There’s a scene in the seminal comedy Monty Python & The Holy Grail in which King Arthur and his knights encounter Tim The Enchanter who, from atop a rocky outcrop proceeds to launch a crazed yet curiously controlled attack on the surrounding scenery. Fireballs are hurled, bushes explode and at one point he even appears to zap some sort of surface to air missile from the tip of his staff. Although the motivation for such behaviour is unclear, it does look like an awful lot of fun and we can’t help but wonder if Tim’s antics inspired The Workshop to create PlayStation Move wizard ‘em up, Sorcery; a game in which the mindlessly blasting stationary objects takes up a great deal of the gameplay. The game’s early showing at E3 2010 hinted at a uniquely nuanced approach to motion controls, but the opening few hours of the game are hewn from the Tim school of wizardly, typified by undisciplined and frankly exhausting sweeps of the wand. Sorcery does have a few other magic tricks up its baggy oversized sleeves however.
Before we get to the game itself, it should probably be acknowledged that the level of expectation placed on Sorcery has been put out of kilter by both its prominent spot at Sony’s E3 presentation and the fact that the PlayStation Move has been somewhat starved of unique software propositions. Had Sorcery been launched as a traditional, DualShock controlled title, there is every chance that it would it barely have even registered on the majority of gamers’ radars, but throw a virtual wand and the machinations of a mega-corporations PR department into the mix, and a great weight has been placed on a title that in reality is more plucky upstart that chart igniting unit shifter.
In many ways, Sorcery shares much in common with PlayStation Move stablemate, Medieval Moves, with a child friendly, Americanised fantasy setting, painterly storyboard-style cutscenes and a focus on wringing a degree of innovation out of Sony’s motion controller. The game open’s encouragingly enough with petulant apprentice Finn finding himself in all kinds of trouble while messing around with the wand of his master, archetypal wizard, Dash. Though initially having to content himself with zapping pots and pans, the stakes are quickly raised when the Nightmare Queen breaks her bonds and thrusts Finn’s world into mortal peril. With Dash falling at the evil queen’s hands, it is left to Finn, and his feline companion Erline, to enter the Faerie Kingdom to defend his world and bring the evil queens plans to an end.
As you can probably guess, Sorcery’s narrative is classic fairy tale fodder, with young and inexperienced hero having to rise to a considerable challenge and eventually become a man. As hackneyed as all this may be, The Workshop’s production avoids feeling too clichéd, mainly through the delicate and often very pretty visuals and relatively strong character design. Though unlikely to cement itself in the annuls of classic videogame narratives, it’s sweetly if unambitiously charming.
However engaging the plot, it is motion controls that firmly take centre stage, and in this Sorcery puts you through a rollercoaster of emotions. The opening thirty minutes or so bode well; using the navigator controller to move Finn around the world, your wand-hand is left to move obstructions out of the way with a wave and fling spells with a surprising degree of accuracy (achieved through a mixture of auto-lock and the accuracy of the controller detection provided by Sony’s motion tracking solution). Blasting pots and pans to procure gold (which can be later be spent at a wandering salesman’s shop) is initially just as fun as Tim the Enchanter made it look way back in 1975, and it is hard not to find yourself itching to get out in the real world to put your wand to the test.
This wave of excitement is carried into your first encounter with Sorcery’s enemies, initially comprising of orc-like Bogies. With Harry Potter-esque flicks of the wrist blasts of magical energy are sent across the screen and it’s easy to get lost in the moment; you are a wizard, the PlayStation Move is your wand. The transcendent magic of videogames has once again proven its worth.
Two hours later: you’re still squaring up against wave after wave of Bogies. Your wrist is aching. What was once magical is now a horrible chore, and a painful one at that. The RSI inducing dangers of motion controls have haunted gaming ever since the first diagnosed case of Wii elbow, but it wasn’t until playing Sorcery that we harboured very real concerns of snapping a tendon. The problem is that, for the first few hours, your magic is so underpowered that you have to rely on being able to rapidly cast spells with an intensity similar to a button-mashing shooter. The Waggle has been replaced by The Flick; flick-flick-flick-flick-flick goes your wrist. Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow goes your nervous system. Sorcery, it would seem, is broken.
Thankfully, just when you’re about to give up and start making your way to the nearest physiotherapist, The Workshop finally get around to making good on the promises made in that E3 presentation all those years ago. This is achieve through a broadening of Finn’s skillset, with a number of new spells being put in his possession in fairly quick succession each with its own unique uses and each with the potential to be combined with other spells to further increase your deadliness. The Flick gives way to the combo, and all of sudden Sorcery wrangles back your attention. For example, scorch a line of fire across the ground, conjure up a tornado and send it hurtling through the flames creates a devastating, whirling column of fiery death that sucks up and singes any bogie or other adversary in its path. Try the same thing but zap the tornado with lightening and…well…you get the idea.
Though the number of possible combinations isn’t actually that huge, the ability to experiment combined with the need to switch between spells with pre-defined gestures demands a surprising degree of skill, and makes the gradual mastery of your spell-set pleasingly satisfying. In this, The Workshop go some way to claiming a Holy Grail all of their own; namely creating a title in which motion controls are central to the experience and not a mere curiosity or distraction.
Beyond the (eventual) magic of the spell casting, Sorcery is a very streamlined affair, content to follow an unashamedly linear path (bar the occasional diversion unlocked through a Metroid-esque implementation of your spells) towards the end credits. A little extra depth is added through your ability to mix potions (through the use of motion-inputs) using ingredients either found or purchased, but the game can be finished with minimal engagement with this mechanic. As a reason to replay the game, the draw of this potion mixing is minimal, but it is in this that Sorcery hopes to find its longevity. Hope though it might, it’s a lure that you’ll likely find easy to resist.
Thinking back to its E3 debut, Sorcery can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity. Had the first few hours of the game been sliced off, Finn’s spell-blending been given a more central billing and the game’s world opened up to provide the element of wonder that comes from being able to break away from the imposition of the linear, Sorcery could have been an adventure game of rare ambition. As it stands, it ably showcases the potential of motion controls and takes you on an enjoyable ride, but it’s a ride that ends all too soon and that doesn’t give you much reason to go around a second time.
This review is based on a copy provided by Sony
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