Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Playing Simon the Sorcerer

As I think I've mentioned before, I've been playing through the Simon the Sorcerer games recently, alternating between those and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, which creates a fairly amusing contrast. I couldn't get into Simon years ago, because the demo I had played the same irritating song all through the credits and even up until the actual game started - shallow, perhaps, but it's a really annoying song! Even years later, the slow walking speed, the lack of direction, and unnecessarily padded out game world (huge maze-like forests only work when your character can zip through them a la Quest for Glory) made the game feel like a slog at first. But once you get to meeting the characters that it comes into its own, and you begin to understand why it's a bit of a cult favorite. (I'm not sure "cult" is entirely appropriate - all of the British mags I've flipped through recently have had articles about them, perhaps to highlight the upcoming fifth game, but they've generally been ignored in the US.)

The overall opinion seems to be that, like the Broken Sword series, that the first two games are the best, with the first one being a bit better than the second. I'm only about halfway (I think) through the second Simon game, but so far I'm actually liking it a bit better than the first. Mechanically, the only real improvement is the removal of the redundant screens in favor of a full map, but I think I just like the setting and dialogue a little bit more. Most people seem to prefer Chris Barrie's voicework in the first game, but Brian Bowles still does a fine job in the second. But I think my favorite part deals with the Swampling.

The Swampling was a sad little creature in the first game, a slightly pathetic green Muppet-like creature, with a lovingly overbearing demeanor who claims Simon as his bestest friend from the minute he walks in the door, and insists of feeding you his horrible, horrible swamp stew. No matter how many times you ditch his stew and run out the door when he's not looking, he's still just as happy to see you every time you revisit.

Well, in the second game, he somehow ends up as the corporate chairman at a restraunt chain called MucSwamplings, who have revised his swamp stew formula into something vaguely edible (I do like the "Disturbingly Brown" milkshake you can get) but completely removing its homebrew essence, causing the Swampling much consternation. It's such a bizarrely charming character arc, and I'm happy that they seem to have brought him back in the later games.

For other bits...I used to think Simon was a bit of a Monkey Island ripoff, but you'd never see Guybrush say something like that. He's a bit too congenial. Simon's general jerkass-ness is really what sets it apart, and I think part of what makes it so uniquely British.

Also, is Um Bongo considered racist nowdays? Considering that the word seems to have transmogrified from "derisive or hateful stereotyping" to "any type of stereotyping" over the past decade or so, I'm not sure he's appropriate for today's modern, forward thinking, politically correct audience!



  1. Haha, I remember that exact demo you are talking about for the first game. I had also played that first and was confused that that song that loops throughout the demo never makes it into the actual game.

    I'm one of the fans that prefers Bowles, but they really screw up the Swampling in the third game. Yech.

  2. The first game is a real chill out experience for me. The music (which I love despite being the same theme over and over), the slow pace, beautiful lush backgrounds...
    They're kind of saying "Just take it easy and enjoy the trip, man."

    Ah, those backgrounds... Am I the only one to think that both first games have one of the best pixel art out there?

    PS: Don't forget to check Simon's (several) idle animations in the 2nd game!

  3. Even though I like the second game more overall, I think the first game has better graphics. It's nice and green, plus the second game has really deformed looking character sprites for anyone who isn't Simon.

    And yeah, I came across some of those idle animations, like the one where he grows old and crumples to bones. Amusing stuff.

  4. The most annoying thing about the first game: it gives you every damn item you need in the whole game at once, it opens pratically all areas at once, and it pushes all puzzles in your face at once. That's the stupidest thing an adventure game designer could do. Smart games lock you in area and let you work in only three or four puzzles, like "get the tree keys to enter the castle". Then you move on, and you can't go back, and you USE your items and get rid of them. If you have 500 items and whole world to dig for clues, you're pretty much doomed.