In Disney’s recently released film The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Nicolas Cage’s character teaches an NYU physics student about magic, Merlin, and how to fight evil forces. The video game The Sorcerer’s Apprentice teaches us about tedium, dull gameplay, and haunted Hefty bags. The DS platformer, which debuted last week, is like most movie-inspired video games: Cogs in the publicity machine, these games seek to maximize the buzz and profit film studios hope to generate—and when games are rushed for a quick buck, product quality suffers big time.
Gameplay involves combating bewitched objects using six types of magic in six districts of Manhattan. Each variety of magic is essentially a projectile attack of different shapes and different trajectories. For example, your character begins with “turquoise magic,” a long, narrow laser that ricochets off walls. Yellow magic is a ball that can be lobbed over barriers. Enemies use magic as well, and if you’re using the same colored magic as they are, you’re immune to their attacks. Bad guys can include giant, humanoid oil slicks and flying trash bags with menacing, Jack-O-Lantern-like countenances.
It may sound reasonably complex, but The Sorcerer’s Apprentice gets old fast. Levels offer little variety and lots of repetition. Occasionally, your character can enter a sub-world to level up his magic, but it simply involves more baddie-bashing. There’s little variety in gameplay, graphics, sound, and controls. In this way, the game is reminiscent of the simplistic and inexpensive LCD handhelds of the ’80s and early ’90s. Additionally, in-game dialogue details every last enemy weakness, leaving little challenge in potential problem solving or strategizing.
Each magic type also has a special attack called a “Merlinean spell.” The spells trigger widespread attacks that last for a short amount of time. Merlinean spell activation includes using the stylus to perform quick tasks on the touch screen, like flicking orbs into one another or splitting them apart. These spells can be leveled up to become more powerful throughout your adventure.
Because you cast these spells in the middle of the field, and because you may be using the d-pad over the stylus to control your character, casting these effective spells can be interruptive and awkward. All other controls are fairly straightforward, since your character can do nothing else but walk. Sound effects are limited, and the music is unremarkably ambient. The graphics aren’t bad, and while the scenery has some detail to it, it’s relatively unchanging.
As you progress deeper into the story mode, more gameplay options are unlocked in the multiplayer mode, which is referred to as “Pass the DS.” Two to four players can take turns playing. Problem is, things get less engaging and more excluding when the thing you’re passing around is a handheld, six-inch-wide screen a player holds in front of his or her face.
In Time Attack mode, you and your friends defeat enemies within the target time; the quicker you defeat them, the higher your score. Highest score wins. Countdown play forces you to vanquish as many enemies as you can before time runs out. Or in Strong Man mode, beat all foes while taking as little damage as possible.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice also utilizes DGamer. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s Disney’s sort of social network available on WiFi for DS games. Use it to enter a bizarre chat room where 90 percent of the dialogue is through animated avatars. It might be fun for kids, but DGamer feels tacked on and unnecessary.
The game might be good for road trips, or for younger players with uncomplicated tastes. But The Sorcerer’s Apprentice will leave more discriminating gamers disenchanted.