Why PS3’s Sorcery is more ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ than ‘Deathly Hallows’

Sorcery works its magic in more ways than one. Not just on screen, with its enchanting good-looks and surprisingly enjoyable story, but also with the PlayStation Move controller. It’s not going to win the Hogwarts house cup (the only rubbish Harry Potter reference I’ll make, I swear), but it makes a name for itself as the best title to use Sony’s motion controller to date.

This is the tale of Finn, a young sorcerer’s apprentice (no Nicolas Cage in sight) that’s fascination with magic always gets him into trouble. One day the little tyke manages to unleash the Nightmare Queen, an ancient evil on the hunt for a famous princess. Little does the Queen know, said princess is actually Erline, Finn’s sidekick cat.

It’s as silly as it sounds, but the story keeps a light-hearted approach that makes it family friendly in that Pixar sort of way. Dialogue between Fin and Erline sparks a welcome touch of humour, though the motion-comic cutscenes that punctuate each level fall flat.

The star of the show here is the Move controller, acting as a wand to perform the game’s different spells. A standard flick of the wrist shoots out an effectively ‘zappy’ bolt (I came to know each spell by my own terminology), but other, more effective attacks like a spell that cracks the ground in front of you can also be mastered.

It’s a relief to see Sorcery go beyond the standard point-and-click controls that it could have so easily fallen into. The Move’s potential has never really been tapped, but this is about as close as it gets. Firing standard bolts across the screen isn’t exactly the complete realisation of the immersion that motion controls were meant to bring, but it’s a fun alternative for what’s essentially a run-and-gun shooter.

Repetition rears its ugly head a short while into the 8 hour story, though. New spells and abilities are thrown in to distract you from that fact, but after the fourth level of flicking your wrist back and forth for about 40 minutes (mind out of the gutter) the game’s charm starts to wear thin. No amount of boss battles and new enemy types can change that fact.

That said, for a Move title, this has a bit more depth to it than you might think. An accessible potion-mixing feature acts as sort of RPG-like upgrades. It essentially involves just mixing combinations of ingredients you find throughout the linear adventure, but experimenting to find new potions that increase health or damage dealt is a welcome innovation, if not a game-changer.

It falls short of ever truly making you feel like any sort of Gandalf-level sorcerer. Flicking the wand might enhance the feeling of playing pretend, but what’s on screen just doesn’t go far enough to grant you much of a feeling of power.

Where you’ll struggle most with is the camera. Sorcery tries its best to keep the action in front of you, but without that all important second analogue stick, camera movement is nigh impossible. It’s a problem that’s plagued many a motion-controlled game before it, and it’s disappointing that it hasn’t been solved here, given how much better it is than similar offerings.

Visuals are another high-point. The colourful worlds, peppy animations and detailed environments make Sorcery a pleasing sight. It takes inspiration from Irish folklore (much like 2007’s PS3-exclusive, Folklore), presenting a kind of cartoonish spin on the kind of lore that we’ve seen dozens of times in the past few months. It’s Skyrim for kids, sure, but at least it isn’t just Skyrim full stop.

Sorcery will likely be remembered as one of the few games to make the PlayStation Move seem like a worthwhile investment. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s not really out to do that. This is simple, fun motion gaming, that prides itself on being (largely) devoid the usual technical issues and control quirks that can hold this sort of game back. If you’ve been stuck with Sports Champions ever since the controller’s launch, I recommend giving it another shot with this fairy tale.

 

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