Point-and-click aficionados looking for another adventure series like Monkey Island put their hopes in Simon the Sorcerer and those hopes were not misplaced. Simon has most of what made Monkey Island's Guybrush Threepwood a memorable and fun character to mouse-click across the screen; he is a young misplaced wanabee out of his element fully equipped with irreverent humor and a desire to prove himself amidst the sneers and jeers of doubtful townsfolk.
Just like several of C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles, Simon the Sorcerer opens with an ennui-ridden, apathetic youngster with no deep purpose in his life who finds his destiny through a mythical dimension. Simon skulks around his attic to avoid doing homework, where his dog finds a magic book; being repulsed by more reading, Simon throws the book on the floor where it opens to reveal a transdimensional portal. His dog runs in, and Simon follows dutifully only to crash a party of hungry trolls. After escaping their cauldron, he learns his purpose: to confront and vanquish and evil sorcerer and save his new mentor Calypso (who we never actually meet in the game, sort of like Charlie from Charlie's Angels). With such a hackneyed plot, you may think Simon the Sorcerer has nothing special to give its player story-wise, but its dialogue, use of ridiculous props, and plethora of anachronisms make it anything but conventional. Simon's Groucho-esque duck-walk lets us immediately know that we are in for an adventure full of wisecracks.
Simon the Sorcerer for the Amiga CD32 is a basic port of earlier versions of the game with one vital difference: it talks. On its packaging, the Simon was advertised as a "talkie" and while this may give the game replay value for some who have already completed it, this feature could have easily been a bust for this already beloved game. Just as the transition from silent films to talkies was an awkward one, retrofitting computer games with voices came with mixed results. Flight of the Amazon Queen, for example, gave the lead character such a thick Brooklyn accent that he made William Bendix sound like an articulate orator. The voices in the highly acclaimed Beneath a Steel Sky were good and well-acted, but they loaded so slowly that many gamers disabled them and reverted back to reading text. With Simon the Sorcerer, however, the marriage is nearly perfect. Not only do the voices load quickly, but Simon's comic timing remains intact with the acting of the very capable Chris Barrie from the British sitcom, Red Dwarf. Most fans of British comedy will enjoy Barrie's stoic yet sarcastic delivery, which is, at times, on par with Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder character, who the game's head developer, Simon Woodruffe, has cited as an influence in the creation of the young wizard's personality.
From the start, we see the literary influences of this game-the Oxford Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Most of the references are overt and easily recognizable-Gandalf jokes, a convention-bound fanboy dressed like a Golem, a stone table with no purpose other than as a prop for Simon to refer about a lion being shaved and sacrificed. Impressively, the writers seem to give a subtle nod to Lewis' lesser-known work when Simon meets two demons named "Belchgrabbit" and "Snogfondle," names that seem like they can come directly from Lewis' Screwtape Letters with its own devilish minions with names like Toadpipe, Slubgob, Slumtrimpet, and the titular Screwtape. Most of the literary allusions are shameless and characters make several jokes about possible copyright infringement. Like Terry Pratchett's Discword novels and games, the parody that is Simon the Sorcerer was clearly written with a deep appreciation of fantasy fiction.
The game's failings are similar to those of most point-and-click adventures, namely pixel hunting. When in doubt, sweep your cursor across the entire screen until you hook onto a maneuverable object. Some objects are so camouflaged with the background that finding them verges on cruelty. While some adventures of this time came with tip-hotlines to unearth these, the game manual offers no such resource. Today, online walkthroughs are plentiful, but back in the day, many bleary-eyed gamers must have had a lovely time scanning their television screens for an owl feather or a book of matches.
Another flaw is the way this adventure ends. The long-awaited confrontation with the dark wizard Sordid is rather short and the whole thing ends without much fanfare. Many devoted adventurers have complained of this shortcoming, but the good news is that the ending hints at a sequel in a year's time, and sure enough it came two years later.
The idea of playing a point and click adventure on a home console hooked up to a TV may seem awkward or strange, but it sure beats having to swap floppy disks on a PC. This kind of games seem best suited for sitting at a desk with your mouse atop a flat surface, but it remains a strong title even for a system touted as a console rather than a computer. Too bad the system did not fare well long enough to see the release of Simon's sequel which many consider superior to the original.
(Note: If you play Simon on a NTSC system, you will need to use the joypad to access commands cut off at the bottom of the screen. Since the game was originally programmed for European televisions with a difference resolution, it does not stretch across U.S. televisions screens properly.)