Developer: The Workshop / Publisher: Sony / Played On: PlayStation 3 / Price: $39.99 / ESRB E10+ [Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Suggestive Themes]
At the 2010 E3 Expo, Sony unveiled a magical game called Sorcery to showcase what you’d be able to do with their then-upcoming Move motion controller. Now, two years after they announced it, and more than a year and a half after the Move was released, Sony has finally released the game, and while it does indeed show what you can do with the Move, it also shows how an otherwise solid game can be undermined by a generic approach to fantasy.
As you’d expect from a game with such a unique and creative title, Sorcery’s story is bland and obvious. Playing as the sorcerer’s apprentice, Finn, and aided by a talking cat named Erline, you get yourself into a bit of trouble after taking your master’s magic wand for a test drive.
This, of course, leads you first into a dungeon, and you can probably infer the rest. Which is part of the problem with Sorcery. While the controls and gameplay are solid, as we’ll discuss, what you do with them is terrible cliché. Cribbing from Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Dungeons & Dragons and every other fantasy tale that everyone’s read or played, this is generic fantasy on par with any dragons-and-magic tale, and thus, from a narrative point of view, just as disappointing.
That is, unless you’ve just joined the age bracket indicated by the game’s ESRB rating. For young kids who haven’t hit their teens, and also haven’t been exposed to every fantasy cliché, Sorcery will be a wondrous new tale, especially since Finn is about the same age.
Clearly designed as a showcase of the Move’s abilities, this has you turning, twisting, waving, and waggling the ice cream cone-shaped wand around like, well, a magic wand. And a potion bottle, and a key, and a whole mess of other objects.
Most of the time, these motions are simple and work well. To drink a potion, for example, you shake the wand, then tip it up like you would a real bottle. Similarly, performing spells usually just requires you to swing the wand to levitate your target in that direction, spin it in a circle to open a chest or repair a broken structure, or to flick your wrist to do an attack spell.
It’s when you do those attack spells that this really illustrates the subtlety you can achieve with the Move. While any motion controller can let you cast a spell forwards or to the side, Sorcery allows you to chose how far to the side you want to cast. You can even, by twisting your wrist a bit, curve your spell, as best illustrated when you have to nail some evil skeletons that are hiding behind a stone column. Granted, there’s clearly some auto aim mechanic at play here, but it’s not as dominant of one as we’ve seen in some shooters of late.
Even moving around works much better here than in many other motion controlled games. Using the navigation controller’s thumbstick, you tell Finn where to go, and the camera does a really good job of staying on him. Of course, this doesn’t work as well as it might had this utilized a regular controller with two thumbsticks, but you never feel as if the camera is secretly plotting against you.
The game also smartly doesn’t make every action one that requires real movement. When you learn the Shield spell, for instance, you don’t then have to twirl the wand around to cast it, you simply pull L2 on the navigator like you would in a non-motion controlled adventure game. Similarly, to avoid being hit by incoming projectiles, you simply hold the X button and move the thumbstick in the direction you’d like to dodge.
The controls notwithstanding, Sorcery plays like a lot of fantasy action role-playing games, albeit one where there’s only one class and it ain’t the one who whacks people. There are dungeons to explore, spells to cast, and bad guys to dispatch with your magic wand.
Thanks to the responsive controls, combat is fluid and satisfying. With just a flick of your wrist, you can shoot magic at your enemies from far away, giving this something of a shooter vibe.
The game also cribs a bit from, well, every other fantasy adventure game. Not only are there chests to open and rummage through, but people in this world hide gold pieces in piles of skulls or bits of pottery, and you see nothing wrong with breaking them and taking the gold for yourself. You also pick up potions you find lying on the ground without any consideration to who left them there and why someone would leave a potion just lying there in the middle of a dungeon.
But again, it’s a shallow interpretation of the genre. Though you do mix your own potions, there’s no skill trees, or leveling up of any kind, nor do you have to worry if you’re carrying too much stuff. It’s not quite Baby’s First Adventure Game — though the story book-ish cut scenes don’t help — but veterans of the genre will find it lacking.
Unfortunately, the game is also lacking any real challenge as well. Sure, this isn’t meant for the Skyrim set, but compared to most adventures, this is more like a Sunday walk. The enemies don’t take too many shots before going down, while the puzzles — and I use that term loosely — don’t take much brain power to solve. The dungeons are also fairly linear, with only occasional bits where you’ll want to look left before proceeding right.
As with the rest of this game, the graphics in Sorcery are neither especially terrible nor terribly interesting, and nothing we haven’t seen before. The characters, settings, and items all have a cartoony look about them, but without any real style or flair.
That Finn is such a generic white male is especially glaring when you consider that the whole point of this game is to make the player feel like they have magic powers. This game just begs for the ability to customize your character so it looks like whomever is playing it (which, in my case, would be a generic white male, but still).
The exception to this is Erline, who has a rather angular look for a cat, like something out of “Emily the Strange.” Had the rest of the game been given a similarly sharp angled-look, this might’ve stood out. Sure, some would’ve hated it, while others would’ve loved it, but no one would’ve looked at it and thought, “…eh.”
In many ways, Sorcery is one of the better Move games, and really does show off what you can do with the system. The controls are not only responsive, but they show a subtlety we don’t normally see in motion-controlled games. It’s just too bad that what could’ve been a fun, magical romp is deflated by generic fantasy tropes and equally uninspired visuals and sounds. Sure, if you’re a kid who just hit double digits, and don’t know any better, Sorcery could be the Harry Potter game you’ve been hoping to play. Just don’t ask your mom, dad, older brother, or weird uncle who always carries a copy of The Lord of the Rings with him everywhere he goes to share in your enthusiasm.