Simon the Sorcerer 3D
There was a time when many of us thought that we would never see Simon the Sorcerer 3D released. The publishing problems that HeadFirst/Adventure Soft faced must have been the stuff of nightmares. Fortunately the game is now available and, with some reservations, I for one am utterly delighted.
The end of the last game left Simon in the clutches of the wicked wizard, Sordid, who stole his body to further his evil plans. Seven years was far too long to wait for the resolution of such a cliffhanger but the introduction of this latest episode shows how Simon's body is discarded by Sordid in favour of a meaner, more mechanical-like persona. Luckily Simon is restored to full health (well almost) by his friends so he can continue his adventures. He must come to terms with his new appearance and interface, and attempt to keep body and soul together before he sets off in pursuit of Sordid once more.
The first two Simon the Sorcerer games were 2D point and click adventures but this latest incarnation is now 3D and keyboard controlled.
The first part of the game acts pretty much like a tutorial to enable you to get used to using the interface. Although the game has a huge (and I mean huge) serving of traditional adventuring, this first step is nevertheless a portent of what is to come. It clearly signals that there are some manipulative puzzles and some where time is of the essence. To help you out your Fairy Godmother, Shelly, pops up to explain what you need to do. She will also appear at other times throughout the game with instructions as some of these manipulative or 'real-time' puzzles have a unique keyboard configuration to learn, albeit just a few key designations for each. So you need to pay attention during these 'teaching' interludes as your tutor won't repeat herself. It's a very good idea to save often so you can always restore a saved game to see the sequence again.
Some players have complained that the graphics are blocky and dated which, given the length of time it has taken to get the game published, is not surprising. All I can say is that this didn't worry me at all - the earliest 2D graphic adventures were blocky and the characters only eight pixels high! Despite their angular appearance I found the graphics to be bright, colourful and inviting and generally it was easy to see everything. Simon really does star in this game with his accentuated facial expressions and swaggering gait, even if he has left his Walkman behind and no longer visually crams goodies into his hat.
Also, as with the first two episodes the music and voice acting are extremely good and Simon is just as sarcastic and politically incorrect as ever, although I think I detected a generation gap appearing as he meets his match with the younger street urchins who have redefined 'cool' to exclude him.
One of the things I really enjoyed in the earlier Simon games was the complexity of the puzzles and the convoluted way they were integrated into the story and I am pleased to report that Simon 3D continues that very fine tradition. There are lots of items to pick up and use in all sorts of humorous ways, and many strange characters to talk to who will help or hinder you as you progress through the game. Many familiar characters make a welcome return including Calypso, Swampy, Runt, the manic woodworms, the hapless demons and, my favourites, the role playing characters in the lonely hut. The traditional adventuring puzzles are fun and absorbing and some require a good deal of ingenuity to work out. On a few occasions towards the end of the game some more feedback in the form of hints (thoughts or observations) from Simon would have been helpful, especially for new Simon devotees.
Then there are the manipulative or arcade-style sequences that come in varying degrees of difficulty. They include playing fairground sideshow games, tightrope walking, a two-minute race through a flickering maze, setting off fireworks to music, and more. Some I had little trouble with and was able to complete with just three or four attempts but others took many, many attempts and soon became tedious and repetitive. This is certainly an aspect I dislike to see in adventure games and I don't think Simon 3D benefits from their inclusion. It was already a satisfyingly long game made frustratingly longer for me by having to succeed at arcade sequences that I resented.
Navigation is via the keyboard arrow keys and you need to manoeuvre Simon around the large 3D gameworld and watch for objects and characters to engage with. Like Manny in Grim Fandango, Simon will incline his head when he spots something interesting. Although it is much easier to see Simon's head bob as it is a distinct twist and the object of his attention will appear in the middle of three small frames that are visible in the top right hand corner of the screen. This frame is flanked by one that shows how many 'Groats' (coins) Simon has to spend and one that shows what item he is carrying in his hand. Pressing the spacebar will bring up a menu screen where you can use your mouse to save, load and quit; access Simon's inventory where you can combine items; and adjust options such as graphics and sound and enable subtitles.
To assist with getting around you can use conveniently located telephone boxes which will open a map screen from where you can choose your destination within a restricted portion of the gameworld. Later you will be able to access another means of transportation to cover larger distances. Even with these useful accessories you will still spend a lot of time navigating Simon between large and largely empty spaces.
As well as the arrow keys you will also need to use other keys to do things such as sprint (Caps lock), crawl (z-key), use item in Simon's hand (Alt-key), examine (x-key), and take or interact (Ctrl or Enter key). On one occasion the Shift key is also useful for climbing, but it only works in walking mode. Because this action was used so rarely it would have been better simply to substitute the action key and display a small graphic to act upon. It certainly held me up far too long.
The game is largely played from a third-person perspective with the camera or view point just behind Simon but you can also get a first-person view by holding down the Tab key and using the arrow keys to look around. When Simon is crawling the view is completely first-person.
There are a few glitches in the game that are worrying but not show-stopping. As well as occasional lock ups and crashes back to the desktop I experienced Simon disappearing when he left the church bell tower. He left but the camera didn't follow. I solved this by going to crawl mode (first-person view) and crawling to an exit in the churchyard before standing up again. Also, as I was 'sprinting' everywhere, I found that the laundry sometimes didn't load properly so that when Simon entered he was stuck in the doorway and wouldn't move into the room. Turning off sprint before reaching the laundry seemed to fix this. There is one glitch that can cause you to miss getting a crucial item so I will give you a hint here. At one point you must get past a barking dog, I was able to simply run past it, but that is not the correct solution ... you must get rid of the dog.
I'm still not convinced that adventure games and 3D keyboard controlled environments are totally compatible. Not only is there a set of keyboard commands to remember but there is still a lot of pointless wandering around (admittedly with almost complete freedom of movement) just to find something to interact with. There is also the issue of long load times while waiting for a new portion of the 3D environment to install, especially in a game like this where there is necessarily a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. Though I must say that I felt more comfortable moving Simon around than I did with Manny in Grim Fandango as Simon doesn't bounce off invisible barriers or disappear into the distance.
Please don't let my complaints put you off trying this game. I thoroughly enjoyed playing Simon 3D. The 'pure' adventure portions were fun and it was just so good to be challenged by the many devious puzzles and entertained by Simon's wit and inimitable 'attitude'. The game was so engrossing it kept pulling me back despite HeadFirst succumbing to 3D's arcade/action attraction. HeadFirst certainly know how to construct a truly engaging, humorous adventure game and they have successfully brought that experience into a 3D game world. The end game hints at a sequel so it is my plea that if arcade sequences absolutely have to be included then why not add an alternative adventure puzzle solution or, at the very least, offer a cheat mode? Of course, if you are an adventure fan who doesn't mind a bit of arcade action then you will have no complaints at all.
You can find Mr Bill's complete walkthrough here.
The patch is available here.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 2002.
All rights reserved.
Windows 95/98/2000/ME/XP, P233Mhz MMX, 64MB RAM, 430MB Hard Drive Space, 8X CD ROM, 8MB Direct 3D Compatible Video Card, Soundblaster Compatible Sound Card, DirectX 7.0 or Higher.