There is, and possibly always will be, a soft spot in my heart for Simon the Sorcerer. In the not-too-long-ago when I was a rebellious, adolescent know-it-all, there was nothing quite like putting myself in the adventure gaming shoes of a rebellious, adolescent know-it-all who also just happened to be a wizard. At the time, Simon represented everything that was against heroic fantasy archetypes: he was cynical, insulting, juvenile and behaved like an all-round dick to just about everybody he met.
Of course, whether through the march of technology, the change of hands in developers, or the pressure of maintaining the high bar set by the original games, the latest offering just doesn’t meet expectations. It’s by no means an awful adventure game (it’s far better than Simon 3D, at least), but in contrast to the wit and depth presented by the likes of Simon 1 and its sequel, this particular addition to the series appears to be rather camp.
In terms of the plot, things get rather strange rather quickly. Aliens have invaded Simon’s fantasy world, stolen his girlfriend and attacked everything in sight with what appears to be weaponry powered by bad luck. Naturally, it’s up to Simon to Save The Day™ and restore the world to his satisfaction so that he can go back to watching TV and getting pizza stains on his wizard robes. His use of actual magic in the process is rather limited, but he makes up for his ineptitude by constructing zany contraptions in true adventure gaming spirit while verbally abusing anyone who gets in his way.
The length of the game is decent, though the ease of many puzzles and the rather extensive hint system would probably appeal to casual players more than adventure genre veterans. The exception to this is one or two puzzles which seem to have rather odd solutions, and it seems that they’d be figured out only with a bit of luck or a rather detailed hint peek.
The game’s art style is pretty in its own way (they make 2D backdrops and outlined characters look pretty good, actually), but the characters can either be unambiguously forgettable or cringe-inducingly awful. Dialogues are painful barrages of clichés mingled with limp filler statements, and some voices (such as that of the swampling) will practically grate at your inner ear with their strained falsetto glory. Even Simon, a protagonist who I’ve come to associate with a keen wit and a sharp tongue thanks to previous titles, is now limited to pithy statements and the occasional half-arsed insult. I’d be tempted to forgive the speech as it has doubtlessly lost some impact from the original German (the developers of Simon 4 and 5 are based in Berlin), but it’s fair to say that it still affects the audience.
Overall, it would be difficult to call this is an awful game. That is not the case. It’s technically sound, the puzzles are reasonably well put-together and even the story manages to draw you in after a while. It just seems that so much more can be done with it to make it stand out in the same way that the original games did back in their day. Without this magical ingredient, this passion… well, Simon becomes the star of just another adventure game, rather than an in-your-face antihero of the teenage generation.