The PlayStation Move is arguably the best of the motion control platforms that have begun with the current generation of consoles. On the Wii, even the Motion Plus upgrade can’t fix the core issue: the games look like Wii games. And games on the Kinect often suffer from the flaw that the Kinect itself, while a remarkable bit of kit, doesn’t always work particularly well. Having a physical controller, combined with having a genuinely next generation console puts it at the top of that particular heap.
The “but” is one that is typical for Sony: excellent hardware let down by poor or sparse software.
All of the motion control systems have one thing in common. They’re dominated by children’s titles that tend towards shovelware, hoping that the less discerning youth market will forgive lackluster graphics and sloppy controls.
There is nothing about Sorcery that seems to defy that expectation. Though it promises at least something of a story unlike previous Move titles, Sorcery doesn’t really look like much to appeal to the mature gamer.
And it isn’t. That fact should be made clear from the outset. Sorcery is unapologetically a kids’ game. Typically this means a poor title, but not all the time, and thankfully not in this case.
Sorcery is a game made for young gamers, but it’s not a shovelware title by any standard. On the contrary, it’s a polished and well-crafted game. Sony has put a considerable amount of love into this title. The effect is, well, surprising.
Sorcery excels in key areas, areas that are not only unusual for a game aimed at a young market, or unusual in a title based so heavily on motion controls, but unusual in a game at all.
In particular Sony has focused on critical areas of story telling, investing in great writing and voice acting. The main character is voiced by
The story is a classic one, the young apprentice wanting to make a name for himself and undergoing a coming of age to save a princess. OK, so it’s not a new story, but it’s a story well told, and sometimes the old ones are the good ones - an archetype rather than a cliché.
Finn is the apprentice of the sorcerer Dash, but not a particularly great asset to the wizarding arts. He’s also kind of an impulsive and self-absorbed jerk. His floundering and failure is a source of amusement to Dash’s other companion, the feline Erline.
Dash and Erline pop out for supplies, which leads to its only possible conclusion, a dangerous quest with the entire world in the balance.
The setting for their adventures is fantastical, but it’s not the generic fantasy that might be expected. It’s rooted in Irish folklore, which also infuses the look and music, so there is a consistency of theme and style that binds it together.
The Move controller is a wand used to fling around spells. The Navigator controller handles movement. There isn’t much more to it. The Move works well, flicks of the wrist and an auto-aim intuitively translating to accurate shooting. Navigator works less well. It’s great when it works, but doesn’t always connect successfully. If a Navigator isn’t available a regular controller can be used, but it’s a little awkward to hold.
Casting a spell with a flick of the wrist is an intuitive and effective process. Unfortunately it becomes quite painful after a time, even for those with a *ahem* well-developed wrist. Fatigue can set in surprisingly quickly, in the bicep snapping back and forth, the wrist flicking, or the shoulder bearing the weight of the whole assembly. This doesn’t seem to affect children, who seem to gain extra stamina from jumping around and yelling.
There are five schools of magic, the Arcane that Finn starts with, Earth that is obtained quickly, and Ice, Air, Fire, and Lightning picked up through the course of the game. These are gained by getting hold of a “Spell Nexus”, the item that imbues a sorcerer with a power.
Grabbing the nexus, by the way, involves long animations that rival a Final Fantasy for sheer self-indulgent drama. But they are well done, and mark the significance of this major progression.
The spells gained can vary the gameplay considerably. Ice spells freeze powerful enemies, and then an arcane shot will shatter them. Fire has very short range with high damage, but a slash across the ground forms a defensive wall of fire. Lightning does insane damage, hits multiple enemies, and a slash to the ground creates a “Lightning Trap”, a large area of death that sits there zapping fools who wander into it. Or had the misfortune to already be there. Wind doesn’t really do damage, but can knock enemies off edges, and a slash to the ground creates a whirlwind that traps enemies.
Changing between spell types is done by holding down the “Move” button and then doing the correct gesture. These are different enough that it works well in general. Just tapping the Move button switches back to arcane, which is necessary far too often as this is inexplicably the only spell that breaks objects.
Spells can also be combined. In particular, whirlwind can be set on fire to make a column of flame. The whole lot can then be shot with arcane spells to shoot out gobbets of fiery death in all directions. There is some fun to be had with this. For example, lay down a wall of fire with a slash of fire at the ground, and then switch to wind, create a whirlwind with another slash at the ground. Blast the whirlwind through the fire, which it will then pick up, and push it into a group of enemies with the wind powers. Enemies are now being picked up by the whirlwind, and set on fire. For maximum destruction, shoot at it with some arcane as well. A significant level of power is reached when a few spell nexus are available.
While not an RPG by any standard, there are RPG elements in the form of upgrades. These upgrades are created by “alchemy”, which is really more in the nature of Snape’s Potions class than the real art that later evolved into chemistry.
Through the game, at key points, a new reagent is gained. These reagents are researched, and combining any three will learn a new potion. Unfortunately, with combinations of three reagents being needed, the later potions become a tedious grind of combining every item. Thankfully Sorcery blocks reagents that have already been combined, so it’s just the glowing ones that can still go together. It’s a little tedious, but not egregious.
Most of these researched potions can be created and consumed to give a permanent effect on Finn’s abilities. This may be more health, increased damage to fire spells, more mana, and so on.
There is a difference between researching a potion, making it available to create, and actually creating it. All potions can be researched, but the ingredients are only available to create relatively few, so hard choices must be made. The creation process is Move based too, so there is sprinkling, pouring, grinding, and stirring in abundance.
There are some clever ideas here, such as shooting through fires to make more powerful arcane bolts, or the way spells combine. There are some other gameplay elements that work less well and feel unnecessary, such as the use of “Polymorph Potion” to turn into a poorly controlled rat, or the kind of annoying Alchemy process. There are also occasional bugs. An early troll boss paths poorly enough that it’s possible to get it stuck on a ledge and then just blast it at will, and there is also the Navigator issue mentioned earlier.
Sorcery isn’t the game that will bring the hardcore to the Move. It’s not the game that makes the Move indispensible. In fact, there’s little or nothing that couldn’t have just been mapped to a standard controller. But it’s a novel and polished experience that offers something fun for the younger player, while their gaming parents can at least appreciate it objectively. They may even end up finishing it, while no one is looking. It’s a surprisingly enjoyable experience.