Simon the Sorcerer 3D

Review by Skinny Minnie
and Annihilation by Jen
October 2002

Skinny's Skinny

Welcome to Simon the Sorcerer 3D, the third installment in (you guessed it) the Simon the Sorcerer adventure game series! I never played the first two games in their two-dimensional glory but have long heard glowing reports about Simon's humor and puzzles from adventure purists both hither and yon. When last our faithful British hero was seen in a game, his body and soul were separated and trapped in an alternate dimension by a rather diabolical creature named Sordid, who inhabited Simon's body while attempting to take over the universe. Simon's friends rejoined Simon's severed soul to his body when Sordid finally left it for more mechanized, robotic pastures, and this is where we first enter the new game.

According to Simon's developers, many of the previous games' characters make encore appearances in this newest three-dimensional incantation, er, I mean incarnation, but the cast is still entertaining to watch even if you don't know their past histories. The voice acting itself is also uniformly excellent! The lighthearted background orchestrations are very good too, supporting the upbeat comedy within the game quite well.

Simon 3D itself is very blocky visually, but this gore-free romp is quite whimsically rendered nonetheless. The color palette is bold, broad and bright, the cast members themselves being the zaniest and most varied I have run across since Anachronox. If cutting-edge graphics are a prerequisite for you, then you won't be too thrilled with Simon 3D, but even Simon himself pokes fun at his own gaming engine and cube-like appearance on multiple occasions throughout the game. I took plenty of screenshots, so the 3D ball is in your visual court now.

This is a very long, very nonlinear, inventory-driven puzzle adventure game with lots of areas to explore. It consists of six chapters in total, but it wasn't until I was approaching the end of the third one that I started liking Simon 3D. At first it felt boring and slow; Simon was sent off to a field to catch a Purple Emperor butterfly, which took about 20 minutes to even show up. Running through the hills and valleys of the first map was time-consuming, and there seemed little to do. The initial characters had nothing to do with one another, and the story felt disjointed to me. Maybe this was because I never played the first two games; I don't know. I can tell you that this game felt like it was headed straight for a FFC rotten egg until the number of puzzles, inventory items, character interactions and laughs increased. Then I found myself being drawn back to play this bright, colorful, comical adventure.

Simon the Sorcerer 3D is probably the most forgiving game I have ever played. It allows for early experimentation with inventory items before a real need arises for their manipulation but then offers chances to alter any wrongdoings later. The only time scenes may have to be repeated are during Simon 3D's infamous "perceived action" or arcade sequences.

As for Simon the Sorcerer 3D's "nonadventure" elements themselves, it does seem plausible to me that somebody at Adventure Soft is either a Tomb Raider fan or failure, but it changed him for life either way. I'm not just talking about the humorous "Tomb Trader" stand outside of the pyramid in the first chapter, either. Simon's so-called "action" sequences are much scarcer, easier, and more forgiving, but at times they evoke paler images of a diaper-clad Lara Croft. Traversing a tightrope bridge, maneuvering across an open field in a simple timed run, climbing up a spiky tangle of vines, and even pulling on a dangling rope and holding on for a ride are indeed some of the ways Simon gets around in Simon the Sorcerer 3D.

I would like to bring all of you keyboard-fearing, reflex-impaired adventure gamers back to earth here for a moment, though. There is a portal square at the start of any rare sequence where Simon can actually perish, and he spawns again infinitely and without penalty at it should he fail the first time through. If there were any fewer keyboard commands in this game, then there would be no keyboard commands, and the camera snaps to and follows Simon around fairly comfortably, at least during the outdoor excursions. It is also possible during Simon's runs to save the game midway through them. The last time I tried that with a Chesty Archeologist, the door I needed to exit through at run's end was sealed shut when I returned! (They do it on purpose, I tell you!) Simon is never under fire, and he almost never takes damage no matter what you do. He is the only three-dimensional hero I can think of who can stick his head right into a crocodile's mouth for 20 minutes straight while you figure out what to do and he still remains unscathed!

There are never multiple considerations during Simon's runs, either. What do I mean by that? Well, please picture this alternative scenario for a comparison: You are an intrepid adventuress. You innocently pitter-patter into a tomb housing a priceless artifact, your ponytail a-bobbing. Suddenly, 800 spikes shoot out of all four walls and start barreling toward you. Three soul-sucking spirit guardians immediately fly in through the windows, and six machine gun-wielding, artifact-collecting competitors position themselves at the doorways. They all simultaneously try to punish you for attempting to take that five-fingered Egyptian discount. You side-flip to an angled ramp where you immediately begin to slide downward, leaping forward to grab that overhead ledge at just the right second. Pulling up, you dodge innumerable bullets while grabbing the first of a series of ropes that will swing you toward the only health pack you're going to see for the whole rest of the level. Oh, did you just forget about those naughty, soul-sucking spirit guardians? Well, they didn't forget about you! They can also fly about five times faster than you can swing, and right through inanimate objects too! They are completely impervious to 29 out of your 30 different weapons, and as you grab weapon number 30 with one hand (while still dangling from a rope with the other), you realize to your chagrin that you're out of ammo for it! Oh well, too bad for you ... And there ain't no stinkin' portal square to spawn again at right outside of that room, either! I also hope you aren't playing the console version of Chesty Archeologist, where you can only save at certain checkpoints ... Do you feel any better at all now?

Ahem. A few of the arcade sequences (like being snapped at by a giant Venus flytrap in a swamp as you try to sneak by it) feel unnecessary and out of place, but many of them make sense within the context of their surroundings. Playing a game of darts in the bar, creeping by a sleeping sheriff to steal keys out of his office locker, searching out a safe path through quicksand in a deserted, muddy wildlife area, and even quickly following a path of goodies to the witch's house of Hansel and Gretel fame are in keeping with the locales of the game. There is also a very cute carnival set up in a later chapter that offers easy water gun horse racing, a duck shoot (where you use your yo-yo to tap at metal ducks as they bob up and down), and a Space Invaders arcade machine clone. You receive a prize for each game you win, and the prizes wind up being used to solve puzzles in some truly hysterical ways!

Some of the inventory puzzles are interesting and creative, with the absolute all-time winner and shooting star being the final puzzle of the entire game that actually ushers in the closing credits. It is so simple and yet so creatively devious that I can't believe I didn't have to desperately seek out the answer in a walkthrough—chalk that one up to my daughter, Mini Minnie, who at the tender age of 8 immediately spouted out the solution upon viewing my dilemma. I then argued with her for ten minutes straight about the viability of such an answer, finally giving in and trying it only to quiet her down ... (That child is going straight into a think tank when she graduates high school!)

There is a veritable cornucopia of vividly bright, bubbly, humorous locales to explore, encompassing fantasy towns, swamps, caves, forests, volcanoes, and fortresses, but many of the items you'll require for the oodles of inventory-based puzzles are quite tidily available for you in the general areas where you'll need them. Inventory can hit 30 items or more, but one simple menu screen allows flipping through pages that house nine items each per page, plus this menu also offers save, load and exit options, all with a simple interface. Combining and using items is a breeze.

It is also simple to run around within each land even for the direction-impaired, signs and landmarks being plentiful, but there are phone booths with maps for more direct (albeit slow) transport as well as a Rainbird to ride from map to map as the game progresses. I consider myself at the top of the heap amongst directionally challenged, maze-hating gamers, and I had few problems getting around. Most of the puzzles are easy to moderate in difficulty, make sense, and fall together nicely, although a few of them are quite convoluted. A crocodile stood patiently waving its open mouth around for so long that not only did I know Simon had to interact with it, but I figured Simon's next wizardry class would be on "Dental Magic." I had tried my available inventory items on the croc so many times that the daily calendar on my desk flipped to the next day by itself, so I finally resorted to a walkthrough. In general, though, if Simon looks (via his exaggerated head tilt) at and comments (often humorously) about something, you know right away you need to manipulate that item or otherwise pick it up.

Simon's own quest to become a wizard and the sole magic specialty open to him because of his poor grades makes for a humorous and ultimately necessary side story, but Simon himself does literally abound with sarcastic and entertaining comments too. At one point, he says to a pizza man: "It costs 10,000 groats [the local currency] for a pizza? Why, I could buy a mail-order bride for that!" There is a classic "nature's bounty" spiel concerning an old man living off the land that is hilarious, as well as an interchange with some young street urchins that will leave you chuckling. Even late in the game, Simon's distinctive brand of bold, dry wit continues in his dealings with some anarchistic woodworms, as he promptly puts them in their place but fast!

Yes, Simon certainly begins the game as a self-absorbed, sarcastic teen, but almost every person he takes advantage of during the game he winds up making amends to eventually, and he does become slightly more responsible and caring by game's end ... but only slightly, mind you! Simon is a little bit like that fictitious rock band Spinal Tap, sans instruments. Don't go in expecting Plato or Jesus, and you'll probably have a good time with him. There are a few swears here and there, but for the most part Mini Minnie has heard worse language from her grandmother. There are some brief sexual innuendos as well, but if you're the frumpy type, just cough loudly every now and again if the kids are around! More likely than not, those comments will go right over their heads, and they've probably heard worse in any given schoolyard anyway.

I applied Vivendi Universal's Simon 3D patch early on (located here) and had no crashing or freezing issues with this game on my WinXP Athlon 1.7 gig PC. (Both Jen and I run ATI All-in-Wonder Radeon video cards with current drivers as well.) There were a few spots I encountered in one town, however, where frame rates stuttered a bit. That said, my default speed of motion for any three-dimensional gaming character is usually "break the sound barrier," so keeping the Caps Lock button permanently down and forcing Simon into a perpetual breakneck pace might have been the cause in my case. I did also see some wavy lines in certain windows of that town at times, and noticed one scene in a barroom where a patron's body was half rendered and half blank white. Reloading from a previous save eliminated this partial white out, which did not manifest itself anywhere else.

All in all, the inclusion of simple action and arcade elements in this adventure game perk the pace up a bit and do it little harm, unless you're the type who absolutely cannot stand even a tiny bit of repetition in your games. (Enter Jen, who gets upset if she even sneezes twice when she plays through a game, and subsequently calls her doctor to yell at him.) The several arcade sequences per chapter are for the most part appropriately placed, fun, and (especially the carnival as hosted by two sarcastic demons) often comical, much like the later chapters of the game are themselves. Combine these later chapters with Simon 3D's consistently high quality voice acting, humorous cast, lively music, and out-of-this-world ending puzzle, and you have a game that lurched upward from its original egg status to a thumb-up.

Jen's Lament

I never thought Koala Lumpur would be unseated as the one, the only bearer of the dreaded double dung heap, but Simon 3D is a contender. The game does stink to high heaven—but is the malodor dual-sourced?

Skinny Minnie thinks I hated the game because of the 50,000 little arcade sequences seemingly one after another. It's true, I did hate those, and I subjected her to plenty of bitching about them. But she thinks it was because I am a big action weenie (true) and those were action puzzles (false). I had to educate her on the fact that I came up as a gamer in the arcades, and those were pure arcade ... and not even good arcade at that. They were just pain-in-the-hindquarters artificial game lengtheners, not really all that difficult in most instances but annoying nevertheless because each one usually took three or four attempts and the penalty for failure was starting over—sometimes being forced to watch the preceding cutscene again. And there is no option to skip cutscenes you have already seen.

The graphics suffered from a paucity of polygons. Minnie thought they were charming and colorful and that the graphic designers had done a good job in a minimalist sort of way. I thought either they had misinterpreted "cubism" or they were too lazy to program in more than five or six polygons per character. Some of the background textures were done well but they covered way too big a surface. There were clipping problems, fat white gaps between the polygons, strange little artifacts everywhere. I even had a few instances of unfilled areas, just white places where the colorists forgot to color.

Speaking of areas, the game takes place over two major ones, a big open field and a big town, both sparsely populated with anything of interest or value. Both of these areas have, well, a lot of area to cover. You can put Simon in a "permanent run" mode by using the caps lock key, but the controls are clunky and finicky and Simon can be hard to steer. On the plus side, he does produce a very satisfying thunk every time you run him full-tilt into something. Take that, you swine! Bam! Bam! Bam! Oops, I get a little carried away sometimes. You also have two alternate methods of travel but then you have to deal with their cumbersomeness. Your choice becomes the lesser of two evils: running around lost and trying to orient yourself or using one of the other two methods to get sort of close to where you want to be, then waiting forever through their attendant interface nightmares, and then trying to orient yourself.

I could not wrap my mind around the game logic, either. I had to get more than a few hints from the nearest walkthrough. Maybe it would've helped if I had played the first two Simon games; alas, I had not. I suspect I missed out on some of the humor, too, due to my unfamiliarity with the previous Simons.

Most of the puzzles are the standard get-an-item-here and use-it-over-there type, with some completely irrational combining of inventory. The inventory quickly gets too bulky, and with one exception about a quarter of the way into the game, the items you are through with never get winnowed out. You can cycle through inventory items onscreen, but there are about 30 or 35 things sometimes and the cycling is unidirectional. If you get to key-pushing too quickly, you will pass right by the item you are looking for and then you will emit a resounding "dammit!" or something not quite so mild. The other method of choosing inventory items is to bring up the main menu and look at the items laid out on pages of a book. You must use this method to combine items. Let's just say the interface is not only not transparent, it is not even slightly translucent.

In all fairness, not all is rotten in the state of Simon. The music and voice acting are decent, and the script has some high points—I giggled out loud more than a couple times. The keyboard commands can be changed to your liking in the initial options menu. One portion of the game takes place in a sort of demonic carnival midway; the arcade puzzles for once were not out of place there. Okay, I'm reaching ... Here's something a little better: Despite the game's bad rap for instability, it never once crashed or froze on my 733 MHz PIII Win2K system—I applied the patch before I began, though.

Simon 3D does not quite unseat Koala Lumpur—I'm only giving it the single cornpoop for being standard-grade unfun. Koala Lumpur was double-cornpoop, ultra-deluxe unfun. The End

The Verdict

Minnie:

Jen: Verdict Withheld as We Strive to Keep this a Family-Friendly Site, so Jen Will Have to Be Content with:

The Lowdown

Developer: Headfirst Productions
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Release Date: April 2002

Available for: Windows

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System Requirements

Win 95/98
Pentium 233 MHz MMX
64 MB RAM
430 MB free hard drive space
8X CD-ROM drive
8 MB Direct3D video card
DirectX 7.0
Soundblaster-compatible sound card

 
   
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