Note: The reason to revisit this classic game was because of my discussion with Later Levels’ editor Kim about the (mis)use of 3D in classic point-and-click games that were originally in 2D. Kim will play this title and the other two games of the series in her upcoming Twitch live stream that starts this Saturday, 8 September 2018, at 09:00 BST.
Adventure Soft‘s point-and-clicker sequel Simon the Sorcerer 2 still entertains after all these years, mixing classic fantasy, adventure and silly humor.
Simon the Sorcerer II: The Lion, the Wizard and the Wardrobe (PC)
(UK 1995/Turkey 2018 (remaster), developers/publishers: Adventure Soft/MojoTouch (remaster), platforms: PC MS-DOS, Windows, Amiga, iOS, Android)
Young boy Runt accidentally resurrects evil sorcerer Sordid who wants to take revenge on Simon who finds himself transported back to the other dimension in a wardrobe.
Another fantasy story
At first, it seems that the plot is more engaging with the introduction of Sordid’s helping hand, but it soon turns out to be just an excuse for Simon to meet illustrious characters and run from one strange situation into another, just as in the first game. Only a few cut-scenes and the finale spice things up a bit, but the potential of telling a more interesting story isn’t fulfilled, as both Runt and Sordid mainly stay in the background. One only learns something about them in the beginning and at the end, but that’s about it. It should also be noted that the game ends with a very annoying cliffhanger which makes the whole ordeal of getting the mucusade, a fuel that can power the wardrobe in which Simon arrives to bring him back home, a bit pointless.
An anti-hero in a topsy-turvy world
However, if one accepts the fact that getting to know the world and some pretty strange characters better, then the minimalist story works quite well. One has to be patient with the main character, though, because he isn’t easiest to like. While Simon isn’t as obnoxious as Rufus of the Deponia games, his sexist remarks feel rather out of place, while his actions and reactions to all sorts of people aren’t always justified. One might say that’s what makes an anti-hero, but if the comments and behavior are out of line in almost every situation, it can become a bit tiresome after a while.
However, considering what kind of people and creatures Simon meets on his way, it’s somehow understandable why he isn’t the most positive-thinking guy around. Eccentric characters like a pet shop proprietor who experiments on animals by creating Frankenstein-like versions of two species, a joke shop owner who always makes fun of Simon with various gag tools, the insane society of people who only behave this way for a short time to prevent becoming crazy later on… The list goes on and shows that the world Simon visited before is even weirder than one would have imagined.
Modern parodies and other pop culture shenanigans
Of course it’s not all an imitation of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld world, but it becomes obvious where the influences come from, as fantasy and fairy-tale tropes are ridiculed by putting more modern ideas into people’s heads. So the Swampling isn’t the only one who likes his mud stew, as he has actually built a fast food empire, the only downside being that his recipes have been tampered with by artificial flavor enhancers. The world Simon traverses is much bigger and a lot sillier, and even if most places and characters only serve as parodies of well-known stories, e.g. Papa Bear of the three bears being the police force hunting down Goldilocks, it’s still an immersive world to be in that can also include Mr. T from the A-Team on a pirate ship without any narrative problems.
Despite often not making a lot of sense, the characters populating all these places still act as real people, or at least as people leaning towards the crazy side of life. There are also quite a few almost disturbing sequences. Besides the failed animal experiments in the pet shop, Simon morphs into all sorts of strange things at some point, and there’s a version of hell where Sordid is fed porridge by his over-sized mother. Unlike the almost fairy-tale like atmosphere of its predecessor, the sequel presents much more weirdness than is bearable.
Laugh all you want
The humor is again hit and miss, which is to be expected with so many jokes and often surreal situations. It might not be on par with Terry Pratchett or Monty Python, but there are still enough funny scenes with unexpected outcomes. While some of the dialogues can be a bit long and not every punchline hits its target, the good parts outweigh the bad ones. So anyone finding the use of a real animal as the king’s seal amusing or whoever can raise a smile when the Lady of the Lake protecting King Arthur’s legendary sword turns out to be someone wearing a diver’s suit will have quite a good time. The adventure game genre is also constantly made fun of with direct addresses to the player, but also Simon’s comments about clichés like doing fetch quests or having a specific character have an object that doesn’t make much sense now but that can be of use later on.
It’s a big world with lots of puzzle opportunities
Despite offering a bigger world and more places to visit, one doesn’t get lost and thankfully doesn’t encounter a labyrinth, and it’s less difficult to get from one place to another. Even if one can’t use the map every time, leaving each screen and then choosing the next destination usually doesn’t take up too much time, except Simon’s slow walking animations. The interconnected puzzles make constant backtracking an essential gameplay element, but as there are often many problems to solve and many characters to please with certain tasks or items, one always has something to do. However, one often solves puzzles or picks up items that only become important later on. There are usually clear goals, but with so many obstacles and objects filling the inventory, keeping track of all the places and people isn’t easy, especially since there isn’t any journal or any other way to check what to do next. But that’s obviously all part of the classic adventure feeling.
The puzzles themselves are usually inventory-based and fun with some original uses, although they adhere to a logic that isn’t always obvious. This isn’t only because there are so many items to combine or use, places and people to remember, but because they are so downright silly that the solutions are just as ridiculous as the problems themselves, e.g. getting past a monster dog that doesn’t even require any item or other puzzle to solve first, but something far more obvious: picking it up. Easy to overlook items but also characters that can hide at some points are minor niggles, though, with only few puzzles that could have been left out, as they’re clearly aimed at making fun of something, e.g. a very annoying dialogue in which one has to have knowledge of the strange British currency system.
Not so different looks and sounds
The sequel’s graphics don’t look much different than what came before, which isn’t a bad thing, as the pixel art is still great with some lovely colorful backgrounds and character models, the latter of which veering more towards the bizarre. Animations are just as fun to look at and there’s always something happening in the background or if one leaves Simon alone for a while so that he starts making some funny moves. The only problem with the animations is that they slow down some scenes, so in order for starting a conversation one has to wait before characters stop whatever they’re doing.
Music-wise, there’s even more variety thanks to the bigger world, with some great tunes to listen to that give each environment and situation their appropriate accompaniment and add to the mood and atmosphere. The voice acting is great, too, although Simon’s voice can become very annoying, as his nasal tone and almost whiny delivery of lines are hard to endure in some conversations. Having some awkward pauses during dialogues and that the text isn’t in sync with speech is also quite disconcerting.
25 years, but not the definitive edition
The 25th Anniversary Edition is again a mixed bag of unnecessary and partly helpful additions. The graphics filter dabbles too much with the original pixel art to make the characters and backgrounds less detailed or more washed out than they actually are. The new control scheme is more truthful to what the sequel did with the replacement of verbs by symbols, which wasn’t the best of ideas, as they’re counter-intuitive. Of course the hotspot key is a life and time saver, as there are still some items, exits or even locations on the map that can be missed. Skipping dialogue parts and also animations is also very welcome, as are a much more stable gaming experience with fewer crashes, although the limited number of savegames (and letters) isn’t so great.
Classic puzzle fun and more of the same
Simon the Sorcerer II looks and sounds the same as its predecessor, but it’s almost twice as long with around 8 hours of playtime thanks to a bigger world to explore, more puzzles to solve and characters to talk to. It’s one of those classic adventure games that offer enough laughs and head-scratchers to play again once in a while, although the quality of the writing isn’t on par with Lucasfilm or LucasArts titles. But then again its British sense of humor and mix of fantasy and fairy-tales with modern ideas can’t be compared, anyway. So if one doesn’t have a problem with a protagonist who isn’t the nicest one and if one can forgive a rather unexciting story and a few obscure puzzles, then there’s a lot to like.
Score: 8/10 (for the original version)
Score: 6.5/10 (for the remaster)
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