Zindagi Games’ Sports Champions was a highlight of PlayStation Move’s launch line-up last year, and it still remains one of the better demonstrations of the peripheral to date. Bringing together a variety of sports, including archery and — slightly less commonly seen these days — gladiatorial duels, the Californian developer showed off just what was possible with Sony’s motion solution to a rapturous response.
For its follow-up Move title, Zindagi has taken any knowledge gained during Sports Champions’ development and gone for something new. The resulting game is Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest, a cartoon fantasy title that tells the story of Prince Edmund’s unfortunate transformation into a skeleton at the hands of nasty sorcerer Morgrimm. Thanks to an inherited amulet Edmund is able to keep control of his mind despite his altered state, and with the spirit of ancestor King Edmund by his side and a demand to be called ‘Deadmund’ he rattles off on a mission to defeat Morgrimm, recapture the kingdom and restore his now-skeletal subjects to their true states.
Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest is a PlayStation Move exclusive on-rails action game. During the course of the castle-hopping, bone-grinding adventure, a largely transparent Deadmund inhabits the centre of the screen to create a pseudo-first person viewpoint. As with Sports Champions, Zindagi has attempted to bring 1:1 motion to PlayStation 3. In part it succeeds; move your sword arm around and the game will capture what you’re doing and transpose it onto Deadmund convincingly. Sword strikes can be made high and low from any direction you choose, and blows are returned in similar fashion. Your shield arm is going to get a workout, too.
Deadmund runs along automatically, stopping at numerous points to do battle with packs of enemies in order to free their spirits. There are your common-or-graveyard skeletons who will charge forward to engage in sword fights that require efficient timing and shield blocking while you seek out gaps in which to counterattack. Archers are also regular guests, hanging back to shoot arrows or lob other objects that need to be stopped in mid-air with the shield before returning fire. Progress further and you’ll discover greater challenges against armoured knights, elementally charged magic monsters and vicious — annoying — flying firework flingers. Worry not if your bones are growing weary through all these encounters: glug down some calcium-restoring milk to bump up your health. Over time your amulet will charge up, eventually able to temporarily imbue your weaponry with devastating power.
Blades are not the be-all and end-all of Deadmund’s Quest, however: bows and arrows, shurikens, dynamite and grappling hooks add to a tool kit designed to dismantle any undead defence. These items are not only used for combat but also to collect the levels’ treasures — scrolls giving back story, or coins and diamonds — and move forward. Switches can be hit with a touch of archery or by demonstrating your frisbee-like star-slinging skills, while the grappling hook can pull Deadmund to new areas or bring hazards down upon enemies. In addition, Move is used to balance across narrow beams, activate switches and dodge danger in quick time event sequences.
Without motion control, Medieval Moves would probably struggle to stand out: the gameplay is quite simplistic despite the multitude of weapons, with depth removed due to the auto-movement of Deadmund. The constant pattern of run, battle, run, battle is interrupted by loot shoots, sections that give you the chance to smash up barrels and boxes to grab more riches within a time limit. Boss battles also crop up to chance the pace and test your skills in interesting breaks from the norm, and multiple forks in stages offer chances of replay value once you’ve slashed your way through the relatively short campaign.
You would imagine that Medieval Moves would control better with two of Sony’s magic Move wands, but not so. Dual wielding maps the sword to your dominant hand, the shield to the other, and feels great when engaging in melee combat, using each arm in alternation to overcome nearby foes. When it comes to other actions, things get murkier. With several tools assigned to the same button — arrows, ninja stars, dynamite and grappling hook on the primary controller’s T — the game has a tendency to get mixed up. It’s not uncommon to reach backwards for an arrow only to produce a shuriken instead.
In a slower paced, more relaxed game this might not be a problem, but here the timing windows for attacks are narrow; incorrect recognitions can lead to near-instant consequences courtesy of the constant undead hordes. It’s difficult to be accurate during archery with two Move controllers when the timing is so tight, which is a problem when you consider that about half the game is spent shooting down distant minions. Most of these attacks work when taken into isolation, ninja stars usually going just where you want them to in one of the most impressive uses of Move yet, but chaining so many swift changes together leads to chaos of a less fun nature.
We have a bone to pick with the weaker hand-controlled shield too, which sometimes doesn't track as it should, leading to unfair punishment. It’s also possible that the same controller is to blame when the archery goes off whack, sometimes not centring correctly or jumping around, since it adjusts the bow. This could be due to the way the game calibrates Move: it asks for both controllers to be pointed at the PlayStation Eye, then for the principal hand to be positioned in a number of ways but does not do the same for the secondary device. It can be sorted out with a re-calibration when it's noticed to be going off track, but perhaps an extra step in the set-up process could have prevented this.
Yet these downfalls abate when disconnecting one Move and pushing forth with a single controller. While the immersion factor is lost — using one hand for both sword and shield, bringing up the defensive plate by holding the Move button is a little odd — the overall effect is positive and really changes the feel of the game. Suddenly every target, near or far, can be hit without hesitation with a simple point and shoot after the arrow is grabbed. It plays as it should and naturally becomes better for it. The wrong weapon still finds itself in your bony fingers every so often, but it’s more irregular and its irritations are dulled by the improved accuracy and speed. It seems bizarre that a dual set-up was even included when the alternative works so well.
The single player campaign might be short, but there’s also room for a return to Deadmund’s world through the multiplayer battle mode, playable online and locally. Match types playable in a team are Invasion, Medieval Moves’ take on a survival mode where you must fight as long as possible, and defending a symbol for a set time in Royal Guard. Invasion makes a repeat appearance in the versus modes, alongside Cauldron Chaos. Here players must fill the huge cauldrons by taking down enemies; once full, they can be tipped over to set the contained minions on other players while they try to do the same to you. The multiplayer modes are quite interesting due to the restricted nature of the movement - you can only move to set points with the grappling hook, otherwise rooted to the spot as in the single player’s combat segments.
Make no bones about it, Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest is a good little game that makes involving use of PlayStation Move, elevating a fairly straightforward slash ‘em up into something more fun. However, while Zindagi’s motion controls excelled in Sports Champions, they are slightly too inconsistent in this adventure setting. The repeated rapid cycling of tools and multiple actions assigned to similar inputs can confuse the controllers, particularly in dual Move mode, leading to recognition issues and subsequent frustrations that prevent the game from reaching its full potential.