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.

Comments (5)

  1. I’m glad to hear they are finally rolling out the harder difficulty levels. According to what I was told on Saturday, you still have to play through the easy levels first before they are enabled — which is time consuming, and presumably something that the “average” WDW guest will not do.

    But assuming these things do become more of an actual game, the lines are just ridiculous. It was impossible to play on Leap Day, of course (which at WDW was really no busier than spring break or Christmas time), and yesterday (when the park felt empty), there were STILL lines at 95% of the portals. The animations are tiring after the first 10 or 20 viewings.

    Let’s hope they figure out a way to keep it fresh for the repeat visitors. And for the love of Walt, can they please get rid of that lame “Show your Sorcerer’s Crest” round, as well as the worthless round that sets up the story? The fun is in casting spells, not showing the back of a card.

    It will get better, but it’s not there yet.

  2. I’ve played Easy, Medium, and Hard. Hard is IMPOSSIBLY so, it took over 45 minutes before we gave up trying to beat just the first Dalmations henchman and asked our CM friend to put it back to Medium.

    I learned some strategy by playing next to the lead Imagineer one day – Jonathan Ackley – who was fighting Maleficent in Fantasyland on hard. There are some definite rules and some really cool surprises in store for all of us.

    I feel now that the infrastructure is in place, we are in for some pretty amazing changes in the future.

  3. go to Inside the Magic and the latest podcast has about a 30 minute interview with the game designer. He mentions the Hard level is VERY Hard.

  4. I think I probably would have installed something like this at Animal Kingdom first. Less potential for clogging up crowded traffic paths, and a genuine need for something to do.

  5. As a cardflopper who has been following news for Sorcerers for a couple of months, I just wanted to point out that you missed an important bit on the rules (well, other than that Disney hasn’t told us what the rules are >:-/): there are three levels at which the game can be played. ‘Easy’ is the default and is what you described; it is appropriate for small children and those who just want to walk through the game for the story or as a scavenger hunt. ‘Medium’ actually has rules (we don’t know what they are, though…) where the card values matter. ‘Hard’ is supposed to have more rules…. It is currently unclear whether one can simply ask to have the game set on a difficulty level or if you have to complete the whole thing on Easy first to get to Medium, etc – most occasional visitors aren’t going to put that much time into it, so I expect one can simply request a level.

    Conjecture is that on Medium the card numerical values matter and that Hard also cares about the value ‘type’ (strong, quick, gross, etc.) which would require the player to have a decent collection and guess/discover the appropriate type to defeat a particular opponent. More difficult levels also appear to require the player to cast more spells.

    After less than a week details are still hard to come by and Disney hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with the details.

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