Apprentices of the Magic Kingdom

As many of the great sites out there have chronicled recently, Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom has officially debuted, and attempts to build on the Kim Possible experience at Epcot by doing two things:

  1. Ditching a second-rate TV animation star in favor of some heavy hitters from the Disney vault
  2. Ditching the expensive smart phone controller in favor of Pokemon cards
I’m not going to recount the basics of the experience (everyone else has done that). But I will offer an opinion. In spite of a lot of fan hype, this thing definitely has a thing or two to learn before it can wear the pointy hat and enchant the broomsticks. This is due mainly to a few glaring flaws with what it purports to be.
First and foremost, this thing desperately wants to be a “game.” It’s intended to take you beyond passive theme park enjoyment and put you in control of a storyline that will have you exploring the entire park in an attempt to stop the Villains from taking over. Hey, you guys wanted Villain Mountain for years. This is what you get.
I don’t have a problem with the storyline. In fact, I wrote my own video game a long time ago as a college project, based on the exact same idea. It was a sort of Myst meets Fantasmic, and I’ve toyed with putting it on the internet for everyone to ridicule. But it will probably remain locked in the Parkeology vaults for years to come. The storyline is so well-worn because it works. What doesn’t work is something all games require, and that is the possibility of failure. There is a distinct difference between “game” and “interactive.” A drinking fountain is interactive. A game requires you to learn the rules, master a skill, create a strategy, mentally challenge yourself. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom does none of these things. Provided you can read a map and face a camera, you win.
One of the few princess cards with a
legitimate weapon. Cinderella gets
sparkly ribbons, I think.
I suppose if one wants to get super technical, you can lose at SotMK. I saw two types of failure:  One, when people try to go to the portal at Uptown Jewelers and are met with “You’re at the wrong place” messages. This is a design error. There just happen to be two portals at Uptown Jewelers.
The other failure was an older couple who lost a battle with Cruella because the darn cameras wouldn’t read the spell cards they were holding up. This is a technical glitch, not a player failure, and I’m not sure the couple even realized they failed. There are  increasing levels of difficulty the more you play, but for an intelligent person, it seems almost impossible to lose.
The second failure is one of logistics. This is Magic Kingdom, after all, and it is crowded. It is not uncommon to run into lines 10 players deep at every single portal. Which means you are watching the same 2-3 minute video over and over, with very little variation. When it is finally your turn, you flash your cards and get directed to the next line. I know they are trying to tell a story and all, but they would do well to get each player out of there in 30 seconds or less. That’s enough for some rudimentary scene setting, and a quick one-on-one spell battle. Let’s face it, most of the time it’s some variation of “Cruella has captured the puppies. Stop her!” We’re not watching Inception here. Do the battles, move people along.
This card may soon be replaced
with Winnie the Pooh.
By far the most interesting part of the game are those collectible cards, and more importantly, the game that the guest has invented on their own: Trading. You get 5 of those babies every time you play — and you get them for FREE! These are actually super nice trading cards, with very detailed art work and a great style to them. They are several notches in quality above the videos you’re watching, which do a good job of featuring a wide variety of Disney characters (familiar and obscure), but destroy that good will by animating them in an atrocious fashion (think Saturday morning cartoon level).
But trading the cards can be fun, and kids apparently love this aspect of the game. There were lots of players with big stacks of cards, and while they dutifully played out the story at each portal, they were most excited by seeing what other cards the other people in line had. I can see Disney releasing new decks periodically (some sold at a premium), and even if you just get a handful of free ones, that’s a pretty nice souvenir for a kid. Better than a lot of the stuff sold in the gift shops.
Because everyone knows, a dog’s most
dangerous feature is his soot bucket.
So this is now coming off as a negative review. But it is only negative when it comes to today’s incarnation of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. I actually believe these flaws are fixable, and that Disney will quickly realize how to address them. Maybe not this summer, but I’m predicting that in a year or two, SotMK will be substantially improved and a huge hit. The beauty of this type of thing is that it can be adjusted on the fly. So much of it is digital content (videos, rules, etc.), and new facets can be swapped in literally overnight. It really might reinvent the theme park experience.
And because this is parkeology, I would be remiss if I did not catch some obscure little Disney detail that even the game designers botched.
When playing the game on Main Street, Merlin sets the stage for you by translating Pongo’s barks. Pongo is apparently telling you that Cruella is on the loose, and that “Perdita and all one-hundred-and-one puppies have been forced into hiding.”
Either Merlin can’t speak Dalmation as well as he thinks he can, or the game designers forgot to watch the movie before writing their script. There were only 99 puppies. It took Pongo and Perdita to take the count to 101.