Sorcery [Review]

By 20 July 2012 Review No Comments

Magic is freedom. The ability to create and manipulate the forces of the universe as if imbued with the powers of a god. Shooting fireballs, whipping up tornadoes from nothing, moving the immovable and meddling with the space-time continuum. Sorcery plonks you right in the middle of this land of impossible acts, where anything can happen, but falls short of taking advantage of the blank canvas. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, though.

Finn is a sorcerer’s apprentice, as is necessary for one to partake in sorcery. Following the script, he has a talking cat named Erline and an expected penchant for mischief. This leads inexorably towards Something Very Bad happening which causes the human and faerie worlds to touch each other inappropriately, and it’s up to Finn and the cat to save the day. Obviously. The story isn’t going to win any awards, but it’s told with a reasonable injection of Disney-esque charm. And those spots in the five or so hours of play that strain under the weight of a hundred cliches are kept afloat by the cheery banter of the two main characters.

Credit to the writers at least for making Finn so unbelievably insubordinate and lacking in foresight that he almost seems to be winking at the player. Told not to touch a magic wand? Immediately steal it. Accidentally opened a door to a realm and unleashed a powerful evil? Make sarcastic comments and cast a few thousand more spells. See an ancient door that screams “Never Open Me Under Any Circumstances”? Break it down. He is teenage pig-headedness and bullish ignorance distilled. And not to spoil anything, but that cat that speaks English probably isn’t just a cat.

But enough talk, let’s make some magical stuff happen. Being exclusively made for the PlayStation Move, Sorcery is going to turn off a majority of the population right off the bat. If you do have any sort of interest, however, this isn’t the worst game you could play. The Move feels right at home as a wand, letting you fling spells in all directions and feel like quite the badass wizard. It doesn’t have to double duties as camera control either, with movement controlled by the analog stick in your off hand. You start with a simple bolt attack that can be targeted along the x and y axis, as well as aimed up and down and curved around corners like a comic book assassin. The targeting for this (and similar attacks later) is pretty spot on, except when you consider that you aren’t looking down a sight or following any sort of pointer; you’re flicking. Against one or two foes this is no problem, but Sorcery frequently throws dozens of globulus fantasy thefts at you, and battles quickly turn from precision magic strikes to suggestive wrist jiggling.

Thankfully there are plenty of other spells to pick up along the way which require a bit less trigger-happiness. The shield spell activates a magical barrier in front of Finn with a touch of the trigger, protecting you from incoming attacks and letting you shunt forward for a bash attack that can stun and break the defenses of the enemy. Charging up your power by sending off enough baddies will let you smash downwards with your want to knock back everything nearby. And then there’s the fun stuff. Finn will pick up ice, fire, earthquake, lightning and wind spells on his journey to redemption, each tailor made for a certain kind of opponent. Spells like these act as you might expect, and each has a targeted and area-of-effect version.

Tactics are brought to the fore in the absence of aiming. A generous lock-on feature means you can focus on figuring out how to use all your different abilities to come out on top. Freeze an enemy then switch to the arcane bolt to shatter them instantly. Blast a bolt through a nearby fire for an arrow of flaming death. Casually whip up a windy vortex then send spells into it for truly chaotic results. The system allows for a decent amount of creativity and rewards a skillful approach. That said, the fiddly aiming system still made me wish I had a normal control scheme in a lot of fights, and there was never really a point that I felt properly powerful considering I could shoot tornadoes from a stick.

Beyond the combat, there’s still a lot of fun to be had in Sorcery. Potions are vital to your success as the world’s worst apprentice, and it isn’t as simple as selecting the one you want and drinking it down. Health potions can be found scattered around the levels, but everything else is up to the player to discover. Collect some ingredients in the environment and blindly push them together: presto! You just discovered a strength potion. After finishing your research it’s as simple as combining the ingredients (by miming with the Move controller) and then drinking it down (again, by shaking your imaginary bottle and tipping it up to your real face). In an odd way I found these moments much more interesting and fun than fighting the hundredth monster or spirit. Enough that it made me wish there was a Move game about running a magical item shop. And drinking magic vodka.

Lots of other nifty little magic tricks are scattered through the stages as well, from opening chests and doors with a spiral loop, to repairing broken bridges, to sweeping gigantic stones out of the way like they were made of paper. Despite being simple Move versions of what amounts to button pressing, I had a lot of fun with these. Take note, developers: a new twist on interaction doesn’t have to be complicated, just a little clever.

For all the effort that seems to have gone into the mechanics, the presentation seems to have gotten the short end of the wand. The protagonists will travel through many Celtic-inspired fantasy settings, from dark caves, to quaint villages, to topsy-turvy walkways between points in space, but none of it feels particularly memorable. There’s nothing to set the levels apart from any other level in any other fantasy video game. The same goes for enemies, with most conforming to classic fantasy styles and categories like trolls, ghosts and things that look kind of like orcs or goblins. One can’t help but feel the developers knew the Move exclusivity and unique features would carry the game, so they sat back and did as little as possible to the rest.

But hey, it’s fun. And if you’re a kid you’ll probably love it. The characters are pitched right at that Saturday Morning Cartoon group and are immediately likeable, if not memorable. And the gameplay provides some decent challenges amongst the flailing and setting things on fire. Adults might tire of Sorcery quickly, and wonder why it wasn’t something a bit more substantial, but there’s a bit of magic inside if you’re the target audience. Or just a big kid who always wanted to be a wizard.

Andy Astruc

Andy Astruc

The flicker of form that lives in the corner of your vision. The smoke seeping under the door. The terror that flaps in the night. Not the messiah. Likes to write about crazy narrative concepts and time travel.

Video games are f&#king cool. Take a chance: Okay