Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Simon the Sorcerer 5: Who'd even want contact?!

The once dead point and click adventure game has had something of a revival lately, what with the old classic, Monkey Island, making a comeback last year. Now another hero of the 1990s point and click adventure genre has returned in the shape of Simon the Sorcerer. Hero is a loose term, but the gobby wizard is indeed back in Simon the Sorcerer 5: Who'd even want contact?!

The year 1993 was a truly ancient time. Mobile phones were easily confused with bricks, the internet was something only the real nerds knew anything about, and also the original Simonthe Sorcerer game was released. This is when we first encountered Simon, an ordinary teenager transported to ‘The Magical World' to become a sorcerer. Of course, there being nothing better than a sarcastic teen in a wizard's hat, many adventures ensued, bringing us up to the present release. If you're feeling turned off by the idea of another fantasy game, fear not! This series has always spoofed fantasy stories and fairy tales with entertaining results, and number five is no different.

The game begins with our lazy, lying, workshy and downright rude ‘hero' slobbing out in front of the TV when aliens suddenly invade his home and abduct his girlfriend, Alix. Thus it falls to Simon to save the world and the girl in this rather enjoyable game. Being a point and click adventure, STS follows the familiar pattern of many before it - talk to people, examine things, pick them up, and combine them in order to solve puzzles in nicely rendered 2D environments. These puzzles are generally simple enough and it's usually easy to determine what needs to be combined with what and given to whom in order to advance the story. However, occasionally the solutions to puzzles are pretty obscure. For example, sometimes items need to be used with seemingly unrelated objects in the static background. Of course,point and click adventure games are supposed to challenge the mind, but clicking on everything in order to discover a strange solution can quickly become frustrating.

Speaking of frustrating, the voice work in STS is not only often cringe-worthy but also poorly lip-synced. The winner of the worst voice award goes to Swampy the Swampling hands down. This little green guy is essentially Simon's sidekick but you'll be sick of him as soon as he's spoken for more than two seconds. His voice and annoying speech pattern makes Star Wars' Jar Jar Binks seem like someone you'd happily engage in polite chit chat.

Jar Jar is an apt comparison given the aliens theme of STS, which takes us into Outer Space. In Hallmark Simon the Sorcerer style, the game manages to cram in numerous spoofs of classic Sci-Fi films, including blatant and amusing references to Star Wars towards the end of the game. We're also treated to a number of other non-fantasy environments as Simon's adventures take him all over the place. A tropical island and an underground city home to a race of mole people spring to mind as examples of the beautifully designed pre-rendered 2D backgrounds that bring the locations to life throughout the game.

Unfortunately, the 3D cell-shaded characters don't quite fit into these 2D worlds. Simon and his friends are designed in a similar way to those fellows in ‘Fairy Tales: Three Heroes' but in this environment they just don't work properly. This is especially evident in the cut scenes where movement is very jerky. Perhaps STS would have benefitted from being rendered entirely in 2D, but then again, in 2010 this may have been seen by the kids of today as a bit primitive, what with them new fangled 3D graphics being the only thing they've ever known. Damned kids and their music!

Anyway, what was this old man rambling on about? Ah yes. The average modelling combined with the poor voice work is a real shame because STS comes with an interesting (ie: mental) cast that often provide witty dialogue in wonderfully weird situations. This is emphasised by the fact that well-loved fairy tale folk are depicted very differently to their traditional incarnations. You'll meet Goldilocks (a leather clad cat burglar), Red Riding Hood (an angry violent feminist), and Puss in Boots (who's a bit thinner than you remember). Characters from previous STS games pop up but if you're new to the series you won't have to worry about not recognising them thanks to optional dialogue with gags explaining who these people are and where they're from - purposely and massively breaking the fourth wall in the process.

All in all, Simon the Sorcerer 5: Who'd even want contact?! is a solid point and click adventure game. The 3D character models do look strange against 2D backgrounds, and the voice work is somewhat off, but if you can overlook these flaws (which can be partially achieved by turning off the audio and switching to text dialogue) this is a pleasant experience with enough swipes at fantasy and sci-fi to keep fans of both genres entertained. The puzzles randomly jump between the ridiculously easy to the ridiculously confusing but over the course of the game this evens out and adventure enthusiasts will no doubt enjoy the occasional challenges. One other thing worth mentioning is that at around eight hours long, some may find the game a bit short. If you're new topoint and click games I wouldn't say this is the very best one to try first, but if you're a veteran of adventure games or a fan of the Simon the Sorcerer series you might want to add Who'd even want contact?! to your games inventory. A free hint to get you started: to get the best out of the game, you should combine it with your PC. You can solve the other puzzles on your own.

7/10

(Originally written for Game-Debate)

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