Review: Sorcery

Sorcery

The PlayStation Move and Sorcery are forever linked. When The Workshop’s spell-casting fantasy action game was first demoed a couple E3s back, it immediately garnered hype as THE game that could sell Move motion controls to the masses. Even Move skeptics did a double take and reconsidered the viability of motion gaming beyond dancing/fitness games and mini-game romps. It’s unfortunate that it has taken this long after the Move’s launch for its showcase exclusive to come to market, but it is here now, and it is a joy to play.

A dark yet whimsical tale about a young sorcerer’s apprentice and his quest to save the kingdom from an evil queen of nightmares, Sorcery skates the line between casual and core beautifully. The gameplay is approachable but deceptively complex when its spell-casting system is fully mastered. The adolescent hero, Finn, and his feline companion, Erline, are whiny at first but endear themselves to the player as the plot thickens and becomes a little more serious. And the storybook narrative, while derivative of many previous fantasy works, has a youthful, heartfelt quality that will attract younger players but is also dark enough in tone and atmosphere to appeal to the adult gamer.

Sorcery does not break any new ground in level design within the action-adventure field. It is a highly linear game that sees Finn, guided by tilts of a Navigation (or DualShock) controller’s analog stick, running along narrow, one-way paths through faerie forests and undead tombs, stopping to pop open treasure chests or crack through pots and stone sculptures for gold coins (what else!) before reaching open areas where waves of monsters spawn in for him to zap, burn, freeze, crush, or blow away. Finn can dodge roll and conjure a magical shield to deflect projectiles, melee enemies in close-quarters, and break through weak walls, but he can’t jump or perform other physical activities common amongst most video game heroes.

Occasional secret areas are hidden behind simplistic, spell-based environment puzzles, such as ponds that can be frozen with ice magic so you can reach the treasure chest tucked in an alcove on the other side or series of torches that must be lit simultaneously using fire magic to open a door, but overall there is very little in the way of off-the-beaten-path exploration or mind-bending puzzle solving. Side routes that do exist are shown on the mini-map too, so your only job as a player is to view the obstacle and deduce which spell will clear the way. Even situations when Finn knocks back potions to morph into animals are used as nothing more than scripted level transitions when they could have opened the gameplay to a greater variety of puzzles and environment interaction.

This isn’t all necessarily a bad thing, but at times the linearity and straightforward puzzle design makes the game feel like it’s not quite reaching its full potential. What’s here is great, but I think the developers could have pushed boundaries a bit further and challenged themselves to be more creative with the levels and puzzles. That’s all I’m saying.

The true magic of Sorcery is revealed when the combat begins. Literally. Sorcery turns your Move controller into the make-believe magic wand of a powerful sorcerer, and every which way you flick the Move determines the type of spell and the direction it casts. Arcane magic is Finn’s go-to spell by default. It’s not very powerful or exciting, but the control you have over the small balls of energy as they spark and crackle from the tip of Finn’s wand captures the imagination in a way no other game has. Depending on the height, angle, and direction of your wand movements, arcane bolts fly toward their targets with uncanny accuracy. Like some mythical golfing wizard, you can even draw and fade shots to curve around cover points and other barriers with side-to-side flicks. Certain in-between shot angles can be tricky to hit without a few tries, but you rarely have to target anything that isn’t 90-degrees straight ahead or 45-degrees to the left or right.

As the adventure progresses, Finn gains control over other elements, including earth, fire, ice, wind and lightning, which you cycle between by holding the Move button and performing different gestures — shaking horizontally activates lightning magic, slamming down towards the ground changes to earth magic, clockwise/counter-clockwise rotations switch on fire/ice, etc. These gestures can get mixed up and sometimes lead you to activate the wrong element, but during spell selection the gameplay does enter a state of slow motion to allow for danger-free magic cycling, even with spiders, trolls, fae and undead creatures hot on your tail.

Sorcery’s brilliance shines through as you master these elements and learn how to combine them to create hybrid spells. Fire magic can create a burning barrier along the ground in front of Finn, setting ablaze any enemies that pass through it. That’s merely its main use. When shooting from behind this wall of flame, standard arcane energy blasts suddenly become explosive fireballs. Or, once armed with the power to control the forces of wind, you can summon a whirlwind that will suck up the fire and transform into a flaming tornado of doom. Doing the same thing with lightning magic creates a roaming lightning storm. These are but a few of the potential spell fusions you can create on the fly.

The combo system feels so organic and freeform. Bosses and certain enemy types are imbued with elemental affinities that must be countered (you can’t freeze an ice creature or burn a fire monster, for example) or are weaker to one type of magic over another, but in most encounters you are not boxed in to using one type of spell over another. This gives you a lot of freedom to experiment and just have fun.

At times, unfortunately, the joy of spell-casting does fizzle out due to awkward camera control. Since aim is governed entirely by how you swing the Move controller, The Workshop did not implement a traditional lock-on targeting system—it feels like there is a tiny bit of aim assist going on but you can’t pick a specific enemy to target or cycle views. Instead, the game automatically chooses a focal point that cannot be altered. If an enemy gets behind Finn and you rotate the camera around in an effort to target it with a spell, the camera will immediately snap back around to auto-center on the predetermined battle perspective. This mainly becomes a concern during one or two boss scenarios in which you face two nasty trolls at the same time or one large beast that summons gangs of smaller enemies to draw your attention from their master. With the camera locking into position facing the boss, attempts to clear out the swarming pests become quite frustrating.

Due to the linearity of the level designs and a lack of bonus features, Sorcery wouldn’t seem to offer a whole lot of replay value at first glance. It doesn’t have any form of New Game+ or a scoring system to rate your mage skills, nor did The Workshop add any unlockable mini-games to further showcase the spell-casting mechanics when the main adventure ends. For example, I would have loved a shooting gallery to play on the side or maybe some form of wave survival mode—anything that would let players continue to enjoy arcing arcane orbs around corners and mixing and matching elemental combos.

However, Sorcery is replayable in many underlying ways. First and foremost, it’s straight up fun to play, enough so that you’ll want to revisit the world and try your hand at the higher difficulties (four difficulty options are available in all). Many of the trophies will also demand multiple playthroughs as you attempt to collect every hidden treasure chest, complete the entire game without ever using a single health potion, or master the arcane arts to the point where you can simultaneously light a certain number of enemies on fire, kill four creatures with a single lightning bolt, or hammer one target with every form of magic at once. The game also has a really cool alchemy upgrade system that allows you to combine ingredients and brew potions that unlock new abilities and spell modifiers on a surprisingly large skill tree.

Sorcery should take you no less than six hours to complete on a lower difficulty, but easily lasts upwards of eight hours or even a little longer on Gamer or Nightmare difficulty (and if you seek out all treasure chests and breakables). If you’re the type of gamer who immediately dismisses any game that doesn’t stretch on beyond 15-20 hours, this game won’t meet your expectations. But even as a one-off, six- to eight-hour adventure, Sorcery is a gotsta-have-it game. While surrounding elements may be underdeveloped, the spell system alone sets a new standard for control and immersion in modern motion gaming.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Spell-casting combo system is pure magic
+ Accurate and immersive wand motion controls
+ Easy to play but subtly complex

Cons:
– Overly linear levels and straightforward puzzles seem underdeveloped
– Battle camera automatically re-centers to a fixed target that can’t be changed
– No unlockables or side modes to encourage replay

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation Move for PlayStation 3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: The Workshop
Release Date: 5/22/2012
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!