Spells and Secrets is a new PlayStation 5 adventure set in a magical world. Check our Spells and Secrets review!
A strange incident on your first day throws the school into turmoil. It’s up to you to save the ever-changing castle and rescue your lost schoolmates. Use your spells creatively to fight off magical creatures, explore the school grounds and uncover the castle’s secrets to reveal the mystery surrounding it.
Spells and Secrets from Alchemist Interactive and Merge Games is an adventure set in a magical world where you’ll have to learn new spells and explore the ever-changing halls of Greifenstein – that would be your school – and uncover its secrets alone or with a friend in offline co-op gameplay. As you can imagine, this game seems to have taken inspiration from the Harry Potter universe – namely, the game Hogwarts’s Legacy that was released in February of this year on PlayStation 5.
As is often the case with these types of games, you’ll begin with your avatar creation, with a few different options on offer. Right as the game begins on your first night in the castle, it is attacked, and you’ll have to stand your ground by yourself! Your professor, Amanda Ventura, will give you some basic advice but will quickly abandon you, a student who just landed in a new magical school.
Right off the bat, I was disappointed by the ambiance of the castle. Your professor stresses that it is not common to be attacked, and the stakes are high, but everything else was calm in the school. Even the soundtrack was calm, which was definitively an odd option to try and get a gamer pumped about the issue at hand. Once this is resolved, and about half an hour of real gameplay later, you’ll gain access to the castle. Once again, I was confused when I entered it as I wasn’t sure why I was exploring it in the first place. What is my objective? I wandered the halls without understanding what I was trying to accomplish there.
Speaking of the Greifenstein castle, the levels are randomly generated and change each time you enter it. The school is huge, but ultimately, it felt empty as the corridors are empty, and so are the dorm rooms you’ll pass by. You’ll meet the same few NPCs over and over again. When I was playing Hogwarts Legacy, it was the exact opposite, as the halls were full of people, and the school felt alive.
I already mentioned a few minor issues, like the empty castle halls and the fact that the game doesn’t take its own stress seriously, but this is nothing compared to the biggest issue I had with this game. Unfortunately, the controls ported from the PC version of the game to the DualSense on PlayStation 5 are a mess and made the game really hard to enjoy.
First of all, each of the spells you’ll learn will be tied to one of the buttons on the controller: X, Triangle, Circle, and Square. This means that the main action button isn’t X – the standard on PlayStation – but R2. But that’s not all, as the R2 button is also used to initiate a spell’s aim. Once aiming is initiated with the R2 button, you’ll have to aim at a target with the right analog stick, but then you’ll have to press a button to select which spell you’ll want to fire. The PlayStation buttons and the right analog stick are used with the same hand and quickly switching from analog to the buttons was uncomfortable.
Even as someone who has been playing PlayStation games for more than 20 years, I wasn’t able to efficiently release R2 and press a button with the same hand. The game tries to get around this since when a spell is being cast, the left analog stick also works, but the left analog stick is ALSO used for walking when you’re not casting, so whatever you do, most of the controller buttons have secondary functions to consider. And how does it work on a dungeon? It doesn’t. As soon as you have more than one enemy on the screen, your brain will automatically revert to how a PlayStation controller usually works, and you’ll press R2 only to open the aim line, but you won’t fire anything.
On the presentation side, the school itself and the halls were greatly designed, and I liked that the rooms were dynamically generated and changed each time I entered them. I was also impressed by the dynamic shadows that follow each character. On the animation side, however, it’s another story: they are poor, and the walking/running animation feels as if I was looking at Goofy moving around each area. This game also uses the DualSense vibration features and adaptive triggers, which are always nice to have.
This game has 31 trophies in total, split into 16 Bronze trophies, 10 Silver trophies, and 5 Gold trophies. This means that you will have a chance to add a new Platinum trophy to your collection. Most of them will unlock naturally as you progress through the chapters of the main story. A few others are tied to various in-game awards that will be granted to you as you progress. The last one will be unlocked as you obtain and master each spell for every school year, which is going to require you to focus on your skills every step of the way.
Spells and Secrets is a game set in a magical school, slightly reminiscent of the world of Harry Potter, in which you’ll be progressing through the ever-changing halls. I liked the game’s premise, and it has some great ideas, but unfortunately, the control scheme selected for this one totally killed the experience for me. Spells and Secrets is available on PlayStation 5 with a $29.99 price tag.
This Spells and Secrets review is based on a PlayStation 5 copy provided by Merge Games.