A touch more magic

Simon the Sorcerer – making his debut on the PC in 1993 – was the British answer to Lucasarts’ Monkey Island (amongst the lead designer’s favourite games), and arguably eclipsed it in terms of stylish presentation and its engaging, humourous storyline. Not least, the Amiga CD version represented the earliest adventure game to feature a full cast of voice actors, the starring attraction being Chris Barrie who was at the peak of his fame at the time thanks to his pivotal roles in Red Dwarf and The Brittas Empire.

There’s no denying it failed to match Monkey Island’s seemingly perennial sales performance and global notoriety, yet Simon did reach the number three slot in Gallup’s top 10 chart for A1200/CD32 games in April 1994 (Amiga Format, page 30).

A slow burner admittedly, it went on to become a cult favourite amongst discerning Amiga and PC point and click aficionados, whilst neglected Mac gamers could only watch from the sidelines in anticipation of a port that wouldn’t materialise until 2012! 12 long years after the sequel graced the Mac and Amiga with its wizardly presence, courtesy of Epic Interactive.

Speaking of which, development work for ‘Simon the Sorcerer II: The Lion, the Wizard and the Wardrobe’ (that’s not how that goes!) began shortly after the original entry in the series departed Adventure Soft’s Sutton Coldfield studios in a hazy puff of purple smoke. Following copious toil and hair-tearing from a talented legion of programmers, artists, musicians, voice-over actors and backroom production staff, it was released for DOS and Windows in 1995.

Much to fan’s relief, a largely appreciative critical audience embraced it, noting one or two reservations, which we’ll visit in due course. STS2 was acknowledged with the ‘Best Adventure in 1995’ award by PC Player in their inaugural issue in 1996, while Amiga Active decreed it worthy of full marks in February 2001, rating it on a scale with a meridian of four strangely enough.

For anyone who skipped STS mk 1, the manual helpfully opens with an elucidating recap of the chain of events thus far, as expounded through a conversation between Simon and his psychiatrist who is attempting to alleviate his ‘delusions’ of grandeur. In typical irreverent fashion, the doc speaks with an approximation of Sigmund Freud’s Austrian-German accent, comically (your mileage may vary) replacing consonants with the letter v wherever possible.

In-game too our fourth-wall-breaking protagonist, Simon, and NPCs (that’s non-playable characters) make numerous references to events and jokes that occurred in the first junket to the land of hocus pocus. As much to tick you off for not buying the first game, these scene-setting hints help to bring the player up to speed, whetting your appetite for a return to what for me is the more memorable game of the two. In fact, much of the inherent humour in a comedy sequel of any kind emanates from winking throwbacks to previous shared experiences and characters. STS2 is no different in this regard so you may find that some of the jokes fall flat if you’re new to the series.

Sordid, now dead as a dodo following a heated debate with a Lord-of-the-Rings-spoofing fiery pit of molten lava, is accidentally resurrected as a ghostly apparition when the father of ‘Runt’ – a wannabe magician – confiscates the sorcerer’s bible he bought from a man in the village, sets it ablaze, and hurls the book into a chalk pentagram Runt had been toying with earlier.

Naturally full of vengeance, Sordid threatens to make the now trendily-ponytailed, older (yet no more mature) and even snarkier Simon pay for his insolence, offering Runt the supreme honour of becoming his lackey – I mean esteemed apprentice – should he agree to facilitate the fulfillment of his fiendish wish. Runt, desperate to escape the tyranny of his father who sees him only as a farm labourer, ripe for slavery, jumps at the opportunity to sell his soul and enter the magic inner circle. Vowing to make his father – and equally bullying brothers – suffer, he turns to the Dark Side. With Luke Skywalker nowhere to be seen, he may never return.

Simon, now back on some planet called earth, will need to be whisked from the safety of an ordinary adolescent existence to the mystical land from whence he escaped in his first foray into amateur necromancy. You see, he’s the final ‘ingredient’ Sordid requires to make the transition between the dimensional planes of the spirit world and our corporeal one. Well he can hardly remain in a mechanical suit of armour forever – nipple chafing is no joke, even when you’re a ghost!

Not content with putting Simon in his place, he also intends to take over the world… don’t they always? Cue demonic caterwauling, thunderbolts and lightning. Ooh, how terribly frightening.

Simon and dad Mike Woodroffe had already settled on a clever, pun-tastic title so clearly the only mode of transport under consideration had to be a galaxy-crossing cupboard… a Mucusade-powered one of course! Apparently Sordid “read about something similar once in a children’s book”. I expect he means ‘Charlie and the Magical Wardrobe’. Yup, that’ll be it.

 

Having first re-built his towering Fortress of Doom coddled inside a volcano, Sordid arranges for the fabled, never-ending furniture to miraculously surface in Simon’s room. Overcome by curiosity, he steps inside and the rest is Narnian history… the director’s cut, probably. The version in which Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie team up with Marty and Doc Brown from Back to the Future. Simon even dabbles with time travel at one point to complete the homage.

Through Runt’s incompetence he incorrectly calculates the trajectory of the returning teleportation device, and consequently Simon re-emerges outside Calypso’s – not a typo – ‘Magike’ Emporium rather than Sordid’s formidable dungeon.

Serendipitously he is hence free to converse with the previously unseen wizard he rescued three years prior, who informs Simon that to kick-start his ride home he’ll need to acquire the requisite Mucasade fuel to generate 1.21 Gigawhats of energy. According to our not exactly treasured friend Calypso, “the most potent source of raw energy in the world” must be swiped from within the king’s fortified and guarded castle treasury.

 

At first you might imagine that you can breach it by simply floating up to the window of one of the castle’s turrets using a trio of helium-filled MucSwampy’s balloons you acquire from the Swampy-suited meeter and greeter… and you’d be right. Sort of. Try it and you’ll soon be shot down by the demonic thugs on patrol. So instead, to get into the treasury you’ll need to go up the stairs from the inside and root the demon’s to the spot with a MucSwampy’s (worryingly not milk) shake. Even then you have to repeat the balloon trick because they’ll now be blocking the entrance to the doorway.

“Will you move along please. I need time to consider the bleakness of existence”.

Getting into the castle in the first place (not to mention acquiring the substitute demon glue) is itself a tall order entailing another palaverous escapade of intertwined fetch-questing riddles that culminates in cheating your way to winning a contest to become the appointed Royal Wizard.

I’m sure you get the gist without me having to rewrite the entire walkthrough. This being a traditional point and click adventure, getting from objective A to resolution B naturally impels you to decipher all manner of obscure, baffling puzzles. Some of them even occasionally make sense… once you’ve read the walkthrough.

While the gameplay mechanics remain largely intact, a number of enhancements set STS2 apart from its – barely in need of tweakery – predecessor. Whether these improve or detract from the dramedy saga so adeptly imbued with warmth and endearing verve is a matter of opinion largely steered by your affection for the wryly sarcastic – yet benevolent at heart – Simon.

Project director, Mike Woodroffe, set out to recruit a team of artists to create the bewitching 256 colour pixel art you see before you, whittling down 300 candidates to just seven, some of whom you’ll recognise from STS1. Together they crafted two disparate worlds bursting with meticulous refinement, and lavishly animated flora and fauna, split between more than 17 locations. Locations as diverse as a pirate ship, tropical island, loan shark’s office (where Mike Woodroffe makes a cameo appearance), witches’ cave (home to a trio of hags plucked straight from Clash of the Titans), the enchanting woods seen in the first game, and a goblin camp in which you’ll meet the D&D equivalent of E.T.

Whereas the first game relied on fixed, single screen scenarios, the sequel employs fully panning environments that are more immersive and plausible as a consequence.

“The style will remain much the same, but the actual graphics will be completely new. Also, the game will be much bigger than the first Simon adventure, so we’ve had to increase our workforce considerably. We have seven full-time artists working in Simon 2 compared to the four that were working on the first version and these guys will be producing approximately seven man years worth of graphics in the finished version. That’s an awful lot of pictures!”

Now 1995 we waved goodbye to the verb-oriented inventory system of old, ushering in a new icon-driven GUI. Even so, each of the eight symbols essentially depict the same commands with which we are all familiar having grown up with the SCUMM engine games, beginning with Maniac Mansion.

Simon’s trusty map on a postcard is back for a second outing, though this time round it scrolls to reveal a wider scope of potential destinations, split between the town and Sordid’s stomping ground, the Valley of Doom. We’re no longer obliged to reveal areas of this bird’s eye view of the playfield prior to beaming ourselves to them. We can go almost anywhere from the outset in the town, and again in the Valley of Doom once we’ve made the transition to the second half of our bizarre pilgrimage. Which is a bonus because it provides the opportunity to be stuck in a myriad of different scenarios simultaneously rather than restricted to a select sample that could quickly become tiresome and frustrating. STS1 is a much more linear pursuit by comparison.

Gone is all that aimless trudging back and forth, only to end up at square one with fewer hours remaining on your ticking bio-clock. Although, this did lend the first game a sense of epic scope and the potential for discovery through empiricism, even if it was somewhat artificial. Regardless, STS (either of them) doesn’t need to blindfold and spin you on the spot to augment the experience; they’re both colossal games that demand many weeks to explore and unravel. A tradition that persisted as our reticent hero made the regrettable leap to 3D adventuring. According to Simon Woodroffe Simon 3 is “Longer than either of the others. I’m told it takes someone who knows the game 17 hours to complete. A fresh player takes over 60.” (interview with Adventure-Treff, 17.09.2000).

Saving and loading games is also taken care of once more via the postcard in your inventory, whilst shortcut key toggles give you greater control over the experience. For instance, music, sound effects (peripheral and foreground), voices and text dialogue can all be enabled or disabled independently at the touch of a button. What might have been preferable though is to get the volume balance between them right before publishing the CD so there would be no need to muzzle any of the audio. As it is, very often the sound effects or nondescript music drown out the aspect that should be most prominent: the voices.

Tackle this by switching on the accompanying subtitles and you’ll find that the dialogue suffers from premature audio clipping due to buggy coding. Unfortunately bugginess also extends to the object manipulation system – occasionally you’ll pick up an item, it will appear in your inventory and yet you’ll still be able to attempt to interact with it in its original locale.

F5 skips through cut scenes in case you’ve already seen them (or have the attention span of a gnat), whereas the right mouse button interrupts the currently active discourse (your chosen dialogue response) so you can jump to the next option. Finally, the F10 key can be whacked to simultaneously highlight all the interactive elements on the screen (represented by blinking stars) to save you the tedium and irritation of having to root them out one pixel at a time with your divining rod, I mean cursor; a foible which plagued many an early adventure game. On a related note, as in STS1 you’re indestructible no matter what perilous endurance tests you put Simon through; a concept totally alien to Sierra fans while the point ‘n’ click stalwarts were still finding their feet.

Perhaps the biggest change of all is Simon’s abduction and return following the installation of a new voice box and a personality transplant. He’s even refreshed his wardrobe, I mean his magician’s garb.

“Simon is a character that kind of evolved. He’s a little bit Blackadder, a little bit Rincewind, a little bit Guybrush… I guess Simon is meant to be the inner teenager inside us all. He says what’s on his mind and is a kind of anti-hero for kids everywhere.”

– Simon Woodroffe, interview with Adventure Classic Gaming (08.05.2000)

Chris Barrie – who turned out to be a perfect match for Simon’s jaded-beyond-his-years temperament – decided not to revisit the project (or any other where games are concerned, despite gearing up for the cancelled STS6 reboot).

“Actually, we just got great news on this. We’ve been in touch with Chris through his agency and he is interested in voicing Simon again. Getting Chris on board was a top priority for us and we’re delighted that he may be back on the series. Nothing set on stone yet, but we’re almost there.”

– Claudio Medina, Lead Designer at Storybeasts (interview with Rare Gamer, 04.07.14)

Instead Brian Bowles stepped up to the plate to fill the gaping hole. He pulls off a convincing – albeit less world-weary – impersonation; so much so that some people failed to even notice the bodyswap.

Certain critics compared Brian’s reinterpretation of Simon to the smarmy, liar-liar-pants-on-fire former British PM, Tony Blair. Hardly a flattering parallel, even if snooty, aloof and toffee-nosed was part of the remit. I bet Brian never dragged anyone into a phony war risking the life and limbs of other people’s kids.

Brian must have ticked all the right boxes for Mike and Simon at least because he was asked to reprise his stint when STS made the transition to 3D in 2002. He wisely gave it a miss beyond that as the series went shark hurdling with Fonzie. Sure, that’s a phrase.

Incidentally Simon 3D begin life as a traditional 2D adventure, yet underwent a reluctant revamp “Due to simple lack of publisher interest. Nobody would put up the cash to develop a 2D adventure game. We spent a long time looking but eventually decided to take a different route. (Simon Woodroffe, Adventure-Treff interview, 17.09.2000)

“The change was brought about as a practical necessity since publishers were no longer interested in a 2D point and click product anymore. I’ve always wanted to have a go at bringing the adventure genre up to date and Simon 3D is the result of this process. Adventure games have died off in popularity recently and we feel it’s because they have remained still whilst the rest of the market was racing ahead of them. Simon 3D redresses the balance somewhat by providing an interface between a classic adventure game and the oh so fickle game buying public.”

– Simon Woodroffe, interview with Adventure Classic Gaming (08.05.2000)

Maybe wardrobe flight scrambled Simon’s brains, or perhaps ageing three years (as alluded to in the conversation with the demons) drained the last shred of civility out of the never-exactly-bright-and-breezy (but at least reasonably human) adolescent. Whatever transpired during the intervening years, Simon has descended into selfish, mean-spirited, obnoxious, sneering cynicism without a positive word to say about anyone or anything.

I only paused for breath. He’s also lewd, crude, sexist and a misogynist. Traits that are brought to the forefront most notably through his leering, innuendo-laden exchanges with Alix, which tend to wrap up with her shutting down the dialogue with, “Oh! Leave me alone”.

“I’m searching for treasure. May I have a look in your chest?”

“Grampy’s told me so much about you.”

“Then you know I’m an actor with several large parts under my belt?”

“Did he tell you I’m a grocer with a special interest in melons?”

“Grampy? You mean the old fart behind the counter?”

Blend that with the vocals of anyone other than the cherished sci-fi anti-hero, Rimmer, and it’s not exactly a recipe for empathy or magnetism. Quite a repellent handicap in fact given we’re to spend so long chaperoning Simon on his Bogus Journey back home. Oh wait, that was a phone box wasn’t it.

Spotlighting Simon’s fall from… well, hardly grace is it, but you know what I mean, before dropping a menagerie of recovered junk on top of a beach comber he primed to fall down a hole-trap in the sand a devil and angel appear, hovering above either shoulder. Simon briefly weighs up the arguments for and against being malicious and plumps for payback… said victim found Simon’s stash of collectibles (including the vital Mucusade) washed up on the beach and wouldn’t give them back.

“I’m usually against violence on the grounds that I’m not very good at it.” …although Simon aptly demonstrates that there are exceptions to every rule as he puts “the little git in intensive care”.

Just one incident in a long line of unbridled nerd-bashing. The anorak in MucSwampy’s, a troupe of Morris dancers, computer game critics, and a huddle of “Apartments and Accountants” role players are all thoroughly lampooned at the whim of Simon’s signature rhetoric.

And why stop at verbal abuse when you can get physical? One of the role players is turned into a dog, while an accordion playing Morris dancer is suckered into catching a rapidly descending baseball bat on his bonce, allowing Um Bongo – a stereotypical and probably racist interpretation of an indigenous West Indian – to take his place as the ‘Beatmaster’. Named after the fruity juice presumably, he sports tribal togs and trinkets, has fat lips, misshapen eyes, an oversized head and a thick Caribbean accent. Cherrying the cake, he’s also fixated on rain-dancing for the benefit of the crops.

“Way down deep in the middle of the congo,
A hippo took an apricot, a guava and a mango.
He stuck it with the others, and he danced a dainty tango.
The rhino said, “I know, we’ll call it Um Bongo”
Um Bongo, Um Bongo, they drink it in the congo.
The python picked the passion fruit, the marmoset the mandarin.
The parrot painted packets, that the whole caboodle landed in.
So when it comes to sun and fun and goodness in the jungle.
They all prefer the sunny funny one they call Um Bongo!”

If you only remember one thing about STS2 guaranteed it will be Mr Bongo. During the era when voiced adventure games were known as ‘talkies’ because they rarely did, some developers did their own thing without first consulting a brigade of lawyers. I miss those days.

A number of familiar faces make a comeback for the sequel including the demonic duo – Gerald and Max – who have spent the last three years slumming it in demeaning kiddie entertainment roles to make ends meet following a less than prosperous return to the fiery depths of hell. I think they must have some dirt on the director because they’re a permanent fixture on the roster throughout the series.

Obviously there’s Calypso who was entirely absent from STS1 on account of him being wizard-knapped by Sordid. This time he’s present in body as well as spirit, serving as your dimension-hopping mentor and guilt-tripping grandfather figure who needs your help more than you his; Calypso’s granddaughter Alix – named after playtester Alix West I believe – is later abducted by Sordid’s flying boar vassals and you’re expected to do the honourable thing by rescuing her. Not that the ‘h’ word features too prominently in his vocabulary.

Calypso: “Thank god you’re back, they’ve taken Alix! They’ve taken my granddaughter!”

Simon: “So what? How’s the wardrobe coming on? I’ve got the Mucusade.”

Calypso: “You must go and rescue her! I can’t imagine what terrible torture she must be going through.”

Simon: “Never mind, she’s a big girl now, I’m sure she can look after herself.”

Believe it or not Alix goes on to become Simon’s girlfriend in STS5. Then the Woodroffes had zero involvement in that mess, it features extraterrestrials and is subtitled, ‘Who’d Even Want Contact?!’ Well precisely!

“We expanded the Magic World by combining fantasy, fairy tale, and steampunk elements. So, for example, Simon doesn’t cruise through space in a classic high-tech science fiction spaceship, but in a space-proof wooden pirate ship, a steam-powered parrot sitting on his shoulder. We believe this is an inherently consistent expansion of the Simon universe.
By the way: Fantasy and science fiction are often not that far apart; take Star Wars, for example: Luke Skywalker is nothing but a paladin who saves a princess from a stronghold (the Death Star) while fighting a black knight (Darth Vader).”

– Carsten Strehse, Creative Director at Silver Style Entertainment (interview with Adventure Classic Gaming, 27.02.10)

Everyone’s favourite mud-stew-brewing critter, the Swampling, makes a welcome return. With two whimpering jumpsuited babies to feed he’s as needy and clinging as ever as the boss of MucSwampy’s, a fast food outlet foisting ‘nearly banana shakes’ and ‘slug burgers’ onto a strangely receptive public. Our forlorn old ‘pal’ no longer has the time to cook, much to his sorrow, spending every waking hour in the backroom managing the bustling business that seems to be as much a millstone around his neck as a lifeline for his fluorescent green brood.

Also back by popular demand are the chipmunk-pitched woodworm – they’re now the proprietors of a not exactly bustling antiques bazaar nestled in a gloomy wood. In fact it’s the same wood in which – to their horror – we accidentally sat on them in the first game.

In a scene parodying Monty Python’s ‘People’s Front of Judea’ they bemoan the fascist oppression of the downtrodden beetle larvae. Surprisingly enough they once again task you with sourcing a very specific wood-based delicacy, except this time it’s for your benefit.

Pushing aside their victim complex for a moment they offer to carve a set of dentures required by a third of the trifecta of ‘Graeaeaeaeaeaeae’ witches, who stand in for the blind Stygian Witches found in Greek mythology.
Graeae translates to ‘old women’ or ‘grey ones’; the real McCoys supply Perseus with a ‘how-to’ guide on the subject of defeating the Kraken, a story recounted in the 1981 Clash of the Titans movie.

“Clever Boy! Now the Eye. Give us the Eye! The Eye.”

In return for a conch for the deaf witch, a magnifying glass for the shortsighted witch and false teeth for the toothless witch, they concoct a potion that transforms any human into a dog.

Obviously you’ll need that to morph one of the geeky role players into a beagle, and take his place in the game. Nothing to get your knickers in a knot over, “probably just a variation in the local magical flux.”

Assuming the enthralling guise of a decorator you use your own loaded dice to cheat, thereby winning a wallpaper catalogue. This is your ticket into Sordid’s fortress – posing as the interior decorator the flying boar guards are expecting, you’re escorted in without further interrogation.

“What’s so interesting about Dungeons and Dragons? That’s just real life. In this game you get to meet DJs, politicians and Annie Vega.”

Later you’ll fashion the ‘quiet puppy’ into a pair of (Hush Puppy) slippers allowing you to tip-toe around a mutated, multi-eyed, Forest-Gump-quoting hell-spawn blobby pig monster. That is as long as you’ve first draped yourself in a goblin-sweat-soaked tapestry to disguise your human scent. You’ll source that from an athletic goblin who’s close to running himself to death in a super-sized hamster wheel. I mention this mainly because the scene incorporates what for me is the most accomplished animation in the entire game. Simon’s juggling animation also earns Brownie Points simply for being a cute Easter egg, of sorts.

In addition to the regular cast, an entourage of new characters populate your otherworldly playground. Many are warped spoofs of fairy tale or pop culture celebs.

There’s a Waltons-infused family of three bears (every sentence uttered is concluded with Ma or Pa) who live in fear of the return of a Cockney, blond-wigged Goldilocks who burgled them and is now on the run. Papa Bear is the chief of police so should really have a better handle on apprehending her.

 

In any case, it turns out they should have been more concerned with having their abode decimated by catapulted rocks launched from the roof of the loan office. A delightful little surprise we orchestrated by planting a letter with the bears’ address on it in Mike’s in-tray. An in-tray he uses to inform his goons of which houses to target next whenever the owner has defaulted on their repayments.

 

Remember the ancient kid’s fable, ‘The Princess and the Pea’? Well there’s a reworking of that starring a Scouser. In exchange for removing our strategically placed pea from between two of the dozen or so mattresses she’s sleeping on, her Royal Highness gives you a lolly. This is used in attempting to pacify the king’s wailing baby, only the ungrateful brat chucks it out of the window. Once you’ve reclaimed it, the lolly can be given to the Swampling’s MucKids instead, distracting them long enough to steal their milk bottle. Give this to the human baby and he finally stops hollering his lungs out.

Presiding over all matters ha-de-ha-ha in the joke shop is Dr J. Beadle; a nod towards Jeremy Beadle I believe, the now deceased TV trickster who formerly hosted You’ve Been Framed and (better watch out) Beadle’s About.

Having been captured by Captain Long John Silver’s gorilla lummox to be sold into slavery you end up in the cargo hold of a pirate ship chained to Mr T. of The A Team fame! On one of the rare occasions Simon engages magic to get him out of a jam he casts a spell to dematerialise the chains and escape to the deck.

Under circumstances reminiscent of The Fly we meet an eccentric animal-merging inventor/genetic scientist masquerading as a pet shop owner to avoid having to fill in an obscure tax form specific to his profession. He reveals he’s the brother of the paleontologist from the first game.

Deploying his Instant Multi-Species, Genetic Combinator gadget we split an electric turtle into an electric eel and turtle. Subsequently amalgamating the eel with an underwhelmingly dull jar of glowworms we restore them to their former incandescent glory. These are then utilised to illuminate the effluent-pumping sewers we need to traverse to reach the swamp.

In the town a gaggle of prattling women talk twoddle incessantly whilst washing their clothes in the water fountain. Seemingly in honour of Monty Python’s ‘Mrs Conclusion and Mrs Premise’ laundrette sketch, they sound like men impersonating women… extremely unconvincingly. You’ll need to die the water green and dip your cloth in the fountain if you want to fabricate an authentic Swampling costume. And you do. You won’t be allowed in to MucSwampy’s to visit the head honcho otherwise.

Arthurian legend’s Lady in the Lake as overhauled for Sordidland turns out to be a fat Brummie woman shoehorned into a slender diving suit to entertain the tourists. If you offer to give her a break by donning her uniform so she can go on a date she’ll also hand over her oxygen tank. This can be used to inflate the dinghy you acquired from Mary (alias ‘The Goldilocks’), which you use to reach the Sword in the Stone you retrieve to gift to the child prince in exchange for his pea shooter. As long as you ensure the prerequisite sword-pulling royal tattoo is in place first.

Disney’s Genie makes an appearance, though not one you’d recognise from Aladdin. This one has left a recorded message in his lamp to inform us he’s currently on vacation… in a whiskey bottle no less, so his capacity for granting wishes may be somewhat impaired. You’ll need some re-caffed soporific de-caff coffee to get him back on track, spiking it with ‘c’ pills sourced from the ultra laid back (stoned?) pimp/dealer found skulking around on the beach. Word, brother. “Keep you going all day. You know what I’m saying?” Wishmaster firing on all cylinders once more, you can teleport back to Calypso’s shop.

“Hey Lardo! I’ve got your lamp.”

“Throw it up to me!”

“No way! I’ve read the relevant literature.”

“Toss me the ladder down first.”

Other pop culture figures are only alluded to rather than being fully caricatured, and it’s always fun to play ‘spot the reference’.

On several occasions both Simon and Sordid exclaim, “I don’t believe it!” Not entirely unlike Victor Meldrew’s catchphrase in the British sitcom, One Foot in the Grave.

Talking to the ticket clerk outside the magic contest tent Simon informs the no doubt perplexed chap, “See that dog poo? That’s you that is, that’s your favourite food.” One for the Newman and Baddiel fans there. While you’re there you’ll want to eliminate the competition with your home made swamp-mud-based stink bomb. Just sayin’, you know, in case you’re looking for tips.

That’s right after completing your application and being allocated the number 9 spot in the queue. At which point you exclaim, “I am not a number, I am a free man!” …a line from The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan as ‘Number 6’.

To facilitate Simon’s granddaughter-rescuing caper Calypso lends him Alix’s pet lion, Masala. I suspect the Woodroffes were still daydreaming about Narnian religious allegory when they introduced their revision of Aslan.

‘Eatus Felinus’ venus fly traps found at the volcano rim are hard to walk by without thinking of the Little Shop of Horrors.

Still recovering from the ordeal of his lion-mounted road trip to hell, Simon wakes up in Sordid’s dungeon and quips, “Did anyone get the number of that donkey cart?” A reference to a recurring joke that’s triggered in the Discworld game whenever a character is knocked to the ground and temporarily incapacitated.

“We just needed a character in a fantasy environment to compete with the GuyBrushes and Rincewinds of this world so we invented him during a long car journey down the M5.”

– Simon Woodroffe, interview with Adventure-Treff (17.09.2000)

Our fellow role players are all too familiar with the granddaddy of FPSs, evidenced by their awareness of Doom’s BFG weapon, stopping just short of expanding the full acronym in the interests of family-friendly censorship. Although that’s hardly a concern elsewhere given all the cussing!

In one scene Simon is so unimpressed by the quality of wit on offer he doubts even a Little and Large audience would be amused. Syd Little and Eddie Large were a comedy double act popular in the ’80s. They were very old-fashioned and ‘of their time’ even then, and no longer speak. To one another I mean.

STS2 opens with an animated introduction sequence starring anthropomorphic brooms a la Disney’s Fantasia.

The influence Wizard of Oz has had on script writer, Simon Woodroffe, is manifested in the allusion to finding oneself in strange, unfamiliar territory.

Attempting to send Simon back to Calypso’s emporium, the genie haphazardly lands him instead on an alien rock/micro planet with a frog-cyclops hybrid mutant creature that looks remarkably like Mike Wazowski from Monsters Inc./University. Astute as ever Simon declares, “Er… I don’t think this is Kansas.” I could add that Chippy is STS’s Toto except he’s barely an afterthought in the sequel, only appearing as part of a magic trick that involves transforming a fierce, snarling dog into one resembling the mild-mannered Chippy.

 

Following a meanderingly kooky series of events that include being superglued to the back of a lion, joining an insane society that pays us to wear porridge and converse with a loon who has taken a vow of deafness, and convincing a ‘Younucks’ nerd to get a tattoo, Simon ultimately winds up where Sordid arranged for him to touch down from the outset; his dungeon prison.

“No need to shout, I’m not blind.” Sorry.

In a dramatic twist I’d be surprised if anyone predicted, we’re rescued by ourselves. Well, technically a future version of Simon who shuns the laws of time travel paradoxes to deliver a ‘time stick’ to himself as he is leaving his cell thanks to Alix’s hair-grip-lock-picker. We “twiddle the dials” to instantly project ourselves back to the relative safety of the goblin camp at the foot of the Fortress of Doom, albeit with our head detached. We’ll just say his time branch thingy is magic and leave it at that shall we? None of us are astro-physicists.

“In accordance with the laws of causality, I better find that time stick and rescue myself.”

Meanwhile, upstairs, future-Simon detaches the hand from Sordid’s inanimate mech suit and uses it to access a palm print secured security box containing the time stick. Seizing the mysterious branch we hope will serve some useful function we head down to the dungeon to rescue ourself.

Not quite gelling with Runt’s nefarious scheme he gives chase, Benny Hill caper style back and forth across a series of bridges stretching across a ferocious river of molten lava. We give him the slip long enough to hand the baton to past-Simon, just before being wand-zapped and waking up strapped into the hot seat of Sordid’s body-switching contraption.

As we become reacquainted with the hollow shell of the doom-monger at the heart of our unwarranted expedition we learn that the master-plan is to traject Simon to Sordy-wardy’s new home on the ‘other side’ and drag him back across the plane between dimensions to facilitate his resurrection.

Sordid’s own personal purgatory it transpires encompasses being incarcerated in a baby’s highchair and force-fed porridge by his overbearing mother, an old crone with a fair bit in common with Norma Bates.

Simon: “I’ve got a release order for this one. He’s done his time.”

Sordid’s mummy: “I’m sure they said he was in for eternity.”

Simon: “That’s right. He finished it this morning.”

Ironically we rescue our arch-enemy from this torment and scarper, reason being we can’t return without him as plotted by Sordid’s henchrunt. It’s written in the hoodoo contract or something… in blood no doubt. Anyway, to save ourselves we must do likewise for the dark overlord. Don’t worry, we’ll iron out the wrinkles in our strategy later. It’ll be fine, I’m sure.

Back in the fortress the body-swapper kicks into action and the revenant takes control of Simon, while his essence – his soul I suppose if you believe in that sort of thing – becomes lodged inside Sordid’s gagged suit of arms.

When Calypso materialises out of the ether in the miraculous levitating cupboard and is reunited with Alix, they assume Sordid is still Sordid, sufficiently convinced by his lame and hurried impersonation of Simon before scurrying off to earth to wreak havoc. Believing everything to be in order they haul off Sordid’s temporary shell as a trophy, with Simon still unable to protest.

Only when he’s safely installed in the town stocks do they remove the gag, revealing the horrifying truth of the matter… that they’re going to be lumbered with Simon until they can work out how to put the kibosh on Sordid’s dastardly skullduggery once and for all.

So in effect the long-awaited conclusion is an inconclusive “to be continued…”, leaving us feeling a tad cheated after all the wizard-hours we invested to reach the Finale That Wasn’t. We’ll have to pick-up where we left off in Simon 3 – and indeed – D, but not for another seven years, or never where Amiga gamers are concerned.

“Sordid returns from our world with a terrible secret and he and his assistant Runt set about plotting the over throwing over the universe (as usual). Meanwhile, Simon’s body is stolen from Sordid by a beautiful female rogue and she and Calypso restore Simon to his former self. He then finds himself struggling to get home whilst defeating the evil machinations of Sordid.”

– Simon Woodroffe, interview with Adventure Classic Gaming (08.05.2000)

Simon 2 – as with the first game – was intended to first appear on the PC and be subsequently ported to the Amiga. The plan was to treat CD32 owners first, and follow up the debut with a diluted A1200 edition, minus the speech component. Despite the cut it would still have spanned a staggering 12 disks.

An ETA of September to Christmas 1994 was forecast, though the Amiga port was shelved indefinitely as the market limped along on life support owing to Commodore’s financial downfall. As we know, the German porting studio, Epic Interactive – also responsible for the Amiga incarnation of Adventure Soft’s The Feeble Files – secured the contract six years later to bring Simon home, even if there were only three and a bit active Amiga users left to appreciate the gesture.

Simon 1 and 2 have longsince been available to play on modern computers via the wondrous alchemy of ScummVM or GOG. A HD remake of each is also an option for Android and iOS users where the game’s plodding pace is a perfect fit for touch screen technology.

Captivating characterisation, wry British humour, and engaging narrative never go out of fashion so there’s really no excuse for not putting a sprinkle of abracadabra back into gaming. Erm… even if it is tinged with casual racism, sexism and misogyny, mild swearing, effeminate gay elf stereotypes, and vindictive bullying.

2 thoughts on “A touch more magic

  • November 30, 2017 at 8:15 am
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    Wow! Great stuff! That’s a beautiful and wacky game for sure.

  • November 30, 2017 at 4:34 pm
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    Thanks. It’s no STS1 but still 10 times better than most other adventures out there. If the dialogue’s solid you’re most of the way there. Everything else is icing, and it’s got plenty of that too.

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