Review

Sorcery

It’s Kind Of Magic

The new PlayStation Move title Sorcery fails to enchant.

By Ellie Gibson • May 24, 2012

It is a truth universally acknowledged, by the internet, that no video game should be subject to any censorship, ever. The ratings system is there to protect children, the argument goes, and to safeguard the rights of responsible, free-thinking adults to murder prostitutes, set fire to tramps, and beat people to death with their own arms. 

But perhaps more attention should be paid to the games kids are playing, and the lessons being learned from them. Case in point: Sorcery, a new PlayStation Move title (the Move being Sony’s largely forgotten clone of Nintendo’s “Wiimote” motion controller). It teaches one lesson, over and over again: In the face of adversity, fight. There is no time for discussion, no scope for negotiation, and no possibility of retreat. When life gives you lemons, kill them. 

The game follows the adventures of Finn, a sorcerer’s apprentice, and his sidekick, an annoying talking cat. They’re on a mission to defeat the Nightmare Queen, who is using her Dark Powers to corrupt the Faerie Realms with Loads Of Weird Black Swirly Clouds And Stuff. 

It might sound mystical and exciting, but really Sorcery is just a third-person shooter for kids. Instead of a gun, Finn wields a magic wand. Rather than collecting ever-more powerful weapons as the game progresses, he learns new spells. These are used to defeat a wide range of enemies, from brown orcs and green ghosts to brown orcs with shields and green ghosts who also have shields. He wanders endlessly from arena to arena, forced to eliminate waves of increasingly familiar baddies before the path to the next area opens up. 

Sorcery

The twist is that Finn’s wand is controlled using the PlayStation Move. At first, this works well; casting spells by flicking the controller feels fun and natural, and less silly than waving some invisible object around in front of the Kinect. It also seems easier to aim accurately than when playing similar games on the Wii. 

But as Sorcery plods on, the illusion wears off. It becomes apparent that the game’s artificial intelligence is doing an awful lot of the work. Waggling the controller in the general direction of an enemy is just as effective as trying to target it precisely, and a lot less effort. Even if you do try to play it straight, there are moments when the Move goes mental and seems unable to recognize what you’re aiming at, anyway. 

Finn’s spells are all just different ways to kill enemies, and they’re not very imaginative ways, either. Anyone who’s played more than two video games will not die of shock on learning that once you have encased an enemy in a block of ice, you can shatter it with a firebolt.  

The rest of the game is similarly lackluster. There are some tedious, old-fashioned boss battles, such as one against a giant troll who lobs boulders at you while you’re simultaneously attacked by his brown orc minions, some of whom have shields. There is some dull business about turning Finn into a rat so he can crawl through small holes. There’s a bit of nonsense about mixing your own potions, a process that quickly makes the transition from novelty to chore. It’s all about as magical and enchanting as a day-old ham sandwich.   

It doesn’t help that Sorcery is such a mishmash of visual styles and narrative tones. There are some quite lovely art nouveau-inspired touches to the scenery, but the effect is ruined by crude foreground elements and over-dramatic lighting. It’s hard to appreciate the intricate carvings on the elegant stone doorway Finn is approaching when you’re wondering why it looks like he’s holding a torch under his face.

Sorcery

The fantasy themes of the storyline and folksy Oirish soundtrack clash with the modern-day banter of the main characters, who speak with West Coast accents. They’re always pulling out unfunny wisecracks and anachronistic observations (“Whoa! That banshee is seriously bad news!”). It’s as if the game can’t decide whether it wants to be Fable or Uncharted, and ends up stuck in some weird no-man’s land between the two, with no one for company but Michael Flatley and his crappy flute.  

Sorcery assumes that kids won’t care—that they’ll be too busy enjoying the fact you can zap a monster by flicking the thingy like a real wand, at least for a good nine minutes. But kids can be more discriminating than that, and they deserve better. They deserve smart puzzles, fun spells, and characters who feel like they belong in the world they’re exploring. 

In Sorcery, all they get are hordes of boring enemies to defeat, and a stupid talking cat from L.A. Still, at least they’re not battering prostitutes to death with the burning corpses of murdered tramps.

Sorcery
Developer: The Workshop
Publisher: Sony
Platform: PlayStation 3
Price: $40
Rating: E

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  • HobbesMkii

    What’s that one spell in Harry Potter where you just curl up and die? Cretaceous?  That can’t be right, that’s a period. It’s something like that.

    They should have that, is what I’m saying.

    • http://hyht.tumblr.com/ Merve

      Avada Kedavra is the insta-kill spell. Cruciatus (what I think you were referring to) is the torture spell.

      • HobbesMkii

         I knew someone would know.

  • RidleyFGJ

    There’s a lot of potential in a game based on magic spells with a control setup that both the Wii and PS3 can allow for. Making a bland third-person shooter is not the way to do it.

    • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

       I remember one of the things I really enjoyed about (the admittedly flawed ) Black & White was the gestural spell-casting. It was such a novel way to interact  with the game world, and so consistent with the rest of the game’s interactions.

  • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

    I enjoy the opening discussion of the selective “values” that rating systems decide should be imparted to/kept from children. Simple-minded and violent problem-solving never seems to be considered deleterious to kids playing games. Boobs, however, are ALWAYS poison for young minds, and rated accordingly. I know this isn’t a terribly novel observation, but it’s still a baffling one.

    If I had kids, I’m pretty sure the rating system would not really offer me much assistance as a parent, since the artistic and ethical values held by the ratings board feel so arbitrary and so different from my own.

    • http://hyht.tumblr.com/ Merve

      I’d like to believe that the ESRB is aware that not everyone holds the same values they do, which is why they include content descriptors along with each rating. It’s not a perfect system, but it does give you a sense of what the objectionable content in the game might be. In any case, I’d rather have the ESRB slapping content labels on games than have the government censoring or banning them.

      • RidleyFGJ

        I think the ESRB gets it right more often than not. Oblivion was one of the few times were I seriously questioned their judgement as it originally featured a T-rating, but they did eventually figure out that they fucked up and ended up giving it an M-rating in later releases.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          I thought they gave it an M rating after someone  modded nudity into it.

        • RidleyFGJ

          In of itself, modding won’t affect a rating unless there’s content on the disc itself that is being tucked away, hence why Rockstar got caught in its own lie regarding the Hot Coffee scandal for GTA4.

          It is true that Bethesda did have a locked-out topless texture for the female character models, but the real reason why it got re-rated was because Take Two “neglected” to show some of the worst parts of the game, namely the skinless corpses you find.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

      Sort of related but not really: I was reading through the Dota 2 dev forum and someone made a suggestion that they should tone down the boobs on the lady characters. I clicked the thread thinking it might be actually cool, but the reason that the poster wanted the change was because they “prefer flat chested women.” Holy shit was I pissed. The rest of the posts in the thread were like “huhuh, ur gay, boobs r cool!”

      So yeah. VIDEOGAMES! The most progressive medium! /shootsself

      • caspiancomic

         Yeah, I remember watching a developer diary video thing for Bulletstorm (I think it was Bulletstorm, apologies if not) where one of the lead designers, a woman, said it was basically her full time job to tone down all the female character designs she was given. She said she basically sat around all day “turning D-cups into C-cups” or something, and arguing with her male counterparts who wanted to leave in a few characters with superhuman tits. Whenever I read articles about how much of a boys club gaming still is I tend to be a little too optimistic and assume the author is being hyperbolic to make a (tragically necessary) point. But seeing two or three designers childishly plead with this woman for having the audacity to design characters whose breasts were merely “big” and not “dangerously, cartoonishly enormous” was pretty disheartening.

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          Holy shit, that reminds me of this awful awful awful clip that everyone should watch. It is terribly cringe-inducing and awful, so be ready: 
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Kb5ev2Dp4I0

          ALSO, as if you needed more proof of gaming community privilege, there was an article on Kotaku that I was linked to recently that was something like “Straight white male: life’s easiest difficulty setting” which was I think trying to explain the concept of privilege to these people. I’ll see if I can find it, the comments on it were absolutely ridiculous.

          Fuck “gaming culture,” basically.

          EDIT: found it! http://kotaku.com/5910857/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is

          That first comment is a perfect example of missingthepoint.txt

          Ugh.

        • caspiancomic

          @Douchetoevsky:disqus Oh god damn, fucking… grhgahrgh.

          Yeah, I’ve seen the linked vid before, but I like to rewatch it now and again because… I don’t know, because I haven’t got the stones for traditional self-harm? Between this and the whole Fighting Game Community culture of douchebaggery conversation that popped off a few months ago when Aris Bakhtanians was acting a prick for all to see and claiming it was his right to do so, it’s enough to make a guy lose faith. This must be how Father Karras felt.

          And yeah, I caught the Kotaku article a couple of days ago. The article itself was relatively illuminating (or tried to be), but you’re right, the comments section was a sinkhole. What breaks my heart about the Kotaku incident is that I’m fairly confident they post articles like that to shake cages and rack up pageviews rather than to genuinely educate and create conversation. So while the article itself comes from a good place and was attempting to create a more self-aware community, the motivations that Gawker Media had for posting it were probably fairly mercenary. Then again, with a comments section like that, how much education is it possible to get across?

          Plus, did you see when Kotaku posted an article about Gameological’s Alternate Soundtrack feature? The Layton/Tiersen mashup? I mean, I put in my token argument that the Professor Layton series has gnarly music that doesn’t need changing, but the response at Kotaku was a widespread childish tantrum. Really makes you thankful for what’s going on in the comments over here, in the civilized corner of the internet.

        • ryanthestormout

          It’s always interesting to see how disparate the reactions are to issues like gender and race within videogame culture. On the one hand, I’d say the majority of videogame fans see that this is an issue that should probably be addressed, and, in fact, I think many developers feel the same way and are handling this issue in increasingly intelligent ways, and yet it seems like the majority of videogame fans who post on the internet seem to be so defensive about the very concept that they may be privileged in some way that they blow a gasket whenever the idea arises even in the slightest. It’s infuriating, but it sort of makes me wish I was a sociologist. I would write so many papers…

      • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

         Hey, read this! It will kill your soul, and make you lose all hope for the medium!

        http://teamvalkyrieftw.tumblr.com/post/11399537687/no-flat-girls-how-allies-are-born-guest-post

        • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

          I honestly can’t handle another shitty example of this stuff right now. Peep my reply to caspiancomic above this. I’ll read this thing later though, if I remember.

    • The_Misanthrope

       Really, one of the things I took away from that opening bit was that parents should protect their children from bad games (“bad” meaning poorly designed or unengaging rather than “bad” meaning wrong in a moral sense).  I’d like to think people that have grown up gamers who continue to at least stay in the loop have an advantage in these cases. 

  • Brainstrain91

    I remember hearing about this game years ago. Wasn’t it supposed to be a Move launch title? Anyway, it looked good at the time. Disappointing to hear it turned out lackluster.

    • ryanthestormout

      True. As the one person in the world who owns a Move setup, I was pretty psyched about magicking up some dudes.

  • Fyodor Douchetoevsky

    Whoa, the kid’s name is Finn and he’s got a talking animal sidekick? Shame it sound nothing like Adventure Time besides that. I know they’re making a game for DS/3DS, but it’d be cool to see what they’d do on more powerful hardware.