Friday, 10 June 2016

Simon the Sorcerer (PC)

Developer:Adventure Soft|Release Date:1993|Systems:PC, Amiga, CD32, Acorn, Android, iPhone

This week on Super Adventures I'm taking a quick look at classic PC and Amiga adventure game Simon the Sorcerer. It's also got the subtitle The Original Adventure on my box, but I'm not calling it that.

According to Wikipedia:
Simon the Sorcerer or Simon the Magician, in Latin Simon Magus (Greek Σίμων ὁ μάγος), was a Samaritan magus or religious figure and a convert to Christianity, baptised by Philip the Evangelist, whose later confrontation with Peter is recorded in Acts 8:9–24.
But that's entirely irrelevant as the game's got nothing to do with him. This is an entirely unrelated Simon who performs completely different sorcery.

I've played Simon the Sorcerer before, I've even beaten the thing (with the help of a walkthrough), but it's been a while and all I remember about it now is the pitiful Swampling inadvertently poisoning Simon with his terrible cooking, and the theme song. Here, have a YouTube link to the theme so you can permanently burn it into your own brain as well.

I'll be playing the PC CD XP release through Scumm VM, just so you know. It's still pretty much the 1993 game as far as I know, and is likely exactly what you'd get from GOG.



The game starts with this long animated intro before the actual animated intro, with Simon putting on a magic show for the player. There's a lot of talking here as he introduces each of his tricks, but I had to cut it all out because this CD release has actual talking, and there's no option for subtitles.

This is actually supposed to be the opening credits, so I apologise to the developers for editing out all their names too. I had to edit a lot of things, the GIF's absolutely huge. Beautiful animation though. The Amiga version of the game came on 9 floppy disks and I'm surprised this didn't take up half of them all on its own.

Simon the Sorcerer box art
Speaking of fantastic art, check out the game's cover. It looks like a Terry Pratchett novel! It's even got a wizard on it.

It's just a shame the covers went downhill when the series went 3D.

The games apparently went a bit crap as well. I haven't played them myself, though looking at screenshots I can believe it. Some game series just don't suit the third dimension.

I keep thinking there's only the three games, but there's actually five Simon the Sorcerers in the world at this point, plus a pinball game and a Puzzle Pack. There was nearly a Kickstarter campaign for a sixth, but that came to a halt in February.

Somehow I don't think that's the end of it though. Even if it takes a decade for the next one to emerge, the success of the first game opened up a gate that can never be closed, and now that it's a franchise these things are just going to keep coming through into our plane of existence.

Anyway, the actual intro part of the intro starts with Simon as a regular normal 12 year old in regular normal 1993, listening to the theme music on his high tech dual cassette stereo system.
"This homework is really bugging me. I think I’ll find the dog and put it in the dryer again."
He wants to put the dog in the dryer again? Wow, Simon's a real bastard.

Simon eventually finds his dog Chippy up in the attic, locked in a chest. He got himself in there, it wasn't Simon's fault this time!

Chippy handed him a spell book from the chest, but Simon wasn't impressed and just tossed it aside. It apparently landed on the 'Portals to Alternate Dimensions' chapter though, as that's what he's looking at right now.

Wait… this is happening in the attic, right?

So how the hell did the dog climb that ladder? Anyway Chippy strolls through the portal, so Simon decides he might as well follow him. Because he's is an idiot.

I can skip these cutscenes by the way, it just jumps ahead to the next bit.

When Simon comes out of the portal he finds himself wearing a purple wizard robe, and nearly gets himself eaten by trolls or orcs or whatever.

Fortunately something happens and he escapes! I think the dog must have bit the chef in the ass. Smart animal.

Our hero finds himself... oh I'm sorry Simon, am I boring you?

I took a quick break to write stuff down so he put his Walkman on! Probably to avoid having to listen to the theme tune that's still playing. I clicked the screen to let him know I'm ready to play but he's taking his time putting the thing back into his hat.

I've no idea who's house this is by the way, he just invited himself in here off screen. It seems he was expected though as there's a note for him on the desk.
"Dear Simon, I am pleased to announce that you have been chosen, from literally hundreds of hopeful candidates, to perform a death-defying - but extremely worthwhile - quest, for which you will be rewarded quite a lot. All you have to do is rescue me from the hands of the evil sorcerer, Sordid. Feel free to use my extremely valuable spellbook and dog to assist you.

Look forward to seeing you soon. Wish you were here. Love and Kisses, Calypso - Grand High Wizard of the Village of Fleur Deli."
Fleur Deli, well there's a joke that doesn't work without subtitles. Wait... Chippy is Calypso's dog now? But he's Simon's dog, we saw that in the intro! Simon was about to throw him into a dryer back in his world.

Okay I checked the manual, and there's a bit of a story there that explains that Simon got Chippy on his 12th birthday, as a gift wrapped in shiny paper and left on his doorstep (with the spell book in his mouth). He apparently tried inserting his friend’s Tetris cart just to make absolutely certain it wasn’t the Game Boy he wanted in disguise, but nope, definitely a dog. So Chippy was Calypso's, then he gave him to Simon, but only as a trick to lure Simon here to rescue him. Makes sense to me.

The Amiga manual also has some interesting installation instructions. No wonder they sold so many copies.

Amiga 500
I have to become a wizard? But I'm already a sorcerer! Well I've got a magic hat at least.

So that's my first quest then: go to the tavern and find the wizards who can make me a wizard. Simon's actually taking this all surprisingly well, being trapped in a fantasy world in a damp robe that smells of human soup, but then he still thinks he's dreaming. Maybe he actually is, I can't remember.

You're looking at the Amiga floppy disk version in this shot, which is the version I'm familiar with. There's less colours on screen, the music quality's a little worse and it has to load between every room, but on the plus side there's no voice acting! There's also no picture of a bag behind the inventory, which is good because he stores everything in his hat.

Right now though all I've got in there is Calypso's note, a map and a magic postcard with a menu printed on one side. What's on the other side is a mystery.

Seems they took a bit of inspiration from the Lucasfilm games with that verb box. I've got 12 commands, like the original Secret of Monkey Island, but in this I can't automatically perform the default action by right clicking on something. I have to click in the verb box for anything more complicated than walking, which is a little annoying.

First thing I'm going to do sweep the screen with the mouse and pick up everything not screwed down, which is pretty much just a fridge magnet and a pair of scissors, and then I'm going to head out into the world to find this tavern full of wizards.

I'm not sure what I think about Simon's 'Hater's Gonna Hate' walk cycle, but it's... distinctive. He was stomping around like that in the intro too, before he got the wizard robe.

I've found a blacksmith one screen across from Calypso's house, though he's too engrossed in his work to chat so I can't show the dialogue system yet. He just just keeps hammering away all over the theme music that's still playing even now! Holy shit, it's no wonder I've had this tune seared into my brain for all these years..

“Hey man, heavy metal,” is what Simon said when I examined the anvil, to give you an idea of the game's humour. There's nothing much else to do here though and all the doors are locked, so I swiped the bell clapper from the table and left. The game's doing that thing where it gives me items along the way to the puzzle that needs them, so Simon comes across like a kleptomaniac grabbing things for no reason.

Oh thank fuck, the music's changed to an Arabian sounding theme! The game won't let me look at the ducks, but I can speak with Dodgy Geezer here, who's trying to sell me his priceless porcelain antiques.

So it turns out that the dialogue system is exactly like your typical pre-Sam & Max LucasArts game, which is good, because I like being able to choose the line I want to instead of clicking on a row of conversation icons in turn.

Unfortunately I can't buy anything here because I've got no money. So I took the right side exit and found an actual shop, but I couldn't buy anything there either. You know what I haven't found yet? Puzzles (or wizards).


SOON.


I’ve found the tavern at last! And it has its own music! Also a fruit machine that the game won't let me play. Minigame denied.

The Drunken Druid tavern's fairly busy right now, but there's no wizards in here and no option to ask about them! I could ask about the evil wizard Sordid though, and it turns out that business is good because generic RPG heroes keep dropping by for a pint on their way to die trying to kill him. So basically it's the opposite situation to Monkey Island, where the Scumm Bar was full of pirates because they were too scared to sail and face LeChuck.

By the way, did you spot the box of matches up here on the fruit machine? Can't beat the game without them!

The Secret of Monkey Island (PC)
Here's a GIF of the Scumm Bar in Monkey Island as a comparison. This is that famous scene where Guybrush finds the pirates in the back room and tells them he wants to be a pirate too.

Actually this would be a better comparison if I put it next to a screenshot of the back room of the Drunken Druid.

There you go. Hey, the wizards are back here! Now I can go tell them that I want to be a wizard too.

They're trying to trick me by putting on terrible country accents and saying "bain't" a lot, but I'm on to them. Though "I bain't be bein' no more magical like than a potato oo-ar." is definitely an early contender for the best line in the game.

When I move my mouse pointer over you it says 'Wizards.'
Actually that's the best line so far.

Breaking the fourth wall finally got them to admit who they are, though they won't let me become a wizard until I perform a service to the circle by getting them the necromancer staff they've utterly failed to find. They're also wondering where Calypso's gone, and the game's not giving me the option to tell them he's been captured! I can't even show them the note he gave me, it's ridiculous.

Right, so my new goal is to find a staff. I'll go around and see if I can ask anyone about it about it, but I bet it won't appear in my dialogue choices.

The road past the tavern leads back around to the blacksmith? This is like Lure of the Temptress all over again! Maybe I should draw up a map now and save myself some misery later.

Coming back here worked out for the best though, as I've spotted some rope this time around. I guess I wasn't thorough enough with my mouse cursor screen sweeping last time through. You know what would really help? A button to highlight the objects I can interact with.

Oh damn, I just checked and it actually has a button! A tap of F10 and everything I can click on is marked for me. I'm 98% sure I couldn't do that on the Amiga version.

YESSSS! I was hoping that would work. The storage potential of Simon's hat is only rivalled by Guybrush's pants. Also he picked that thing up one handed, so the guy's stronger than he looks.

He's not strong enough to pick up the wheel though unfortunately, though at least he acknowledges it exists which is more than he does with a lot of objects. Still I suppose it might be better this way, as it cuts down on red herrings.


SOME HEROIC BURGLARY LATER.


Whoa, I've made it out of the maze-like streets into the maze-like forest outside! I've got nowhere in particular to go, and no leads to follow, but the forest has its own music so I'm staying out here from now on. Or at least until I'm sick of it.

The screen never scrolls by the way, it just flicks to the next area, which is a bit of a shame really considering how seamlessly some of these backgrounds fit together. Simon's sprite doesn't shrink as he moves into the background either, so it seems this game engine isn't quite on SCUMM's level.

Another crossroads? I know point and click adventure games love their pain in the ass forest/jungle mazes, but couldn't they have waited until after I found a couple of puzzles to solve?

It wouldn't be so bad if there was anything out here except trees and more trees. Well okay I found an wise owl a few screens back, but the best I got out of him was a feather for my epic item collection. My inventory's like a bag full of tools I keep handy just in case I ever come across a job that needs doing.

A bird just swooped down and grabbed a mouse! Okay, now the animator's just showing off.

It doesn't loop like this in game by the way; it plays a different animation depending on which side of the screen you walk in from, so I edited them both together to show off how ridiculously well pixelled this dumb comedy game is. 256 colour VGA graphics rarely look so lovely.
 
It's just a shame this path goes to a dead end, so the screen serves absolutely no purpose but to make me waste my time.


MANY SCREENS LATER.


This game just keeps going! I'm not exactly stuck yet, but I'm getting really tempted to open up a walkthrough just so I can get on with the plot. I shouldn't have to hike for half an hour just to find the first problem to solve.

At least I've found a door I can open. Maybe this necromancer staff is just lying on the table inside for me to pick up, next to a map to where Calypso's being held and maybe couple of gold pieces so I can buy some junk from Dodgy Geezer.

Oh no, it's the Swampling!

Simon has been kind of a dick to people so far, but even he can't help but take pity on the poor Swampling. It's his birthday you see... well his actual birthday was two weeks ago, but everyone's really late. No one comes by to see him any more, probably because he's obsessed with forcing people to try his gross swamp stew.

This GIF is another editing job, as I couldn't force Simon to eat two bowls of the stuff in a row. After clicking the bowl a second time he bolts for the door. So I decided to pour the stew into a specimen jar for later instead. Can never have too many items after all!

Nothing to do here either.

Awesome, I’ve got an actual puzzle to solve! I need to figure out how to get this sleeping giant to knock the tree down so I can get across the chasm. I haven't got a clue what's on the other side of the chasm, but I'm going to imagine it's a staff.

Well I can't shout loud enough to wake him up or light a fire under him with the matches but maybe I can use the feather. Nope, didn't work. Back to the last fork in the road then.


BACK IN THE FOREST.


Aha, I finally solved something! Well actually I just went through the cutscene until Simon automatically pulled the thorn from this poor barbarian's foot and made himself a friend. It's just like the story of Androcles and the Lion! Well actually it's more like 'Tom and Jerry', as he gave me a whistle to use next time I'm in trouble. I just blow the whistle and he'll come running over to bail me out.

I also met some starving woodworm and a guy playing a sousaphone who won't shut up, so I'll need to look out for the necromancer's staff, some classy wood and maybe a quieter instrument. I told Simon to pouring a specimen jar full of swamp stew into the guy's sousaphone to persuade him to desist but he wouldn't go along with the plan. Which is fair enough, I didn't expect it to work, but it's a shame he had nothing funny to say when I tried it.

Now I've wandered into a re-enactment of the fairy tale 'Three Billy Goats Gruff'. It seems like the goats have been paying the troll to go through the routine of letting the first two goats walk past before getting knocked in the water by the third, and the guy's finally sick of it. So he's taking industrial action, and wants me to give him a goat to eat before he'll let me cross.

I have to be honest, this guy's performance is making the rest of the voice acting seem much better by comparison. It's so low energy I can barely catch what he's saying. I think he wants to have a go of my new whistle though.

Oh man, that was beautiful! That's exactly as 'Tom and Jerry' as I was hoping it'd be!

I wish I could say it was my genius level problem solving skills that brought me to this outcome, but all I did was walk past the barbarian on the way here. The rest solved itself. But maybe I can give that wooden placard he was holding to the woodworm!

Nope, he doesn't want to give it to them, and won't tell me why. I'll just carry on rightwards then.


A LITTLE BIT FURTHER ON.


Crap, I've hit another dead end.

Wait, I clicked the left side of the screen to leave, but I must have clicked a little too low as Simon's climbing down a secret exit! I've come across a few hidden exits along the way, though I don't think they developers intended them to be. The art's fantastic to look at, but not always so great at showing where I can go.

Whoa, I found Gollum down here! I would've had no idea who this guy was the first time I played the game, but I've seen the 'Lord of the Rings' movies since then and I'm fully equipped to get the references.

Oh, he's just a cosplayer, trying to fish for some food for the annual meeting of the Tolkien Appreciation Society that's going on inside that cave. I gave him the swamp stew and told him it was edible, and he ran inside to serve it to the others. See what I mean about Simon being a dick?

He left me his fishing rod so I tried to see if I could catch the necromancer's staff, but all I got was a pile of trash and an invisibility ring. So that didn't help at all. Back to the last fork in the road then.


A BIT OF WALKING LATER.


Hang on, I've found a bell without a clapper, and I have a clapper in my inventory! I've finally been able to use the 'use' command to solve a problem! Though why I'd want to ring the bell I've no idea. Because it's there?

Ringing the bell got the attention of Rapunzel, who threw down her hair for me to climb up.

Unfortunately Rapunzel actually turned out to be Repulser, a pig cursed into human form by an evil witch, until she's kissed by a someone from another dimension. So Simon kissed her, and that's another problem that's solved itself.

I tried to steal a bit of her floorboards for the woodworm, but Simon wasn't interested, so I guess I'm done here. Pig obtained. Back to the last fork in the road.

Locations have been appearing on my map as I visit them, so finding my way around isn't as much of a pain as it could've been. Well okay there's only a few places marked so it's a pretty shitty guide, but I can fast travel to any of them instantly, then hike over to where I actually want to be.

Also the edges were like that before I picked up the matches, honest.

Click to view giant sized map.
Here's what an actual map of the forest would look like, and the fact that I spent time making this instead of playing the game should tell you a lot. I thought about editing out all the Simons and mouse cursors, but they make it more obvious how many screens of nothing I had to walk through to get anywhere.


EVENTUALLY.


I gave in trying to figure out what to do next and checked a walkthrough. It said to Move the crate in Swampling's house to reveal a trapdoor. Never would've guessed that.

But now I'm stuck again, as I've reached a loose plank. I tried putting the ladder down to walk on and Simon just dismissed it out of hand, like he does with all my good ideas. Well I've got I’ve got over a dozen inventory items and a million places to go back to, so trial and error's off the table. Alright walkthrough, what else can I do now?

Walkthrough says I can go back and collect the Oaf's magic beans I flooded a while back to plant them in the magic compost at the back of Calypso's house to grow a watermelon to throw into the sousaphone so I can get the giant to smash the tree.

Wait, there's a way to get to the back of Calypso's house? I didn't notice any kind of path last time I was there.

One thing I have noticed though, is how many rocks are looking at me in this game. There's more creepy rock faces on the walls than in Little Big Adventure 2! Well... maybe not that many, but there's a lot.

Or maybe I'm just going crazy and seeing things that aren't there. This forest music has been playing on a loop for so long now I can imagine my sanity must be slipping away.

Okay that's definitely 100% a face this time.

I tried having a chat with him but he's a cliff, so that didn't work out. I guess I'll just keep walking past then.

Hey I found a dragon sitting on a huge pile of gold! I was hoping to see the magic necromancer staff, but fuck it, I could just buy a new one with all that money.

Oh Simon refuses to go over and pick the coins up because he doesn't want to be incinerated, the coward. He won't even use the invisibility ring! Well screw him then, I'm done with the game.


CONCLUSION

At first I was thinking I was going to have to write a miserable conclusion for Simon the Sorcerer, whining about how the game bored me to tears, and I wasn't looking forward to that because this is actually a pretty likeable game. But after a lot of hiking I finally started to run into gameplay and it became an actual point and click adventure with the potential to entertain!

I've played a lot of adventures inspired by LucasArts games, but Simon the Sorcerer basically is a LucasArts game... except made by a completely unrelated team in Britain. Which is a good thing for the most part, as it's slick, pretty, and it seems impossible for a player to die or get hopelessly stuck because they didn't pick up an item two hours ago. There's no major gameplay flaws I could pick out here. Also the music's as beautiful and catchy as it is annoying, perhaps even more so!

Unfortunately the game can't make up its mind if it wants to be a picturesque fantasy adventure or a dumb fairy tale spoof, so there's a lot of time spent walking through the woods admiring the pixelled scenery. Games like Monkey Island also have empty screens to add atmosphere, I'm not saying it's a bad idea necessarily, but Simon the Sorcerer takes it to the next level. Plus Monkey Island opens up as you play, while this dumps most of the game on you right from the start, piling items on you as you hike through it looking for something to do.

Also I love British comedy as much as anyone (seeing as I'm as British as anyone), but I found the jokes more miss than hit. It doesn't help that 33 year old Chris Barrie was incredibly miscast as a 12 year old, and didn't seem to have been given the context of some of his lines. Plus I kept giving the game opportunities to be hilarious with my failure to solve puzzles and all it gave back was "That doesn't work."

I can see why a lot of people like the game and if you're one of them then you should go right on doing that, but I don't really have the patience for it. Still, I had a better time playing it than the boring Lure of the Temptress, the frustrating Curse of Enchantia, and the downright terrible, rubbish, no-good Dark Seed.


There, I finally wrote about Simon the Sorcerer for you!

But if you'd like to share your own opinions of the game or take a guess at what the next one's going to be, then you'll be wanting to use the comment box below.

8 comments:

  1. Hahah, not sure if you hate me or enjoy my little suggestions.

    So, again, this is very interesting. Having the view of someone know about games, and playing one of those classics for the first time-ish, and actually nailing the experience is awesome. Since this game came in 1993, I played from start to finish like 20 times, so it's hard to make a good analysis.

    Yes, having 90% of the game unlocked from the start is weird, specially since you were supposed to stumble into the puzzles by chance. Simon 2 did the same thing, but with smaller maps.

    Good job, as always ! I think I need to pass you my YT channel and let you make requests ! haha

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You could drop the link in the comments and suffer the requests of all the people who keep asking me to play games! I'll tell the spam filters to stand down this once.

      Not that I actually mind requests (especially when they come with the requested game attached), I just hate that I can only get around to playing a tiny fraction of the games people ask for, and even then I'm usually a couple of years late.

      Delete
    2. lol, I get lots of weird requests too, so I can understand your "pain" haha.

      This is my channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCChWEScysESbFjXgdFkrVBg

      I'm currently making compilations of all existing games for a platform. People tend to ask me to do one for PS4 for example (games are still being released !), but yeah, anything from sixth generation or before, I try to take it.

      Delete
    3. Man you manage to pack a lot of games into 10 minutes, I'm envious! Also impressed.

      Delete
  2. "Oh Simon refuses to go over and pick the coins up because he doesn't want to be incinerated, the coward. He won't even use the invisibility ring!"
    What a shame. It could be reenactment of Hobbits's scene
    But the Simon is a human sorcerer not hobbit adventurer.
    Cant blame much about it

    ReplyDelete
  3. Howard Wolowitz from The Big Bang Theory I just saw in the box art.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Okay, now the animator's just showing off.

    Well, that's the Amiga scene in a nutshell. Although this was probably released on PC first. That'll teach me to be sarcastic.

    Is the next game one of those janky Sherlock Holmes games with the teleporting Watson?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nothing so interesting I'm afraid. No Creepy Watson here.

      Delete

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