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Gamer Tuesday

March 13, 2012

Pap the Disney Gamer's Highlights: The Influences and Impact of Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom

Digital Gaming has been part of the Disney theme park experiences for quite a time. Efforts such as a collaboration with Sega of America to bring Sega games to EPCOT's Innoventions...

And DisneyQuest in Downtown Disney...

...made sure that Disney stays relevant in innovation while pleasing new generation of guests that expect more out of their Disney vacation. In the last few weeks, you might have heard about a brand new role playing game that is slowly taking the Disney fandom by storm, one that involves battling the forces of evil while using magic cards. That's right, today I will be talking about the soon to be phenomenon that is Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, and how one gaming phenomenon from the past possibly influenced its creation.

The story behind the game is that Merlin the Magician (from The Sword in the Stone) is doing battle with Hades, Lord of the Underworld (Hercules). He has resurrected and recruited some of the most famous Disney villains ever in an attempt to take over the Magic Kingdom. Guests do battle with them by using sorcerer cards. Throughout the Magic Kingdom and its many lands there are portals that lead the player into a segment of the story. For example, you might take on the Emperor's New Groove story in Adventureland. In order to do battle with the villains players pick one spell card and present it to the portal. Once the story has been completed, players can either end it there or continue defeating all the villains until the finally battle with Hades.

Now, I have yet to play the game myself to bring my full impressions. For a detailed set of impressions, I recommend reading Brent Dodge's own impressions from an early testing of the game here. I will say this, though. When I first heard of the game I was quite dubious regarding its success. The game is one that requires a lot of walking on the player's behalf, and if you are a parent with multiple kids that want to ride everything and meet their favorite characters then this might be seen as something that can't be included in the day's plans. But the more I read about the game and watched videos of the stories, I grew to realize that there are many things about Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom that make it quite special and unique in the theme park experience.

Many of its critics have said that the game is too simplistic for it to be fully engaging. I admit I was one of those people. Reading further about the game, though, I learned that this will provide multiple difficulty settings should the player desire a higher level of difficulty. The other thing to love about Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom is that it uses the Disney lore in a very creative way. Each new portal features brand new animation to tell the story. Admittedly, the animation is far from the stunning Disney animation we are used to seeing out of Disney. But when I saw Hades bring back Facilier, and then see that Lawrence has captured Tiana in an attempt to ruin her restaurant, I understood everything. Disney knows how to tickle our nostalgic mindsets. The animated movies and TV shows have become staples of many a childhood, to the point where we love these characters and the worlds they inhabit. So seeing these characters once again in a brand new story and in an interactive setting really does make for an experience that feels nostalgic yet brand new. Plus, I love the fact that they referenced underrated classics like The Emperor's New Groove and Pocahontas rather than sticking to just the Princess films and their most prestigious line of work.

The other realization I made once I learned more about Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom is that Disney is using a time tested gaming formula that once propelled one of Nintendo's most popular franchises. Let us go back to 1998, when the world was young, we were far more innocent, and Mulan was the latest Disney Animated Classic in theaters. Nintendo released a game that would take the gaming world by storm, breaking the barriers of video game-dom and becoming a legit piece of pop-culture history. I am, of course, talking about Pokemon!

Nintendo released Pokemon Red and Blue in North America in the fall of 1998. This was seen as a gamble as the game had already enjoy a high level of success and even controversy in its native Japan. Nintendo hoped that the success would be similar in northern shores. Boy was it ever a success! The reason why is because not only did Nintendo advertise it to kingdom come, it was a multimedia event that included trading cards, a TV show, and even movies and multiple soundtrack albums. The genius of Pokemon lies in that the gameplay is so basic one could easily understand it but invited players to invest heavily in capturing and battling Pokemon. In addition, the TV show expanded upon the stories and made the characters more lively than their video game counterparts. The trading card further extended the appeal of the franchise. With the trifecta of TV show, video game, and trading card game set in place, Pokemon went on to become mega successful for Nintendo, a phenomenon that is still going to this day.

Now, what does Pokemon have to do with Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom? The game does employ some of the basics of Nintendo's own Pokemon strategy. The first of it is the story aspect. At first glance Pokemon may be a simple story of a boy or girl out on an adventure to become the best Pokemon trainer ever. But those that have ventured further into the game know that there is always more than meets the eye. Everything from Pokemon contraband to the delicate fabric of time and space is featured in the narrative. Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom doesn't quite have that elaborate and at times heavy setup. You are a sorcerer out to destroy the Disney villains. That's it. However, the story is built upon the timeless stories of the Disney Animated Classics. Knowledge of these stories help strengthen the presence of this game. In a way, it feels like you are participating in a timeless and unforgettable Disney story, much like Pokemon allowed players to be closer to the Pokemon world

The other beauty of Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom lies in the characters and the cards used to play the game. In Pokemon, let's say that Pikachu was your favorite character, because you saw the TV show and loved the fact that the little mouse was able to destroy buildings with a simple Thundershock Attack. You fired up the game, you caught a Pikachu and you trained it very well till it evolved into a Raichu and took it to battle the Elite Four. Since you loved the character, you went out and started collecting cards based on Pikachu. Then anything with Pikachu on it was of great value to you.

Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom has one great advantage in that it features some of the most beloved characters ever made. There is a reason why theme park guests are willing to wait hours in line just to meet a character. Much like with Pokemon it is likely that you formed a bond with a specific Disney character or story, and thus if Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom features it, there is a good chance you will enjoy the game based on its merits. Pokemon did it with a media frenzy that lasted for a really long time. Disney did it by being Disney. The presence was already there, it was just made stronger thanks to Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom.

Finally, there are the spell cards themselves. Let's take a look at a Pokemon card and a Sorcerer's of the Magic Kingdom spell card:

First, there's the artwork. It's the first thing you see on the card. It is designed to catch the eye of the player. The Pokemon are quite visually captivating, and the artwork of the card made sure to reflect that, sometimes in the oddest way possible. Disney animation is known for being an artistic phenomenon that has inspired many animators and artists for decades. The spell cards also happen to have striking artwork that makes fans want to collect them all just to admire the artwork printed upon them.

Lastly, the characters themselves. Pokemon now has over 600 Pokemon to collect, each one different in design and with a different story to tell. The uniqueness of each creature made it so that players would want to seek them all out, either because they want to claim they 'caught 'em all' or because they see something special in each character. Like I explained early, Nintendo made sure to give us reasons to try and catch as much Pokemons as possible, whether through the game, the trading card game or the many, many, MANY toys. I already explained the timeless appeal Disney has on people, so the basic principle can be applied here as well. The cards feature a wide variety of Disney characters, from Disney Princesses like Tiana and Aurora to smaller characters like Bolt and EVE from WALL-E. Also like Pokemon, there are no limits as to what Disney can do with these characters, so if they add more characters to the game there will be more and more reasons to try and collect them all.

To end my analysis of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, both it and Pokemon are similar in that the game doesn't really end when you defeat the bad guys. Pokemon was successful because it integrated into its design a social gaming aspect. Pokemon sold us the idea of trading characters through various means so we could be closer to completing our collection. The idea alone helped people bond with other fans thanks to the presence of something that was magnificent in its execution. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is already beginning to cash in on the social aspect idea. Guests that play the game a lot, often get different cards each day. This leads them towards other players that share similar interests. This initiates the trading process, which in turn leads to friendships being formed on the spot, or destroyed depending on how rare the card really is.

The reason Disney has formed such a loyal and passionate following is because it invites people to meet, exchange stories and find a common interesting in anything Disney related (movie, theme park, Vinylmations, pins etc.). Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is another initiative to try and get fans to get together and celebrate Disney. If you think about it, Disney beat Pokemon in that regard by decades, so who inspired who again?

All kidding aside, I am not saying that Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is a rip-off of Pokemon. The two games couldn't be further apart in terms of gameplay design, concepts and even stories. But there is a reason why even in its early phases of development Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom has created such a strong following in both casual theme park fans and hardcore Disney fanatics. Pokemon gave us a reason for us to invest so much time and money in the game: to become the greatest Pokemon master the world has ever known. Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom invited us into the Disney universe to try and defeat the Disney villains, using trading cards that are designed with the strong Disney essence in mind. Both games are likely to never end because the desire to both collect whatever inspires us and meet others with a similar mentality will always exist and both are so grand in scope that they will likely never run out of ideas.


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