Review: Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Nintendo DS)

Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Developer: Disney Interactive
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Genre: Action
Release Date: 07/13/2010

The story of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has seen many incarnations. When Disney adapted it in the original Fantasia, it was such a hit that it was featured in the second Fantasia movie. Now they’ve put another spin on it and placed it into a modern setting in the form of a movie (and game, as evidenced by the fact that I’m writing this). Let’s see how well it translated into a game.

You play as David Stutler, a physics student who’s tapped by the sorcerer Balthazar Blake as his apprentice because he believes David will inherit Merlin’s power as the Prime Merlinian. Balthazar’s rival, Maxim Horvath, releases the sorcerers trapped inside each layer around the Grimhold in order to release Morgana, a sorceress Balthazar had trapped in the Grimhold millennia ago. David and Balthazar set out to defeat each sorcerer Horvath releases, as well as Horvath and Morgana themselves. It’s not a particularly complex story (and it’s watered down compared to the movie’s plot), but it’s enough to keep the game moving. The only thing it really has in common with the source material is that there’s a sorcerer and there’s an apprentice.

Besides story mode, there’s also four modes within the Pass The DS mode. Each player takes turns playing through each round, so only one DS and one copy of the game is needed. Time Attack involves defeating all enemies within a certain amount of time. In Countdown, the goal is to defeat as many enemies as you can before time runs out. Kill Streak entails beating enemies without getting hit. Lastly, in Strong Man, each player goes through three rounds of enemies with no form of health restoration. It’s a decent variation on the theme of zapping enemies with magic, but you probably won’t get much out of them unless you have other people to pass the DS to.

The top screen is where all the action takes place, and the touch screen is reserved for spells. The character portraits look alright, but the graphics during gameplay and spell effects are functional, but not awe inspiring. The game plays out in a top-down perspective while you’re running around blasting enemies and trying to get to your next destination. The character models in cutscenes are ugly, especially up close, and their faces and clothes look painted on. While the game’s set in Manhattan, the actual settings look like a generic city, though they did at least had a little bit of variances between areas. The music is serviceable, but not particularly memorable; I wouldn’t be able to recall after I turn off the game. There’s bits of voice acting at the beginning of boss fights and when .

The controls are pretty straightforward and mostly rely on the buttons, though you will have to pull out the stylus at some points. Y strafes, B casts spells (holding B down will increase the power of some spells), and holding down A absorbs mana from nearby objects. You’ll find health packs and Domain Fragments scattered around, and picking them up requires only walking over them. You can cycle through normal spells using the trigger buttons, though I generally found it quicker to just use the stylus to pinpoint the spell I wanted to use. You have to use the stylus to cast said spells, and that involves either flicking particles into each other, slicing them, stirring them until they merge into one large mass, or tapping them until they break apart. Which of these actions and how many of them you need to do depends on the spell and its level, and there doesn’t seem to be a time limit or penalty for doing something incorrectly. You can also hit cars and barrels to have them explode and damage enemies (and you, if you’re too close).

Spells fall under six domains: Elemental (turquoise), which is a beam that ricochets; Matter (yellow), which acts like a grenade; Space Time (purple), which are rapidly firing bullets; Transformation (green), which take the form of lightning blasts; Love (red), which causes a chain of magic to circle around you; and Forbidden (blue), which are homing projectiles. You’re immune to whichever color spell you have selected, so there’s a bit of a defensive strategic element as well. All spells except the Elemental spells require mana, so you’ll be holding A down often while using spells under other domains. As you use spells in a certain domain to defeat enemies, they’ll gain experience. Once you get enough experience in a certain spell, you can descend through a portal into the domain of that spell and battle through tiers with waves of enemies to upgrade it. Each spell can be upgraded three times. To use Merlinian spells you need to have picked up three Domain Fragments for the spell in question, which are sprinkled throughout the stage somewhat generously.

As you play through the game, you earn achievements (such as taking out a certain amount with a given spell and for beating each boss) and unlock various pieces of clothing for your avatar in DGamer to wear. For those not familiar with it, DGamer is basically Disney’s answer to achievements on Xbox and Steam and the Wii’s Miis and Xbox avatars. It also has a Pictochat-style instant messenger. As the name implies, only Disney games are supported in this service, so unless you’re playing lots of Disney games (and know others that do as well) this won’t benefit you much. Once you’ve played through story mode, there’s no real reason to go back through it unless you wanted to each achievements you missed. Even then, you can select a specific area to go to, so starting a new file is pointless, and you’re limited to only one save file on the cart.

Through the course of the game I was scarcely ever in danger of dying. The enemies mostly stayed the same, save for some occasionally changing colors, and had only one attack pattern, which made them easy to deal with. The bosses do present somewhat more challenge, but their attack patterns are still easy to discern. Even if you run of health, you just start back at the beginning of the fight or area, so not a lot of progress is lost except if you were far into an area. There’s no real penalty for dying other than said loss of progress, which means you can basically throw caution to the wind if that’s not a concern for you.

Movie tie-ins tend to be viewed with aversion or money grab attempts. While this is far from the worst one out there, it also won’t appeal to very many demographics, as both the fact that it’s a movie tie-in and the “kiddy” impression it leaves would likely put many people off. Since DGamer supports only Disney games, that would also serve as incentive to pick this up to few people. It also doesn’t really do anything new in either plot (which is more a fault of the movie it’s based on) or gameplay – even the multiplayer modes felt like rehashes of each other. My only motivation for finishing this game was for the sake of this review. While it’s easy to pick up and play, it got repetitive in long sittings. Overall, it can be a decent diversion if you’re stuck for something to play (or just really liked the movie it’s based on), but likely not something that’ll be remembered years from now.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Below Average
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Poor
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Mediocre

Short Attention Span Summary:
Sorcerer’s Apprectice is a run of the mill shooter with a magic veneer. It’s not bad for a movie tie-in, and it does at least try to offer a bit of variety with the multiplayer, strategy with the different spell domains, and incentive to play it through the achievements via DGamer. However, it’s not likely to appeal to many people outside of the target demographic, nor will it win any awards.



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One response to “Review: Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Nintendo DS)”

  1. Ashe Collins Avatar
    Ashe Collins

    I just noticed this but it looks to me like they were really channeling Harry Dresden for the look of the master wizard, even moreso in the DS version.

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