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Simon the Sorcerer 3D

Developer: Headfirst
Homepage
Boxshots
Fanpage German

USK: 6 years and up

A review by slydos  10th June 2002

 

Simon the Sorcerer is back again - and this time in 3D! This is announced on Headfirst's homepage for 3 years or longer. First the developers had planned a sequel to the first two parts in 2D and already partially done, but couldn't find a publisher to accepet a 2D-game! However, what is presented here to us in 3D-graphics seems to be the revenge of the developers at all which say that you can't do without 3D.

They finally decided to cooperate with Hasbro, an old family run company, mainly known through board games like Monopoly, Scrabble and Cluedo. When then in January 2001 Hasbro was bought by French Infogrames, Simon went downhill. I can't comprehend what happened behind the window blinds in the license business, but the ones who had to suffer were the fans. In any case, approximately 1 1/2 year after the planned date we get the possibility of experiencing the sequel to the Simon Story.

Story

In the first two parts Simon, at that time still a "normal" 12 year old, was transported by a magic portal into the world of Calypso and Sordid. Calypso is the good sorcerer - so the part of the villain remains to Sordid. Of course Simon helped Calypso fighting against Sordid and saving the world. At the end of part 2 Simon however lost his body to the really bad Sordid and stays bodyless.

Here the third part hooks up seamlessly.

In the starting sequence we can watch Runt, Sordids assistant. He has created a new enormous monster body for his master, which the mage - who is still in Simons body - mantles gladly, to take over the world domination or so through the Nexus - I never undestood this with StarTrek either.

Calypso, Melissa Leg and some priests carry Simons body and soul to a pyramid's chamber of rebirth. They know that only he could help them against Sordid. Though they can accomplish the revival spell, but finally Simon must prove himself worthy to return from the in-between world to the realm of the living. He is on his own. Simon awakes inside the pyramid. The game begins.

Installation/start

Two CDs and an illustrated manual of 20 pages are in the DVD box. The cover design is, as to turn out, one of the graphic highlights of the game! The installation of the necessary 430 MB on the hard disk under WinME runs smoothly and we reach the starting menu. The option "settings" allows changes of graphics and sound options. One can also change the key assignment, start, quit or deinstall the game. The following intro with a wild travelling camera, which can be stopped by the ESC-key, gives us a small view of Simon's new line of action. Later on it was a bit nerving that this intro simply always appears, both when starting and leaving the game. It's really enough to see it a few times.

If you press the ESC-key, you arrive in the main menu after some time - here you can load or start a game. When starting a new game we learn about the prehistory in Star Wars style with moving music and a text disappearing in infinity. After Simon awoke, we can begin to test the keyboard controls.

Handling

Our hero is controlled with the arrow keys. SHIFT lets him run more slowly or faster, CapsLock lets him sprint. He can also creep with the X-key, examine objects with the Z-key and accomplish actions with STRG or ENTER. The basic controls are explained also in the scarce manual. If we however come to special points in the game, where we for example must play Dart or learn how to use a spell book, an "enchanting" winged fairy godmother pipes up with short skirt and sneakers, but however rather mommy-like.

One should not only consider the dialogues between her and her protégé Simon because of the verbal exchange. She introduces us in each case to new or straight here needed control elements. And she only does it once! Thus listen and note down if necessary, because you won't find much in the manual about it.

Once her instructions seemed confusing to me, maybe due to the translation, anyway I pressed the wrong keys during the fireworks for a long time, until I was absolutely sure that I made no mistake. Only the walkthrough could help me here. The fireworks is one of the "mini games", where you should show good reactivity apart from prestidigitation. I believe, it resembles to the tests used for air traffic controller candidates. Unfortunately this mini game throws you back again and again on one of the life fields, from which you first have to come near the mini-game again and then repeatedly must listen to a lot of dialogue lines, before you can start again. I would have wished myself additional information in the manual particularly concerning the mini games.

If Simon can interact, then we see the object in the eye-icon right above. If he takes an object from screen or inventory, then it can be seen in the hand-icon beside it. A good feature is, that you can quickly jump with the C-key from object to object through the inventory without opening the menu itself. For this one must press the space bar and a spell book opens. Here you can also use the mouse apart from keyboard control. Through the spell book you can likewise reach save, load, quit and options beside the inventory. The combination of inventory items is quite laborious by keyboard. There are places, where you must combine and use objects quite fast!

We see our hero (in this 3rd-person-game) usually from a perspective directly behind him, depending upon environment also from the front sometimes or from some distance.

It is not so easy to let him run simply straightforward - it often becomes a zigzag run. This is fatal at some critical points.

Good and helpful features, which are actually using the 3D-evironment, are the look-around, which one can call with the TAB-key and also the X-key, with which Simon can crouch. Here the perspective changes to 1st-person and one sees exactly what Simon sees - which is more, than one could see from 3rd-person-perpective. One can turn Simon around then with the arrow keys, so that he can sound out his environment. All in all the control is average - I experienced already substantially better and substantially worse. Particularly the application of objects is laborious and controlling our hero requires a pertinent concentration, particularly if one is under time pressure.

Simon's world is very large. Therefore he must walk and walk and run and run .... After the first site investigations for my taste there is too much running around what only serves as game prolongation. Fortunately there are telephone boxes in some places, with which Simon can be teleported to other areas. If he enters a phone box, an area map appears and the pilotable points are marked. At a later time Simon can travel by rain bird, however these birds land only at certain points and work e.g. only during the day.

For storing a savegame we must open the spell book via space bar and select "disk" there. You have only 42 slots to save a game assigning a name. This number first seems sufficient, restricts however when continuing in the game. An unlimited number would have been appropriate here. Positive: Only once during the game process you must change from CD1 to CD2.

Graphics

Now we come to a very weak point: Simon the Sorcerer 3 discovered the third dimension. 2 years ago, when the game was nearly finished, one would have overlooked the absolutely rough and angular characters, objects and scenes. Was this necessary? Why 3D, if one is not able to design a hand like hand? Simon makes jokes about it: "My hands look like cubes!" Apparently the minimum possible number of polygons was used - no beautiful sight! I personally do not put the emphasis in an adventure game on graphics, but if one gets problems to recognize things on the screen then it's even too much for me.

Only glim of hope of the character graphics: Particularly our leading actor shows various mimic and gesturing, always suitable to the text and of very strong expression. All faces look as if created in 2D and then attached like a bottle label to the head.

The magic world is enormous and offers a lot of locations, which Simon can explore completely free. Unfortunately one misses here likewise gradations or finer textures - everything rough and sharp-edged. Our hero runs into walls and objects, as so often already remarked with other 3D-games.

While it does not preponderate in the forest area that everything is quite dead, also quite little life shows in town. Whole 2 characters, with which the hero cannot interact, populate the roads! Related to the large area, where you can roam across, you only meet relatively few other beings. Some of them are well-known from the earlier games, like Swampy or the two demons, others are new like the Lara Croft competitor Melissa.

Puzzles/action

We come to the more enjoyable part. The puzzles are not always logical, nevertheless imaginative and twisted like the game itself. For example it's illogical, if one shoots a darts arrow through the window, goes outside and finds nothing there however after completion of a very different task again returns and the arrow is suddenly there.

The pure puzzle parts are of great pleasure most of the time. They are various and very different. In each of the 6 chapters a major task is to be solved. In addition one must master a multiplicity of subtasks. First it's a matter of finding objects and partners in this very large area. Inventory objects must be combined resourcefully and could be used in different kinds and several times. Simon also receives a "Chakara" sometime - a kind of yo-yo which he can use in the most diverse ways, e.g. in order to reach far away objects.

The puzzles are interwoven into the 3D-world and it often depends on looking at problems from another "perspective". In Simon the Sorcerer 3D our hero has also for the first time the possibility of experiencing the world at night because some things can only be done in the dark. There is also a set of colour puzzles, text puzzle, rhythm puzzle... and other surprises.

The Plot does progress non-linear up to certain points. You can solve the nested puzzles in different order.

In some places Simon needs a certain quantity of the here accepted currency: "toads". He can get it in many ways and his toad account is indicated right above beside the eye- and the hand-icon.

Apart from pure puzzles our 3D-hero must also cope with a quantity of tasks, which belong into the section action, jump&run and skilfulness. Just at the start of the game, I'll call it warming up phase, Simon must escape a rolling stone ball á la Indiana Jones under time limit. Here the little fingers are trained for the first time, because time is running short and death (he is revived each time on a life spot) comes often.

To mention is that the same scene already caused me some difficulties some time ago in the adventure "Spud", at that time however I was still pleased by the good gag, with Simon it's now only a shelve warmer. However this "training" is really important at the beginning, because we will later have to face far more difficult obstacles, so it's good to learn the key allocation.

Simon must jump, run, shoot, creep, swing, balance, catch smaller and bigger creatures and much more besides. There are often time limits, which e.g. contrary to "Jules Verne - Mystery of the Nautilus" are very, very closely set. These "mini games" will cause a quantity of problems for untrained gamers, and they must be mastered nevertheless all by their own - no walkthrough could help. If you've spent some hours to shoot ducks on the fair in order to win a price, then the frustration factor can rise substantially. While most of these "mini games" stand in close relation to the story, there are nevertheless some, which seem to serve rather as game prolongation. It is also no new idea to line up a set of fair stands and you have to deal with the attractions one after the other. Last seen in: "Casanova". However Simon with approx. 30% action portion remains opposite to "Casanova" with approx. 50% scarcely still under the limit of an action adventure. In some particularly tricky moments one cannot save - so the fireworks already mentioned. If Simon dies, he is back-catapulted to one of the life stones and must repeat the walking and talking. I rarely succeeded the "mini games" after a few attempts and it brought me a lot of frustration up to quitting the game. One is pulled out of the story and pulled out the fun, the fun which could really be found in other places. It downright spoiled the game. I think the developers exaggerated with number and degree of difficulty here; one does not continuously have to demonstrate to the adventure fan that he/she is a bungler regarding reaction and skilfulness - he/she already knows.

Bugs

There are plenty of technical errors and inadequacies in Simon the Sorcerer 3D. Often you are simply catapulted back to Windows and can resume the game thereafter. At one particular place for me nothing helps any more: when I handed over some magic beans to the fool with the cow, the game crashes over and over again. Without helpful Simon-coplayers, who helped me out with savegames, I couln't have finished the game.

In some parts of the Simon universe the screen remained white for me! (Some examples on the right side.) Thus I never really saw the church, met the peruke-fan only as outline and had to play the chestnut game blind (Here I had some luck: I pressed here and there a key and won finally without ever seeing what was going on.) I could leave the bell tower at my first visit only creeping as it didn't work with normal walk.

Some other time I could creep into a cave, but couldn't leave however. There was a telephone box in the game, which was invisible, especially when using it for teleportation. There are still more examples. In several places Simon could see "through the wall". Perhaps it may have been because of Melissa's attractions, anyhow there was a place in the cellar where suddenly Melissa's icon appeared in Simon's eye right above. Naturally she was behind a wall, but one could click at her nevertheless followed by Simon's saying: "She's only accepting me!" Here and there the German translation was missing. At the beginning of part 3, when meeting with Melissa and Calypso e.g.. Here and there also English terms or descriptions appeared in the spell book.

Are they now harmless or deadly - with this quantity of bugs one can ask whether there was really no possibility of tests and improvement in the waiting period up to the publication?

Sound/dialogues/text/language

Simon, a little older now, hasn't lost a bit of his scallywag charm. When he wants to get something, he neither knows self-doubt nor considerateness. Just a real "nice little boy"! Simon actually knows a saying for each opportunity, offenses friends and foes and drops in every brick. Together with Simon the gamer can be rightfully nasty, break out small boy's teeth, roast favourite hamsters and cheer up vacuum cleaner representatives with lovesickness: "Probably she is just meeting her new lover!". (W.C. Fields would be delighted!)

And again Simon's scurrile co-actors, who almost provoke Simon's sarkasm, make it easy for him: The treasure hunter in the hole, the doated princess, the obese sorcerer, prince gallant..... and of course Swampy.

The translation of the English text is absolutely felicitous, both spoken and written word. Here a 1:1-translation would have been fatal, however the German translation team did a great job and customized the game to German conditions. Inscriptions on gravestones, memorial plaques (e.g. for Rex Gildo which is a dead German singer), signs - they thought of everything.

The game is only bristling with allusions to other games, films and books. Fine also the product placements for Hasbro's games by Simon himself! The humour of Simon this time again belongs to the best, the adventure world can offer - surprising, sometimes quietly hidden, never innocent.

Often we feel surprised, if Simon contacts the player directly, reassuring that it's only a game. The other characters use this classical effect too, when e.g. the host in the tavern entrusts Simon that the ghostly whining probably comes from outside of the screen! (Here of course sits the gamer sometimes whining because of laughing, sometimes whining because of the tantalizing game!)

The game is recommended for ages 6 and up. Children at this age will enjoy the game, however they won't understand much of the more or less hidden allusions and the irony. Surely funny, if parents try to explain the perverse peruke-sect to them.

An excellent script and an excellent translation rounded up by the professional speakers. Particularly Simon's German voice, which we already know from the first two parts, provides continuity and makes this character so unmistakable together with the awesome music themes and the unobstrusive however always suitable sound effects (if Simon changes running from grass to paving, sound and pictures are always fitting together.)

General impression

I looked forward to the third part of Simon the Sorcerer, since I enjoyed the first two parts so much. At the end however despite great humour, sophisticated puzzles, enormous, freely investigatable worlds and a gaming length with approx. 60 hours and longer, that has really something to offer - was my impression neither hot nor cold. It disappointed me, that programming bugs were not eliminated during the long waiting time. This together with partial bumpy handling, the boring walk-arounds and the partial very frustrating action sequences don't really let it be fun. A contrast bath. Nobody should miss the wacky story and humour, but beware - those who flinch from keyboard controls and fastidious skill challenges will not become happy with this game!

My rating: 68%

Adventure-Archiv-rating system:

  • 80% - 100%  excellent game, very recommendable
  • 70% - 79%    good game, recommendable
  • 60% - 69%    satisfactory, restricted recommendable
  • 50% - 59%    sufficient (not very recommendable)
  • 40% - 49%    rather deficient (not to be recommended - for Hardcore-Adventure-Freaks and collectors only)
  • 0%  -  39%    worst (don't put your fingers on it)

 

Minimal system requirements:

  • Windows 95/98
  • Pentium 233 Mhz MMX
  • 64 MB RAM
  • 430 MB on hard disk
  • 8x CDROM-drive
  • Direct3D-compatible graphic card with 8 MB
  • Soundblaster-compatible sound card
  • DirectX Version 7.0

Played on:

  • WindowsME
  • Pentium III 850
  • 128 MB RAM
  • Sound- and graphic card DirectX-compatible
  • Toshiba DVD-ROM


 

To magnify click on the pictures

Spellbook with inventory and menu
Spellbook with inventory and menu

 

Simon and the priest
Simon and the priest

 

What bargain can you find at "Tomb Trader's"?
What bargain can you find at "Tomb Trader's"?

 

There must be some way passing the clock keeper!
There must be some way passing the clock keeper!

 

The house of the witch
The house of the witch

 

The map
The map

 

Allusions everywhere
Allusions everywhere

Use phone boxes for teleporting
Use phone boxes for teleporting

 

At last in Poliganis
At last in Poliganis

The thief could be helpful
The thief could be helpful

 

The sheriff's safe
The sheriff's safe

 

So you want to be a sorcerer
So you want to be a sorcerer

 

The fairy godmother
The fairy godmother

 

The dark swamp
The dark swamp

 

Swampy wants to blow up the whole thing
Swampy wants to blow up the whole thing

 

Bugs: Around the church Simon only sees white!
Bugs: Around the church Simon only sees white!

 

Bugs: Unfortunately one can only see the shape of the lady
Bugs: Unfortunately one can only see the shape of the lady

 

Bugs: English instead of German
Bugs: English instead of German

 

Dwarfs are brave but stupid
Dwarfs are brave but stupid

 

On the fair
On the fair

 

At last he found Melissa!
At last he found Melissa!

Again bodyless within a computer á la Tron!
Again bodyless within a computer á la Tron!

More screenshots

Copyright © slydos for Adventure-Archiv, 10th June 2002

 

 

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