via map were also handled through inventory items. This didn’t work out so well, I think, because in the later stages of the game you had to scroll through several pages of inventory to find either of those items instead of just using an intuitive shortcut. 8.

I liked the fresh start (and the pile of now-useless stuff Simon left behind).

Story & Setting

The game consists mostly of fetch quests and the overarching plot is nothing to write home about. And even the fetch quests often don’t make sense. Remember Nafflin the Necromancer’s staff I was supposed to find for the four wizards? Yeah, me neither. The most memorable NPCs are parts of small set pieces (the contest with the witch is a good example) but none of them can hold a candle to Carla the Sword Master, Stan the Salesman, Sophia Hapgood, or even Dr. Fred Edison. 

If you told the details of the plot to somebody it may tick all the boxes but in the actual game all of the events just sort of happen without the involvement of the player (or the main character). You never feel threatened and there’s no tension. At the same time the game is sometimes funny but not funny enough to keep you on the edge of your seat waiting for the next brilliant joke. 

The locations are pretty but that's for another category. They are also quite empty. Many of them have one or two (often well-hidden) items to interact with and that’s it. That might be par for the course in a 1990 game but for a 1993 game it feels kind of old-fashioned and unfinished. Some of the locations are very similar, such as the mine and the cave. It can be confusing. In the same vein, the world is large but not very interesting. Many locations feel samey and only the mountains and the village are really distinguishable from the rest while both areas are not particularly thrilling by themselves, either. Compare this even with adventure games from the late 1980s (like Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders or Quest for Glory), and the mediocrity of the gameworld is even more blatant. Alex Romanov pointed out in the comments that there was a “ton of missed opportunities for some lore” and I couldn’t agree more with him. 5.

Where am I? Generistan?

Sound & Graphics

The music is good. Some of you apparently love it and remember it to be among the best examples of the genre. Sadly, I don’t agree. The main theme is not very inventive but rather quite irritating after a while. And the forest theme may be among the best themes in the game (it has some sweet chord changes) but it’s still not breathtakingly gorgeous to me. The snow theme is also quite pretty. However, all of the LucasArts games from the era have a much better soundtrack, and some of the Sierra games do, too. 

The graphics are pretty for a 1993 game. While Simon’s walking animation drives me crazy (it’s so lethargic in an already slow-paced game) the background graphics are very nice. They are not very memorable, however. Lots of forest scenes, little birds fluttering about, playful squirrels bouncing around, I get it. Some rocks and ponds and houses. King’s Quest V does a much better job at evoking an actual fantasy world. I had a hard time picking screenshots because much of it looks alike. 6.

Hats off to the graphic designer.

Environment & Atmosphere

A LOT of the ideas are lifted straight off the first two Monkey Island games (the opening credits, the initiation plot, the important looking wizards in the pub, the whole pub, come to think of it, hiding inside a crate to infiltrate an otherwise unbreachable fortress, items that are too big for the inventory are picked up and humorously stowed away regardless, the swamp eating contest, the loose plank, the roll of extra strong mints, you steal from a sleeping person by cutting off something, you have to replace a missing climbing pin, the list goes on and on...).

It’s okay to borrow some ideas from the leading examples of the genre, I guess, but it’s notable that all of the original ideas are far superior (just compare the name “SCUMM Bar” to “The Drunken Druid” and tell me I’m wrong). If it was meant to be a parody one of the problems might be that the sources of inspiration weren't all that serious to begin with. How do you parody a parody?

Someone said that Simon the Sorcerer was the result of a failed attempt on Adventure Soft’s part to obtain the rights for Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. That would make sense but it’s also an almost tragic failure because Simon’s characters are really not nearly as memorable as Pratchett’s, and Discworld, at least to me and I’m not even a fan, is so much funnier that the comparison almost hurts. 

Other than that, the environment is varied but slightly bland. It's okay. 5.

"There are no clever moves that can help you now."

Dialogue & Acting

Most conversations in Simon are quite lengthy, especially the ones set in the Drunken Druid and the one with the woodworms. Some are more entertaining (like the one with Doctor Von Jones or the one with Golum) but especially the cutscenes feel slow-paced and static. The game’s meta-humour is a matter of taste. I like that you can reveal that the wizards are actually wizards and not farmers by hinting at the description that shows up when you point your mouse at them. The game’s attempts at making fun of their protagonist are not as successful and really a far cry from Guybrush trying to order a drink or getting a library card in Monkey Island 2. 6.

Harassing a poor Tolkien fan.

It's time to add it all up...

...and we have a PISSED rating of 57 points which seems pretty accurate to me. Simon the Sorcerer is an above average game, a bit bland at times but not really irritating either. Bluddy’s guess was closest (58) – congratulations, Bluddy! 

What’s next? I’m still beating my head against Grant’s Tomb in BloodNet, having failed about 40 times, sometimes almost winning and sometimes losing the battle completely using exactly the same tactics. I’ve decided to give it two more shots before putting in a request for assistance. 

Also, there will be two more Simon the Sorcerer posts – one about the 1995 talkie version of the game (a major improvement or a major nuisance? We’ll see!), another one about the reviews of the time. Sorry for the major interruptions, my life is just really BUSY right now...

CAP Distribution

100 CAPs to Will Moczarski
  • Sorcery Award – 100 CAPs for playing through (and finally rating) Simon for our enjoyment

40 CAPs to Joe Pranevich
  • Newsroom Award – 40 CAPs for reviewing Summer Daze: Tilly's Tale for our enjoyment 

15 CAPs to El Despertando
  • Companion Award – 10 CAPs for playing along, at least for a while
  • Sequelitis Award – 5 CAPs for his expertise regarding the late sequels to the series

10 CAPs to Alex Romanov
  • Feels like a Companion Award – 5 CAPs for his prolific comments that made me feel like he was playing along
  • Music Appreciation Award – 5 CAPs for his undying love of the forest and snow themes

10 CAPs to Bluddy
  • Psychic Prediction Award – 10 CAPs for (almost) correctly guessing the score to Simon the Sorcerer

5 CAPs to Laukku
  • Walking Chest of Knowledge Award – 5 CAPs for adding lots of interesting tidbits about the game

5 CAPs to Lisa H. 
  • Skull Island Award – 5 CAPs for sporting a solid pirate rep 


  1. Skull Island Award – 5 CAPs for sporting a solid pirate rep
    ...I don't remember what comment this was even for lol.

  2. I fired up Simon the Sorcerer back when the talkie version came out... and your review pretty much echoes my thoughts about it at the time. It was pretty enough, and had a bit of charm, but everything it did felt like it was done just that little bit better by the likes of Monkey Island - and if you subscribe to the sum of the whole being worth more than the sum of the individual parts paradigm, this felt a long way behind as an entire experience despite being pretty close in each department. I didn't play it for long then, and I have minimal desire to revisit it now.

    1. Oh, and I know Simon is highly praised and fondly remembered by the Amiga community, and I suspect part of that is the fact that it was released in a 256 colour AGA version at a time when Sierra and Lucasarts had both thrown the cue back in the rack when it came to the Amiga (as far as I'm aware, neither released a game taking advantage of the AGA chipset).

    2. I didn't know Simon was so popular in the Amiga community. That's interesting, PsOmA!

  3. I would've give a somewhat higher rating for Sound & Graphics (possibly because I played with MT-32 sound) but also a lower for story, so it evens out and I agree with the final result. I did guess higher, but my opinion lowered as I replayed. I also replayed soon afterward the sequel which I find to be a much better game, despite a couple of infamous puzzles and a still thin plot. It's way funnier for one, even though Simon's newfound crosses-the-line-twice level of meanness isn't for everybody (I think of him in that game as a parody of adventure game protagonists taking advantage of others). The hotkey to reveal all hotspots is also a godsend.

    1. I think I remember the "meanness" discussion surrounding Simon 2 but didn't find his behaviour that unusual in a funny adventure game. And I'm truly looking forward to pressing the hotkey after all of this pixel-hunting "goodness".

  4. ThatSpanishAnonymousWhoLovesCoktelVision2 April 2023 at 01:12

    This game is a good example of something I've been thinking: Do we really need to see our character walking on the screen, sometimes very slowly, in graphic adventures? I mean, the obvious advantages are mostly immersion and a couple of minor puzzles, but as the map starts getting bigger, it becomes a problem (and only 1 or 2 games have the "fast walking" feature).

    Another thing I noticed is how British graphic adventures somehow didn't reach the level of American ones, or even French. Lure of the Temptress, Simon, Touché, Innocent Until Caught... even Beneath a Steel Sky feels like a failed attempt despite of the wonderful visuals. Some of my favorite retro games are British (Tomb Raider, GTA 2 and 3, Matchday 2, Saboteur), but the 16-bit era was weird for British games with no FPS and only a few mediocre to terrible graphic adventures (let's not forget about Curse of Enchantia).

    1. Walking being largely unnecessary is a conclusion I've also come to. Lack of it is one thing I especially appreciate about Myst clones, text adventures, Legend Entertainment games and most Japanese adventures (though you walk in Clock Tower and Shadow of Memories). Gabriel Knight 2 too, in it almost always you 1: click on something, 2: player character takes only a single step and 3: the screen transitions. On the other end of the spectrum, I'm playing Heavy Rain which is torture on a keyboard.

    2. ThatSpanishAnonymousWhoLovesCoktelVision2 April 2023 at 03:32

      I mean, let's think about what you can do with the 3rd person view:
      - Walk around <- I think we can live without that
      - See the character you are <- Possible in 1st person, puzzle type not fun
      - See any customes you're wearing <- Possible in 1st person, puzzle type not fun
      - Get a better/more impressive/more cinematic perspective <- Good, but not necessary
      - Walk over some tiles to solve a puzzle <- You can use buttons in 1st person
      - Play some action sequence <- Indy's boxing was great, but the rest...
      - Fall to death on cliffs <- We'll have to live without this too
      - Get through mazes with the same perspective in each screen <- We'll have to use 1st person mazes then
      - Hide your character behind something Metal Gear style <- Thanks God this is not possible in 1st person
      - Look at the door you just went through to close it or check for a key <- Nah, we don't need this
      I'm probably missing something, but overall it's clear 1st person games are more playable. I personally know one person who hates 1st person graphic adventures for some reason... This person also is a Sierra hater and has never even finished Space Quest V, Sins of the Fathers or any Sierra game at all. And ironically she completed Simon recently wihout too many complaints except for the offensive jokes. But guess what? This person has stopped playing graphic adventures for several months now and is now into modern RPGs... I wonder if someday she will see the light.

    3. As a general first-person hater, I'll say that for me, seeing the ego character helps me place him or her in the action, and fits in bettewr with the other characters. It worked in Myst, I suppose, for the people who liked that game. But a game like Monkey Island, in first person, would lose so much of the humor and hijinks.

      In fact, I'd say that for a humorous graphic adventure, first person would be awful. We NEED to see Larry Laffer and what happens to him to make that game as fun as it is.

      Something I would add to Laukku's list:
      - Seeing the facial expression of your ego in response to what you just did or an NPC just did (for example, the look on Guybrush's face when he pulls LeChuck's underwear)

    4. I think another aspect to actually seeing your character is animation of your main character. Well-done animations of your character interacting with the game world can really enhance an otherwise mediocre game. Shame that seems to be less and less common as time goes on.
      "Another thing I noticed is how British graphic adventures somehow didn't reach the level of American ones, or even French."
      Were there even British adventure companies who did graphic adventures outside of Horror/Adventure Soft and the guys who did The Hound of Shadow? I guess technically later Magnetic Scrolls games would count too. It's a shame because while very difficult, the text adventures that came out of the country were very interesting.
      but the 16-bit era was weird for British games with no FPS
      I mean, the 16-bit era wasn't exactly the peak of FPS games being released, so it's not like anyone else was releasing scores of successes yet. They did have a couple though, the only good one being Hired Guns IIRC. Funny you mention Curse of Enchantia though, as Core did Corporation, which was another early attempt at the genre.
      Play some action sequence <- Indy's boxing was great, but the rest...
      There are quite a few first-person adventure games with action sequences. They're not very good.
      Look at the door you just went through to close it or check for a key <- Nah, we don't need this
      I think you're forgetting something here, this is very much possible in first-person adventures.
      That said, I think walking can also be a problem in larger first-person games. Some of the larger games need a "zip" function just as much as a third-person game. At least some games did implement such a function though.

      Also, are there very many first-person comedy adventures? Outside of Japan, I mean. I think Normality is one, and uh...uh...

    5. I'm not sure. If it's done well (and fast) it gives us a sense of space. I never did mind it in LucasArts adventure games. I never even noticed, to be honest. Walking in early Sierra games felt like an excuse to let you break your neck on every set of stairs which was not only frustrating but also completely kicked me out of the fiction every time. Why would the only one who could save the kingdom be incapable of climbing stairs? It just seemed silly but then most parts of early Sierra games felt like that to me.

      That said, Simon is almost a walking simulator in many parts of the game. Without the dense atmosphere or the artsy voice-over. It could really use a 'double-click to get to your exit immediately' option.

    6. >first-person comedy adventures? Outside of Japan, I mean

      Callahan's Crosstime Saloon? Haven't played it, but from what I gather it's a comedy - although pun- rather than slapstick-based, the former of which I suppose 1st person is more suitable for. Superhero League of Hoboken by the same company appears to be comedy too, but an adventure-RPG hybrid also.

    7. I definitely don't need walking-on-screen animations in third person adventure games, but I tried to replay Shivers a few years back and found that the complete lack of transition animations when moving was a real problem for me. Possibly this wouldn't be an issue in games where the art style reinforced the continuity of space, but in Shivers, and to a lesser extent (original flavor) Myst, the "slideshow" nature of the transitions frequently left me disoriented and badly disrupted my sense of the geography my character was inhabiting. Just a short animated "Here is the path from where you were to where you are" does wonders for keeping my brain properly populated with a sense of the layout of the space I'm in.

      I'm even more of a fan of the crop of games that did that trick where individual locations were freely-pannable panoramas; when I replayed Shivers there were times when I wasn't even entirely clear if I was meant to be turning on the spot, or moving to the left.

  5. I get the impression for both the Story and Environment categories that you write down a long list of negatives and somehow end up at an average score anyway? Judged by their respective descriptions I would expect you to rate them at about two points each.

    1. I have to say that's true, Radiant, and I even noticed the same thing while proofreading the post. However, I didn't find any other way of putting it because much of Simon is quite unremarkable but not really annoying. It's really just a little above average compared to its peers, and I feel it's sometimes most difficult to write about the average and the unremarkable. Does that make sense?

  6. I still haven't gotten used to a rating system where 57 is above average.

    1. Just to be pedantic, since the full range is 100 points, 57 is literally above average...

    2. Just checked the spreadsheet, and the average of all the scores so far is about 40.2. The average of just the mainline games played is 48.6.
      So yes, 57 is above average.

    3. @Michael average as in mean, or median? (not being sassy; honestly asking which you meant)

    4. A median in this case would result in a decimal part of 0 or 5 because we're dealing with whole numbers here.

    5. Interestingly, for missed classics, a 57 would be a never before seen score, because so far they've topped out at 55.

    6. @Lisa: You're thinking of the second game. The first one is rather mild-mannered (not mean). (sorry, can never resist a bad pun)

  7. Bigfluffylemon2 April 2023 at 07:16

    Thanks for the rating. I never played this one, although I did play the sequel, which IIRC had much better puzzles and story.

    Will be interested to see your take on the talkie. They got Chris Barrie of Red Dwarf fame to play Simon, which made it quite notable, at least in the UK.

    1. So far I have to say that the talkie version hasn't aged all that well (characters don't only walk slowly now but also walk slowly) but maybe I'll get accustomed to it after some more playing.

  8. Being a big fan of Lucas Arts as a child, I got this one as the german talkie-version as an easter present. I quite liked it and played it a lot, but I got stuck at one point and never found a walkthrough before the Internet was aviable many years later. Years later i bought the second part and enjoyed it a lot more, but in retrospect I agree with your rating: Both above-average examples of the genre, but nothing you really need to revisit. Especially the humor in the second part aged horribly, at least in the german version.

    1. I'm hearing a lot of different things about the second game and they don't quite add up. My own memory of it is very hazy and I never played it again after 1995, maybe? Although the first one was not really an enjoyable experience (apart from the endgame) I'm almost looking forward to tackling Simon 2 now.

  9. ThatSpanishAnonymousWhoLovesCoktelVision3 April 2023 at 03:08

    Since this game clearly copies Lucasarts, and considering how Monkey Island parodied Sierra games with the "fake death" on the cliff, I wonder if Sierra made some Lucasarts parody in any of their games.

    I don't think so, because this should have happened in a Larry or Space Quest game, and I have played them all at this point without noticing anything.

    They could have parodied the multiple verb interface, for example, filling the screen with 30 verbs in some sequence with a barelyu visible playing area. Too late for that, I guess!

    (By the way, the person I know who loves Monkey Island games and Day of the Tentacle, who recently decided to try The Dig to abandon it soon afterwards, who recently finished Simon just because the similar interface and who refuses to even attempt to play a Sierra game, and who has stopped playing this genre after Simon, I suspect the joke in Monkey Island played a big part in solidifying her Sierra hate painting Sierra games as a pain in the ass, which is obviously not the case in at least 5 or 6 of them that she sadly will never play).

    1. @Laukku: Thank you, that was on the tip of my tongue. Can't think of any other examples offhand, though.