Initially expected to be an early PlayStation Move highlight, Sony's Sorcery is finally here, and the wand-waving adventure casts players as a young sorcerer's apprentice who must step up when his master goes missing. Despite solid spell-casting controls, the solo campaign lands with a thud due to simplistic mechanics and a lack of excitement.
- Flicking the Move to cast spells works pretty well.
- Mixing spells brings interesting results.
- Solid presentation and character dialogue.
- Straightforward campaign lacks excitement.
- Repetitive combat yields boredom and tired arms.
- Swapping spells can prove a pain at times.
Sorcery first appeared at Sony's E3 press conference in 2010, back when the PlayStation Move was still a promising bit of tech on the horizon, and looked like one of the more interesting original options to use the motion-sensing wand. Then it disappeared. It recently popped back onto our radar, but not only has the game changed in myriad ways since that initial debut, but so have the circumstances surrounding its release. Following a remarkable drought of essential software for the motion controller, Sony needs a showcase title to make it seem like more than a dust-covered fad – and it needs that game as soon as possible.
Sadly, this isn't that game. It's not that Sorcery is a poor experience, either as a single-player adventure or a controller-waving Move game; it's just that the game proves unremarkable at most turns, with a guided approach that leaves little to the imagination and a reliance on just a handful of play mechanics that turn tiresome quickly, even within a relatively brief campaign.
Zero to Hero
Sorcery introduces players to Finn, a mischievous sorcerer's apprentice with just three weeks of experience studying under Dash, an elder wizard. When his strict master goes missing, Finn sets off with the talking cat, Erline, who is quickly revealed to be a beautiful elf girl in hiding from her powerful mother. And thus begins a journey of self-empowerment, where the boy transforms from a goofball into a proper sorcerer, all while cleansing the fantastical world of darkness.
It's a pretty typical conceit, but at least the lead and his chatty companion are well voiced, and the decent back-and-forth dialogue hints at more ambition than the game's generic title implies. Still, any hopes for Sorcery to take strongly after Harry Potter – assumedly a conceptual inspiration, at least – are dashed by the fact that the game world doesn't come across as a living, breathing universe full of interesting, fleshed-out characters. You won't spend your time chatting with bystanders or exploring the world. Instead, you'll largely continue down one path in the game – a decision that informs the gameplay as much as the narrative.
Played with the PlayStation Move and Navigation controllers – or alternately, awkwardly holding half of a DualShock 3 as a substitute for the latter – Sorcery lets you whip a number of spells at various creatures by flicking the Move remote in their direction. The game adds a slight bit of auto-aim to your shots to guide your lightning bolts and wind bursts towards enemies and items, but for the most part, you're responsible for their destination. As such, a swift flick of your wrist without follow-through will loft projectiles towards enemies on ledges, while whipping the Move remote to the side can send curved bolts around obstacles. It's not perfect, with missed shots leading to occasional irritation (especially with puzzles), but the approach proves largely capable.
Beyond the basic attacks for each – like ice shards that paralyze enemies with multiple hits or a fiery wave that burns through certain obstacles – the spells also have alternate attacks (cast by whipping the Move remote sideways), such as a spinning wind turbine that can suck up foes. And the opportunity is there to mix spells, as well; for example, you can unleash a tornado, shoot fire into it, and then cast your simple projectile spell into the inferno to spawn fireballs that spin around the screen and often find foes.
Swapping between spells, meanwhile, is done by holding down the Move button and performing a gesture, which works a bit less reliably than the actual spell casting – despite on-screen indicators for each and slowed-down action while you choose – but is largely adequate. And unlike in last year's Medieval Moves: Deadmund's Quest, you'll retain full control over Finn throughout, guiding him in third-person via analog stick and waving the wand as shown to open chests, levitate and move fallen pillars, and mend broken bridges and panels as needed to progress through the five-to-six-hour adventure.
Most of the individual pieces work fine, and Sorcery even looks fairly stellar throughout, though it's lost a bit of the spark seen in the early E3 demo and is prone to slowdown during autosaves. But there's no wonder to the experience and little in the way of excitement or exploration. The single-player adventure follows a pretty set path through the world across forests and strangely empty villages, which wouldn't be an issue if what's held within had some punch to it. But it doesn't; the game relies on just a handful of rudimentary elements, yet seems to assume that even those can't be memorized. Walking up to a chest displays the simple gesture used to unlock it every time, as does approaching a fallen pillar or bridge.
Moreover, Sorcery is so hugely dependent on scripted enemy encounters – having to clear an area of spawning fairies, spiders, and other monsters – that the combat turns tiresome long before the final encounter. Despite the varying spells, you'll spend most battles not conjuring elaborate movements like a fantastical wizard might, but rather flicking the Move remote forward about a hundred times. It's both physically taxing and incredibly tedious in one fell swoop.
Additionally, the ancillary elements lack meaningful interaction. When mixing potions to upgrade skills, the ensuing sequence requires nothing more than mimicking pouring, shaking, and stirring animations (like in the Harry Potter games for Wii, albeit with less skill needed), while turning into a rat in certain sequences means little more than pushing forward through a tight space, and becoming a bird simply triggers a cut-scene. The clear opportunity to turn those moments into interesting play mechanics and add more depth to the experience was curiously ignored, but it feeds into Sorcery's streamlined, simplistic feel.
For a hyperactive youngster, Sorcery just might be the ideal off-brand wand-flicking experience to enable long-held fantasies. More seasoned players are unlikely to come away from the game feeling anything but malaise and a bit of arm soreness, however, as this Move adventure rarely surprises or thrills. Unlike Finn's vocal cat companion, who proves to be much more than she seems on the surface, Sorcery's charm is rarely more than skin-deep.