So if you were Adventuresoft, what would you do?
You have a successful first part of a series that has become popular with people all over the world, you have already hyped up the sequel with the end sequence of the first game, and you probably have a far more impressive budget for production. Well, you pretty much have two options: either make something cutting edge and supremely different, but run the risk of it being a crashing failure; or, stick with what you know and do an almost exact replica. Now, I’m a very traditional man. I like the “Golden Age of Point & Click” and I like the fact that Linkin Park’s second album is just Hybrid Theory part 2. My firm belief in life is that “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Don’t get me wrong; I realise that change can be a good thing -- after all, we wouldn’t have the SCUMM engine if someone hadn’t thought “typing in verbs is such a waste of time,” and just look at Day Of The Tentacle compared to Maniac Mansion, But I have to say I was most relieved back in 1995 to fire up my copy of Simon the Sorcerer 2: The Lion, The Wizard and The Wardrobe and be greeted with something very familiar.
Within a second of starting Simon 2, you know where you are. The music that made Simon 1 what it was strikes up and the same 256 colours fade onto the screen. Yet despite all these recognisable elements, there’s something more grown-up about what you see. The images you are greeted with seem to resemble a full-blown prologue rather than a few small animations interspersed with credits to set the scene as was seen in the first instalment. Immediately we meet a new character by the name of Runt, who manages to resurrect Simon’s old nemesis Sordid. By the time we see Runt and Sordid in the new improved fortress of evil, already the animators have added some impressive perspective shots to the usual flat 2D animations with Sordid leering over a balcony at Runt standing by a pool.
These are not the only things that give this game an air of maturity. Once you actually start playing, you quickly realise that this is not the game you played two years ago. For example, gone is the silly interface that had ridiculous verbs in it like “consume” and “remove” and in its place, a bright shiny new interface that utilises pictures in the place of written words. It’s more a cosmetic change, as it functions like the interface in the first game, and I do think Adventuresoft would have done better to use a system like that of Sam & Max whereby you right click on the mouse to scroll through the icons, but it does look a lot better than the first game’s. Also, once you step out of a location, no longer do you have to wander through endless “filler” woodland, instead you get the familiar adventure game map with hotspots where you can choose straight away where you wish to go to. Although you lose some of the characteristics that the woodland brought to the game (like the animated creatures and the rocks with faces), it makes the game a lot easier to navigate.
Another noticeable improvement is that there is a far more coherent plotline to the second game. Locations operate like “Acts” splitting the action up into manageable chunks rather than the vast array of locations dished out to us at the start of the first game. But that’s not to say that this game is any easier or shorter; quite the opposite. Simon 2 is exceedingly tough at some points, largely due to the often incomprehensible puzzles, and there’s plenty of them as well. There are at least three points where this game could finish, but instead whisks Simon off to a new location with more hotspots and more puzzles. The longevity of Simon 2 is definitely a credit to the game; a seasoned adventure gamer that had never seen it before would have trouble finishing this in under 20 hours of play. Yet it never once seems laborious or tedious. Often I’d get really frustrated by a puzzle but I never gave up, I kept going back and back until it was solved.
The puzzles haven’t changed much though. Thankfully there are no conundrums involving small rocks, but the same bizarre nature is inherent throughout. There’s one puzzle involving a dog on the tropical island that had me flummoxed for about a week and really wound me up, however once I discovered how blatantly obvious the solution was, I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to throwing my computer out the window. But it’s all harmless fun and you have to admire Adventuresoft for doing a puzzle so ridiculous that it can have you tearing your hair out with frustration.
Like the first game, the music is spellbindingly accurate. I’m not sure how they do it, but every scene has music that both fits with what is on screen but also fits in with the grand score of the entire game. A particular favourite is the upbeat little number when you’re by the cat-eating plant and the sea shanty when you’re on the pirate ship.
A big reward for finishing Simon 2 and a big improvement on the original is the end sequence. Whereas in Simon it acted as an advert for the second game, the sequence in Simon 2 not only sets up the third instalment but also introduces some clever plot twists, leaving the player desperate for more. I remember running to our local games retailer when I first completed Simon 2, and demanding if there was a release date for Simon 3. This was back in 1995; little did I know I’d have a further seven years to wait.
However, for all these plus points Simon 2 has one huge, unforgivable kick in the teeth. I suppose with a more grown-up game you have to expect Simon to grow up as well; after all, it’s almost two years since the teenage wannabe sorcerer hit our computer screens and puberty can be an ugly thing. But Simon in Simon 2 is a completely different character. Firstly, before he’s even opened his mouth you have to tackle the tragic ponytail; it has to be seen to be believed. It’s the voice however, above all things that will truly grate on your nerves. Gone is Chris Barrie’s witty and charming voice acting that complemented the game perfectly back in 1993, and out spews the most annoying, snidey and whiney voice I think I’ve ever heard. I’m at a loss to describe it accurately, but think a horny 12-year-old Tony Blair and you’re halfway to comprehending this atrocity. I don’t know where Brian Bowles was found to do the voice, but believe me it does not work. I feel uncomfortable listening to Simon talking to the non-player characters. All the humour has been sapped out of the comments he makes and instead Simon just sounds spiteful and mean-spirited and after hearing “are you on some kind of medication” for the 60th time after making a wrong decision I just wanted to wring his scrawny neck, and I’m not a violent man.
It’s a shame that Simon’s voice is so repellent because the rest of the voice acting is fantastic. Characters like The Goldilocks and Um-Bongo will stick in your memory. The sound does suffer from bad recording at some points, especially when talking with Calypso’s granddaughter Alix, who can barely be understood at points.
It’s really been tough trying to give this game a star rating. The gameplay is just as good, if not better than the original; in fact the whole game feels like the original but with a slightly more mature attitude. But it’s that voice, that voice, oh that voice, how I wish it would go away. I’ve gone for the same score as the first because it’s just the game its predecessor was, but I feel that it could have been much better if I hadn’t been so annoyed to be playing as Simon. The game is fantastic and entirely worthy of its 4 stars, but I just can’t forgive Adventuresoft for loosing Brian Bowles on us. I think everyone should play Simon 2, but just do it with the speech off and the subtitles on.