Simon the Sorcerer 4
It's been a while since we last saw Simon on the PC. It was 2002, in fact, starring in an ill-fated 3D excursion which earned itself much derision for its poor graphics, huge empty world and out-of-place action sequences that were rubbish anyway.
For this fourth outing, the series has returned to the straightforward point-and-click formula, with traditional but pleasantly vibrant pre-rendered backdrops. Simon has been summoned back to Magic World via his wardrobe, only to discover a doppelganger of himself running around plotting something. Your job is to find out exactly what, all the while dealing with idiot wizards, alcoholic wolves and a psychotic rabbit (where's a Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch when you need it)?
Simon is as nasal and irritating as ever, his only endearing quality being the sarcasm he mixes in with his whinging. The game's humour still involves a fair bit of breaking the fourth wall ("It's a moss-covered log - every good adventure game needs a moss-covered log") and it remains decidedly juvenile. Not that this stops it from being funny, as there are some amusing set-pieces and gags, but equally there are some banal attempts at humour which leave you with a deep longing to lobotomise the hero and turn him into a real simple Simon.
At least the puzzles won't have you ripping your hair out (or indeed Simon's head off) as they're reasonably logical in the main, and there's a helpful three-tier hint system. Every major objective is listed in a journal, complete with a help button that can be clicked three times to provide increasingly obvious clues. The game also lets you know when, for example, you're combining two compatible items, but maybe not at the right time or place. Simon even voices occasional hints himself, and this can feel like a bit too much hand-holding. However, rather that than frustration; at least you're never lost and clueless in Magic World.
Simon 4 is much more tightly designed than its predecessor, with a smaller set of locations and a streamlined interface. Naturally it's all context-sensitive, and there are no microscopic items that require painstaking cursor sweeps of the screen to locate. The only painful facet of the interface is the fact that it's not possible to scan around the screen while listening to an object's description, as the pointer turns into a fast-forward dialogue button that doesn't examine things. It would be nice to be able to continue searching a location while listening to Simon's pithy observations.
On the whole Simon 4 is a clear improvement for the series, even though it runs the risk of being overly simplistic at times. The humour can fall flat as well, but despite these issues there's no doubting fans of the earlier adventures will find it a return to form.