Many new independent mobile titles pay homage to the point-and-click adventure genre, so it makes sense that we also get rereleases of the classic titles that inspired today’s indie developers. Simon the Sorcerer is one such game. Although the twentieth anniversary port features enhanced graphics and music, it’s still fundamentally the same game as it was in 1993. Like so many adventures of that era, Simon has bucketloads of charm. Unfortunately, given that the gameplay is dominated by fetch quests and illogical puzzles, the design leaves a lot to be desired.
Simon is a kid who discovers a magic spell book that sends him into a medieval-y dimension. From there, the whole plot literally comes from a note he finds written by a good wizard, who pleads for Simon to rescue him from an evil wizard. It’s a deliberately throwaway approach to a run-of-the-mill fantasy quest as the game is more invested in stuffing itself full of parodies and fourth-wall-breaking jokes than any sort of narrative arc or character development.
The game achieves an impressive level of charm mostly because of how it looks and sounds. The graphics are pixel art at its finest, with detailed environments varying from a village to a lush forest to snowy mountains. The animation is amazingly fluid. Simon’s hunched saunter perfectly complements his aloof personality, and nearly every background contains auxiliary animation to make it feel more alive, like a wolf loping about or an eagle swooping down on its prey. The art in this version is enhanced, smoothing out already good-looking pixels, and is effective in making the graphics stack up well against modern 2D titles. The option to switch back to the original graphics is also available.
The music has received a fresh coat of has more pizazz as well. It’s still midi, but with markedly improved renditions of the original score (which is also included). The soundtrack consists of pleasant fantasy-appropriate tunes with a soft rock vibe. Some tracks are quite memorable, though you’ll potentially get sick of the few that loop in each major area.
Though Simon’s presentation is charismatic, the gameplay doesn’t hold up. The puzzles nearly all fall into two categories: “completely insane” and “fetch quests.” A prime example of the former is a troll who won’t let you cross his bridge until you get him some cooked goat, but then you find out all you actually have to do is engage him in conversation again once you’ve procured a whistle. It’s as inane as it sounds, and solving it is a matter of dumb luck. The fetch quests require no thought whatsoever as characters will straightforwardly tell you the item they want. With a large, mazelike game world and many screens containing only one or two items, you’ll spend lots of time revisiting areas, trying to remember where you saw an object or NPC. There’s a map that lets you quickly jump between locations, but it doesn’t include all of them, so you’ll be forced to wander regardless.
While serviceable, the game’s interface is outdated, borrowing the Monkey Island verb system where you select an action (e.g., “Look at,” “Pick up”) and then the object or person you wish to perform it on. Simon adds three of its own verbs: “Consume,” “Wear,” and “Remove.” These are mostly superfluous, as they’re only needed for only a few specific situations. One welcome inclusion is a button that shows you the interactive spots on each screen. This is invaluable considering some objects are only a few pixels big.
Controls have been updated for touch screens, so you can tap anywhere to move Simon or to select verbs and objects. One irritant is that the arrows for scrolling through your inventory are small, so it’s difficult to get them to respond at first touch. Otherwise, the touch controls work fine. However, if your need for old-school purity borders on mental illness, you can revert back to the original control scheme and laboriously drag a cursor around instead.
A final potential barrier to enjoyment is how relentlessly British Simon is. I lived in England for a while, but this game still left me flummoxed with phrases like “You can smegging well naff off!” NPCs are also inclined to prattle on for extensive periods in service of comedy rather than to provide information. Some jokes are great and the voice acting is pretty high-quality, but the rambling can get grating.
The twentieth anniversary edition of Simon the Sorcerer doesn’t seem too interested in attracting a new audience. Beyond the welcome audiovisual updates, nothing has been added to ease in newcomers. This port is for those already familiar with Simon or perhaps the few old-school adventure fans who somehow missed it in ‘93. Veteran adventure gamers may be able to overlook the maddening puzzle design and appreciate the game for its charm, but younger gamers will be left confused as to what we ever saw in this silliness.