Simon the Sorcerer is one of those games that has been on my backlist for quite some time. I'd heard good things about the series, including that it was "very British." Now that I've played through both the first and second of these games, I can see why people associate these games so strongly with their country of origin: All the actors have strong British accents, and many of the idioms are baffling to an American. "Naff to you?" I've watched a lion's share of Python, Red Dwarf, and so on, and while I could guess most of these things from context, I sometimes felt I was reading something by Anthony Burgess.
In short, and to put it very unkindly, the Simon series tries to copy the successful formula employed by LucasArts. You play an adolescent (only slightly more mature than Guybrush Threepwood) who wants to be a wizard almost as badly as Guybrush wants to be a pirate. The voice acting in the first game is by Chris Barrie (Rimmer from Red Dwarf), who does a great job with the dialogue. The same zany, irreverent humor of the LucasArts games is here in abundance, with truckloads of self-references and pop culture allusions. Fourth wall? This game doesn't just break it; it doesn't have one. Simon and the characters he meets constantly speak directly to the player and refer him to the game itself, the GAG genre, its origins and associations, and the culture of the typical gamer. Some of these are quite witty and inspired, though other jokes fall flat. Much of this comes through in the dialogue, which is presented in an interface identical to the Secret of Monkey Island. Probably the funniest scene occurs in the second game, where Simon encounters a D&D group. However, since this D&D group is from a distinctly fantastic place, they are role-playing as computer geeks and business executives from our dimension. Most of the jokes here are below the belt and quite mean-spirited, but I couldn't help but chuckle.
I suppose the questionable humor is where Simon began to lose me. The first game manages to be witty without being boorish. The sequel, however, is often victim to rather poor taste. In the first game, Simon is saucy but also incompetent; rather like Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder (3rd season). He's able to make fun of himself and the player in a good-natured way. In the second game, Simon tends to come across as a conceited jerk (and a sexist one at that), and just isn't much fun to play. This misogynistic streak just seems out of place and really ruins the experience.
The first game suffers from pixel hunting to a small degree; thankfully. The poor resolution means that small objects will be hard to see. The second game remedies this in a brilliant way. Players can hit F10 to flash the hotspots, or areas of the screen that can be manipulated. This is a very handy feature, and I only wish more games would implement it. It'd definitely reduce the stress involved with scanning each pixel of the screen to find some tiny but mission-critical hairpin.
The puzzles in both games vary from easy to moderate, and I only had to consult a hint site four times (and for very minor points). Some critics have complained that many of the puzzles were unrelated to the story; indeed, most of them had a distinct "fetch quest" quality (that the game mocked on several occasions).
Players who enjoy witty British humor and the Scumm interface of The Secret of Monkey Island will likely enjoy the first Simon game immensely. I know I did. The sequel is a bit disappointing, but not a complete disaster. There is also a third Simon game (Simon 3D), but from what I've heard, it's a stinker.
I'm just playing around with the image uploading capabilities here. Still needs tweaking to automate the captioning process. Also need to expand the thumbnail.
Misogynistic is correct. "Simon The Sorcerer 4: Chaos Happens" plays like it was created by some immature woman-hater.... and as a woman, I just don't find that sort of thing funny.