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...
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