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Simon the Sorcerer 4
Chaos happens

Review


At the 12th January 2013 I finished the game and I therefore think now is a good time to publish a report about it.

I have bought the game already one day after its release (the day of the release it was nowhere available in my city) after I was waiting so long for a new Simon game. Soon after I bought it I have installed the game and started playing it. Back then I used a computer for playing that was slightly below the minimal requirements (1.99 GHz). The game ran, but when changing from one screen to another one I had to wait for a very long time which could cause some headache. Additionally I got stuck at the magnet puzzle, because I didn't find the cat's bowl at the music instrument builder. So I forgot about the game for a quite long time. End of 2012 - when I figured that the Simonology fanpage would be closed - I reinstalled the game; this time however I used a notebook that I bought back in 2007. Here the screen changes were a bit quicker in my opinion, but the delay was still uncomfortable. Especially annoying is that when starting the game you have first to wait for the two company logos to load just to be able to skip them. Then you have to wait even longer until the introduction with Simon's little brother appears whose recurring first "Nope" begins to annoy very fast so that you try to avoid restarting the game if possible (at least it runs stable and doesn't crash like Simon 3D).

The puzzles were quite logical and through some hints that Simon gave after receiving a quest (announced by the blinking book) you had an idea in which direction the solution can be found. Some fans found these hints annoying. I can imagine that when replaying the game, they might be disturbing. By the way, I only used the hint function once - which was at a task at the beginning where I couldn't remember one solution of a puzzle that I solved at the first attempt. Where I got stuck for a very long time was at the following puzzles:

The first situation was at the safe. The note had good clues, but some of them were confusing. I quickly noticed that the lovely flower was not a real plant but Alix. However I had real trouble with the pillars at the market place: At the pizzeria I counted three, then four. Both wrong. Did the developers of the game mean the two posts at the market place? That would have meant some weaknesses in language. After a brute force attack at the safe I knew that the two pillars at the Swampling's club house are meant.

The second problem I had with the stolen picture. I got it in my inventory, but the all-purpose-officer didn't want to accept it as the stolen one. I even wanted to show it to the rich guy. Simon talked to him about the picture, but didn't show it to him although he owned it originally and according to the journal Simon should identify it and no one could have done better than the rich guy. The developers should have included the possibility to show it to him and the ghost. So you would have had better feedback if you were told that it wasn't this picture and you would rather have gotten the idea to modify the picture. It wasn't that tragic that I got stuck because I progressed at other situations like getting the troll off the bridge for the second time. Finally I came to the solution by brute force combining in the inventory. I thought the bucket with the sponge was empty.

The third puzzle which took me a very long time was getting swamp soup from the Swampling, when he was angry with me. Simon said something about cooking. So I searched for ingredients in the area, but didn't find any, wanted to fill the pot with water, but Simon didn't want to. I have begun already to think that Simon just said the cooking part just like that and you had to entice him away differently. Then I discovered the invitation to the party in the realm of the dead. THIS has to interest the Swampling! But no, didn't work. Maybe you had to move the invitation through the gap under the door? Negative. Maybe you just had to confuse the Swampling by going into the club house with the double when Simon is already in, so that he can open the door for him. Similarly it should work in the solution. But before I walked around in the area, couldn't talk to anybody, couldn't find any items and was simply frustrated. I quitted the game and went to bed. The next morning I had an intuition after a while telling me to go to Calypso's shop. First I thought there might be any disgusting things for cooking. Then I got the idea to try again that thing with the machine and the chicken. Then I finally progressed, although I don't like much that solution for personal reasons. I also found it bad that you couldn't make the powder earlier. Simon could have carried it around with him the whole game after the realm of the dead. Additionally the graphic after using the powder with the pot was misguiding. I thought the soup has been already finished. Only when examining it the player is told that water is missing. Also Simon could have filled in the water first and then have added the powder.

After that I finished the game the same day without any big problems. I found the end quite strange as it doesn't match Simon's type to abandon his "real" world because he wanted to go back there which he told expressly in the third game.

The ideas in the game are very original. You notice that Simon Woodroffe's handwriting is missing, but still the developers came up with a lot of ideas to create a good game. Often allusions were made to current events that you will notice in the original German version however and that were not or badly adapted in the English localization. This makes the game less timeless than the first and second game.

A highlight of the game is without doubt that you can play Simon's double, although you can't do so many things than with Simon as he rejects numerous actions (at least you can pull down the troll to the realm of the dead which he regrets in a witty kind afterwards). Especially funny in my opinion was the insult duel that you could arrange by placing both Simons into one room and then talk to the other and change to the other Simon and repeat the procedure. A nice implementation was also that you got a note that you cannot exchange items while the double is still at Hades' place. Especially disturbing for me about the double Simon was that he had another colour compared to the real Simon and the people still behaved as if both were identical. Although it was never mentioned that both of them are wearing clothes of the same colour, but still the people behave quite stupidly. Either the developers gave all characters a colour blindness concerning red and green or the green coat was given to the second Simon just after the German voice recordings when the dialogues couldn't be changed anymore. It's nice to try to enable the player to keep both of them apart, but the characters should have mentioned the colour difference then.

You see again some old characters: The Swampling, Alix, Calypso, Goldilocks and the two demons Gerald and Max. While Max used to say also other phrases than "(something), yeah" in Simon 3D, he completely abandoned this habit in this game which is a little pitty, because it showed his simple person structure and mental limit.

Very regrettable concerning the old characters is that all characters (in all non-German version even Simon) got new voice actors. That's a real shame in my opinion, because back then it has been already possible to organize recordings by telecommunication using Music Taxis. The excuse that getting the voice actors to the city where the recording takes place I think is horrible. It mustn't be that every character gets a new voice in every new game.

Concerning the voice acting I can generally say that most roles sound convincing. With Simon's new English voice I am not quite sure if I should say it's a good actor or just someone overacting who is annoying.

I also want to make a short statement concerning the sounds: They are fine and convincing in themselves, but unfortunately they are often out of sync, meaning that a sound effect is heard when the action that triggers that sound hasn't even happened yet or the sound is played back too late. At one point, namely in the realm of Hades, the soundscape was also too loud. The crash of thunder drowned out some of the rather quietly speaking supporting characters. Therefore, I had to manually turn down the corresponding volume setting. The compression of the audio files is better than in Simon 3D, but you can still hear it. If one already opts for the patent-free Ogg compression, which is superior to the MP3 technology, one should have also used aoTUV. Here you can achieve high-quality results even at relatively low bit rates.

The music is very well done and offers a few catchy tunes, but nine music tracks are simply too few for a game of this size. For comparison: Even Simon 3D, which had comparatively few music tracks even back then, contains 26 music tunes.

Regarding the graphics, it can be said that they are good. The characters look lovely, though I would have liked Simon with a ponytail better. (The animations seem a bit wooden partailly, but at least they are better than in Simon 3D, so that you can really see the soup flowing out of the container when "eating" the swamp soup. However, they are more fluid and convincing in Simon 2. Some animations of picking up certain objects and a few more are missing. Likewise, there is no animation when Simon and his doppelganger exchange items, but they are magically teleported from one character to the other. In addition, the animations jerk slightly, which is due to the high capacity requirements. Every now and then, I even had the gameplay in slow motion for more than half a minute, but then everything was alright again.

I find the credits innovative: You can scroll through them according to your own needs. Unfortunately, this doesn't work smoothly, since the game takes up enormous system capacities, which, however, every installer manages much better with the license text. With some music in the background, reading through wouldn't be so dry either. The title melody, which is usually only heard in the main menu at the start of the game, would have been suitable for this. Another shortcoming of this credits list is that the name of the recording studio where the voice recordings were made is missing, as well as the voice actor information. I've already given up hope that developers of entertainment products (including movies) will give us a list of who voiced what role, but we should at least be able to find out who lent their voices to the game.

Historically, Simon 4 has brought some chaos the Simon world. The Swampling tells us what has happened since the nexus bit in Simon 3D, but the answer is unsatisfactory. Simon simply left and the other Simon stayed behind. This doesn't fit at all with the end of the previous game, since here the doppelganger was clearly the evil one. Moreover, why should the other Simon - whether good or evil - leave his nexus to live an unchallenged life in Calypso's world? Kind of illogical. Maybe the problem could have been solved by "converting" the evil Simon to a good Simon by some means, but then the story would have had to be changed a bit, because then the second Simon would not have been able to live in Calypso's dimension so easily. By the way, if the double is so neat and also so righteous, why does he have an animal skin lying in his room and is no vegan? Suddenly, there is also the realm of Hades, while Sordid, however, was to be found in hell in Simon 2. Hades mentions hell in a phone call, telling the caller who has dialed the wrong number to dial the appropriate one next time. Whether and how it is decided whether one goes to Hades' realm or to hell remains open. The fact that Alix suddenly falls in love with the chaotic Simon is implausible. In Simon 2, she was initially enthusiastic about him when she didn't really know him, but then she quickly becomes disappointed in him when he starts joking around with her and doesn't like him anymore. The fact that Alix suddenly fancies such a ruffian does not correspond to her role from the second part. Simon 4 also introduces the annoying term "Magic World," which sounds like out of a "picture book for little kids," although the fans are likely to be mostly adults. In the predecessors, the term "other dimension" was used. All this and the fact that Simon transports his double into his world at the end don't exactly make it easier to get all the Simon games under one hat and form a coherent story where there are no inconsistencies.

The age rating surprises me a bit. You don't see any violence, but sometimes there is quite a bit of violence and some uncensored swear words are used, while they are censored elsewhere. I consider this to be quite inconsistent. In Simon 1 and 2, the typical beep sound was always played when foul language was used. And whether it makes sense to present the murder of a boar and a chicken to a small child as completely harmless is, in my opinion, very questionable from an educational point of view.

All in all, I have mixed feelings about the game. On the one hand it is entertaining, has logical puzzles and is unpredictable, on the other hand the all roles have been cast differently and the game is very capacity-heavy. Also, the story gets jumbled up. I thought about what grade I would give a game like this and initially wavered between B- and C-. In the end, I decided to give it a C, because the game is not one of the shelf, which is only moderately fun, but I would call it good, but the negative sides must lead to a corresponding reduction.

Let's see how Simon 5 turns out. Atilla Arnold, the maker of Simonology, said that it was "piss-poor", but I'll still try to approach the game with as little prejudice as possible.

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