Review: Sorcery

Review: Sorcery

by 18 June 2012

[gameinfo title=”Game Info” game_name=”Sorcery” developers=”Santa Monica Studios, The Workshop” publishers=”Sony” platforms=”PS3 Move” genres=”Action adventure” release_date=”23 May 2012″]

I have never been a fan of motion-control gaming, so you can imagine my surprise when I found myself thoroughly enjoying Sorcery, a 100% motion-controlled title.

Sorcery is a new PlayStation 3 game co-developed by Santa Monica and a brand new development team called The Workshop. It puts you in the shoes of Finn, a sorcerer’s apprentice tasked with the challenge of defeating an evil Queen and saving the land. I’ll grant it’s not the most original tale but, thanks to great delivery, fantastic voice acting and likable characters, it’s one you will surely enjoy. The constant back and forth between Finn and his feline companion, Erline, has humour reminiscent of a Pixar movie and makes even a walk over a boring bridge a pleasant experience.

Whilst the game forces you to use Move it rarely feels “gimmicky” or unnatural. In fact the game just wouldn’t work as well with a normal controller so it’s one of those rare titles that’s better off for having the motion control. Sure there were little gimmicks like the way the Move “ball” changes colour depending on what you are doing but that just makes it fun. You know, if the Move ball turns blue, that there is something you can move or mend nearby. If it’s red then the health potion in your hand is ready to drink. If it’s purple you’re ready to zap enemies and so on.

The levels are laid out like a standard 3D adventure title and have you controlling Finn with the nav controller (or half a standard controller) whilst casting magic with the Move counterpart. Each level is very linear but uses an intelligent “chase cam” to ensure you need to do little, if any, camera angle management. This simplicity of control is further enhanced by making all interactions with world objects Move controlled. Want to open that chest? Run up to it and make a circle motion. Want to move that obstacle? Hold the Move controller vertically and move it in a “these are not the droids you’re looking for” motion. These simple controls are very intuitive and make the game easy to play, an essential ingredient for enjoyment of a motion title.

Whilst there are a few environment based puzzles you’ll spend the majority of your time proceeding along linear pathways and engaging in round after round of combat… which is good because combat is where most of the fun is. Combat basically involves running around open areas dodging attacks, blocking projectiles and flinging magic at baddies. During the course of your adventure you’ll gain a number of elemental based spells however they are all cast using the same two basic motions. Primary attacks are done by flicking the controller forward and secondaries are engaged with a sweeping motion. Where Sorcery really excels is in the variety of the spells and how you use them. For example, the fire spells secondary attack is to create a wall of fire in front of you. This provides good defence as any enemies that come close catch on fire. However, if you fire arcane bolts (your initial, standard attack) through the wall of fire they become fireballs. If you use the wind spells secondary attack (a cyclone) it becomes a flaming cyclone which sucks up enemies and sets them on fire before slamming them to the ground. There’s quite a bit of variety in the way you can use the spells and it’s a lot of fun experimenting with the different combinations.

Another clever mechanic is the enemy AI. The enemies are very aware of their weaknesses and use the environment to good effect. For example a Fire Shaman is invulnerable to fire yet ice works really well on him. So, when fighting me, they would position themselves behind campfires or braziers so my magic bolts would pass thru the fire, become fireballs and not cause them damage. Another example was how, if I turned an enemy to ice, ranged bogeys would position themselves behind the frozen enemy effectively using him as a shield. It works well as, combined with a good mix of enemy types, it forces you to mix up your spells and try new tactics. This added level of complexity breaks up the monotony of the game and makes you forget that you’re, essentially, just running from one swarm of enemies to the next.

As you would imagine some spells are more powerful than others however this is dealt with rather well via a clever mana bar. When you equip a spell the mana bar separates into segments. Each segment allows one “cast” of your current spell and, once used, they slowly refill. Obviously more powerful spells, like lighting, allow fewer casts however the segments refill fairly quickly so I never found myself overly inconvenienced. As with the rest of the game it feels like it was designed to be easy to play with little to no micro management.

Sorcery isn’t completely devoid of statistical enhancers however which brings us to brewing potions or, as my son calls it, making magic soup. Potions are this games form of upgrades and are crafted in a mini game using alchemical ingredients you either find or purchase over the course of your journey. They provide you with everything from health or mana upgrades to spell enhancers and even the ability to turn yourself into a pie ingredient! Potions are brewed via a Cooking Mama style mini game and was the one part of the game where I felt the motion controls were more “gimmicky” than functional. The process only takes about a minute to complete however, if you want to make a few potions in a row, shaking out star dust or grinding mushrooms can become annoying quickly.

Aside from the potion mini game I only had two gripes with Sorcery. The first was that, when there were a lot of enemies on screen, the aim assist tended to target the “wrong” enemy. This didn’t happen often and was only a real problem when fighting a particular boss. You have to hit him with ice followed by an arcane bolt (to shatter the frozen limb). This would be fine except he summons giant spiders and routinely sends out swarms of little ones. When they were all on screen it was nearly impossible to target the boss. You could have a clear line of sight but the shots would arc down and home in on the spiders instead. You could work around it but the “help” made the fight a lot more frustrating than it should have been.

The second issue was the positioning of checkpoints which seemed to occur in strange places like the middle of a level. Numerous times I saved and quit after a story sequence only to find, when I reloaded, that I was at a spot 10 minutes before the cut scene. Also the alchemist (who sells you potion ingredients) was often placed just after a checkpoint. This means you could buy a bunch of ingredients, spend 10 minutes making potions, get killed by a boss and have the checkpoint load before you made the potions.

Don’t let these flaws be misleading though. They were only really a nuisance in a couple of places and, if that’s the worst this game will throw at you, it’s doing much better than many other titles available.

If you’re a trophy collector then you’ll definitely want to pick this up as it looks like an easy platinum. There are a bunch of missable trophies so, if you only want to play the game once, you’ll want to use a guide. The game isn’t very difficult, even on the hardest setting, however there aren’t any difficulty based trophies so you can play it on apprentice and breeze through it if desired. I wouldn’t recommend that though as it’s not a difficult game and making the fights too easy would dull the experience considerably.

In summary Sorcery is a really fun title that benefits from using Move as its primary input. It’s entertaining enough that an adult would enjoy it but easy enough that a kid 7-8 or older would be able to play. It’s probably not a title you’ll replay again in a hurry but it’s loads of fun for the 6 or so hours a run-through will take.

If you own a PS3 you should definitely try out this game. In Australia it retails for around $40 (or $80 bundled with a Move controller). That’s pretty cheap for a brand new title!