Review for Simon the Sorcerer 3D
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How to start a review about possibly the most controversial sequel of any adventure series? Do I start by highlighting all the negative comments that flooded the chat rooms and Amazon reviews? Or do I try and soften the blow by writing about the positive aspects in great depth? How about I start from the start, way back in 1995.
The end sequence of Simon 2 had me hungry for more. I had to find out what happened to Simon. Had Sordid truly invaded our dimension? What the hell was that hedgehog boy all about? Unfortunately, there was not even a murmur of a third game. So it went on, throughout the nineties. During this time the hapless consumer was presented with a fiercely addictive Simon the Sorcerer Pinball (well worth getting a copy of here) and a Simon the Sorcerer Puzzle Pack (not so worth getting), but still no third game. Around 1997, Adventuresoft brought out The Feeble Files, a good-looking but insanely difficult adventure game that failed to capture the charm of Simon The Sorcerer and just did not fill the gap that Simon fans were waiting for.
By 1999, my family had finally caught up with the times and gone online, so it was easier to check for updates from Adventuresoft. Around this time there were murmurs of another Simon sequel. The manual from Simon Pinball even had a sort of advert for the third game. Still, Simon 3 never appeared on store shelves. It turns out Adventuresoft had planned a third 2D style game, but plans were soon dropped after only a few test renders as it was decided that not even God himself would be able to come to earth and get a 2D adventure game published (their words, not mine).
Then in early 2000, official confirmation came through that Simon 3 was in production and that it would be in amazing 3D. I was over the moon. After all this waiting it wouldn’t be long until I’d be playing the third part of my favourite adventure game series. Unfortunately, my rapture was a little premature. Months passed and I was still getting all the updates from the News Mole (Adventuresoft’s regular Simon 3D news updater) but there was still no game in sight. Adventuresoft was having a lot of problems getting the game published, and my expectations were becoming more and more tarnished with every update. Finally in 2002, my patience paid off. After all the waiting, dashed hopes, and new dreams, Simon 3D hit the shelves.
I could spend this entire review going on about how much of a disappointment this game was--frankly, Brian Bowles as the voice of Simon once again would be reason enough to leave this game untouched on the shop shelves--but I don’t want to. I’m a huge Simon fan, and as devastated as I was to see such an ugly game, I actually found myself enjoying it. OK, so the controls are shocking and Simon’s uncanny ability to walk into every wall becomes a tad annoying, but beneath all that are the bare bones of a good adventure game that I found myself wanting to complete.
You’ve probably already read plenty of reviews about all the negatives--and I'll confirm that the complaints are legitimate. The game suffers from blocky graphics, annoying terrain-style puzzles, Simon’s mannerisms, and his incessant jokes that the game is only a game. Plus there’s the simple fact that this game does not live up to its predecessors. You don’t need yet another review going on about all that. So rather than harp on about the negative aspects that have been written about again and again, I’m going to look at why I enjoyed this game.
Initially, the storyline doesn’t seem innovative. It’s the same old Sordid trying to take over the same old magical land. It’s the same old Calypso giving the same old useless advice to the same old snotty Simon, whose voice will irritate you as soon as he opens his crude pixelated mouth. But as the game progresses, a story far superior to that of the previous games starts to unfold. This isn’t just the usual Simon storyline where he winds up in their world and spends the entire game trying to get home. Sordid doesn't just want to conquer his world and ours. This time he's after the entire universe, with the aid of a supercomputer called the Nexus. As the game progresses, I found myself getting more and more into this story.
With the transfer to 3D, it was inevitable that there’d be some changes to the gameplay. Adventuresoft added gaming elements to the new 3D terrain that were not consistent with traditional point & click style. For example, several puzzles send you chasing after things or in search of small holes to crawl through. In most cases these don’t take too much effort to complete, but there is the odd puzzle that will drive you to despair, such as the sweet trail in the early parts of the game. Another addition is that Simon can die, which will probably come as good news to people who grew weary of his misogynistic rants in the last game. However, it only hinders you slightly; you get magically transported to a “life pad” at the start of the puzzle that killed you, ready to start it all over again.
The traditional adventure game puzzles are still here. You still have to pick things up and use them with other things in order to progress. These puzzles actually make more sense, and seem less random, than in the previous games. There are still the bizarre Simon-style puzzles that were a feature of the first two games (for example, using dynamite in a butterfly bottle to go fishing), but on the whole they seem to make a lot more sense.
Fans of the previous games will be glad to know that the regular characters are back in force. Throughout the land you’ll meet the Woodworms, the Swampling, the Goldilocks, the Hedgehog Boy, the devils, Calypso, Runt and of course Sordid. You’ll also encounter a host of new ones, such as Coneman the Barabrain, Melissa Leg, the golem sign post, and the drunken druid. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed to find that Um Bongo from Simon 2 had not made it to the third game, but I guess we can’t have everything.
The land, despite being in 3D, is just as vast as in the previous games--possibly to the game’s detriment. If Adventuresoft had concentrated on a few beautifully textured and rendered locations like Revolution did in Broken Sword 3, this game could have looked a lot better. Instead they have mapped out an entire town, the enormous surrounding countryside, Sordid’s cavernous fortress, a gigantic swamp, and the interior of a treasure-filled volcano, each with their own huge playable areas. Only a third of the entire mapped-out terrain is necessary. You’ll spend a lot of your time running from place to place and you’ll grow weary of looking at the scenery (not that there’s much to look at). You’ve got to give Adventuresoft credit for staying true to the previous Simon games, which required crossing similar amounts of terrain in order to reach where you wanted to be. However, with vast terrains come vast loading times, which slows down the flow of the game something chronic. At least there are phone boxes in this game that transport you from one place to the next, but they are few and far between.
Many people have commented on the ugliness of the game—and certainly the character models could have looked a lot better. But what really sticks in my memory is just how colourful and fun this game looks. Everywhere you go, the characters and surroundings have bright vibrant colours which really lift the spirit of the game and give it an air of excitement and beauty.
The voice acting is once again top-notch, in spite of Brian Bowles. The characters are perfectly audible, with none of the distortion or fuzziness of the previous two games. The music is of the same calibre as its predecessors, and although it doesn’t play quite as key a role as in the other installments, it’s still a treat for the ears.
So that’s it, it’s up to you now. I can’t kid myself that this review will change the game’s reputation, and I can’t pretend that this game doesn’t suffer from some serious gameplay and graphics issues, but I would urge anyone who hasn’t played this and is put off by other reviews to at least give it a try. Fans of the original games will like it, but will probably rate it below the first and second games. Ironically, a lot of people treat this game as a bit of a guilty pleasure; they know they shouldn’t like it, but there’s just something about it that makes the experience enjoyable. Personally I’m glad Simon 3D exists. I’d rather that than to still be waiting to see what ever happened to the incumbent sorcerer and his bizarre land of misfits. Bring on part 4.