Platforms: PS3 (requires Move)
Developers: SCEE London Studio
Publishers: Sony Computer Entertainment
Motion control and augmented reality, not necessarily a combination that you'd expect to light up folks with excitement. But instead of thinking of Wonderbook as the bastard child of gaming's novelty items, it might just be better to approach it with the open mind that suggests it could be the title which finally creates something more than the mere sum of its parts. By leveraging franchises as popular as Harry Potter and as cool as Walking with Dinosaurs (Dinosaurs will always be cool! - Ed.) to create an interactive experience that might educate as well as captivate, it's to be hoped that Sony have stumbled upon the magic formula.
But is that hope realised?
Well, first of all, it's important to understand that Wonderbook : Book of Spells is pitched firmly at a youthful and, hopefully, less cynical crowd. But for those of us who've grown up with Harry Potter - whether as wide-eyed consumers, or the parents of budding would-be wizards - Book of Spells is something of a must-buy. Instead of revisiting Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Book of Spells features new writing from J.K. Rowling, exploring the wider wizarding world, and providing deeper insight into the art of casting spells. It's what dreams of made of: the opportunity to become a wizard like our hero with the lightning scar. Maybe.
Crucially, the setup is oh-so-very simple. Plug in the Eye, switch on your Playstation Move, and open up the Wonderbook itself - a thick hardback with its few pages covered in QR-esque patterns and AR symbols - in front of the camera. Calibration is, mercifully, quick and painless, and it's not long before you're transported back to school.
School? I hear you exclaim. Ugh! Yes, it's true, Book of Spells is more of an educational piece than a game in the conventional sense, but instead of reading, rhymes, and 'rithmetic, you'll be learning you to disarm a Dark Wizard with Expelliarmus and Summoning objects with Accio. If you've signed up already to Pottermore, you can import your profile, or start from scratch developing a moving profile pic in the manner of Daily Prophet photos, selecting your wand, and picking your house. Progression throughout will earn you House Points, so if you've ever wanted to be the saviour of Slytherin or the hero of Hufflepuff, this could be your chance.
With a puff, the Wonderbook onscreen transforms into Miranda Goshawks Book of Spells, and your first task is to dust it off. The Book of Spells itself is split into five chapters, each of which is sliced in half. Every half-chapter contains somewhere between one and three new spells to learn, each consisting of an incantation and then a wand movement. Once you've charged up the spells by tracing the correct pattern in the air, you can dispatch it with a neat little flick of the wrist for spells . It's a testament to the work that SCEE London have done on the tech that it all works seamlessly.
Along the way, there are little curios - pop-up scenes that explore the origins of the spells in question, filling your mind with background info on the various wizards and witches who've contributed to the book over the years, along with the secret scribblings of a previous owner. The presentation is delightfully whimsical and full of charm, with the work that SCEE London have put in to making sure it really feels like an authentic entry in the Potterverse clearly evident and worthy of applause.
But it never quite goes far enough.
Learning the spells is fun enough, and sure to capture the imaginations of the Potter-fans who indulge in it, but there's precious little wish fulfilment. Only at the end do things really start to kick off as you finally utter the words Expecto Patronum! and get to save a village from Dementors and werewolves. The rest of your journey through the book is filled with fairly mundane and menial tasks such as levitating chess pieces. Furthermore, although the fairly rigid structure is welcome, the complete lack of freedom is not. The narrator holds the player's hand every step of the way, and you never really get the chance to experiment or discover solutions for yourself. The puzzles and problems at the end of each chapter string the spells you just learnt together nicely, but there's little sense of accomplishment. That might not necessarily bother six and seven year olds too much, but as one eleven year old family friend asked, "why won't it just let me play?". This was closely followed by "when do I get to do a duel or fight with He Who Must Not Be Named?" There was disappointment on that count too.
Sadly, for all of the promise it shows, there's just not that much to do and once you've clocked the experience completely in a handful of hours, there's little reason to return. The ideas are there, the setting, the tone, the basic foundations for something truly special are all in place, but there's just not enough variety nor longevity to recommend it to anyone but die-hard fans. You'll want to love it, but it all ends a bit too quickly, with no real payoff in terms of the narrative, in terms of "player" progression, and, criminally, there's nothing that sees you rewarded sufficiently for those House Points you earned.
It should be remembered that this is very much the launch title for a new Sony product, though, and as such it does a good job of showcasing the potential for what Wonderbook might become. The price point is incredibly pleasing too, with most retailers shipping the basic package for under £25, and the Move+Camera+Wonderbook bundle coming in around £55-60 (though shopping around will almost certainly save you some money for the latter). There's a real opportunity here for something truly special, and Sony should be applauded for finally making good use of augmented reality in a way that others simply haven't. But as it stands, the Book of Spells is more of an immaculately presented tech demo than we would have liked. There are moments of magic, but also too much repetition in between.
- Cracking use of AR and motion control
- Potterverse is brought to life in charming fashion
- Moments f magic hint at a special future for Wonderbook
- But there's not enough substance
- Not enough variety
- Not enough freedom to ever think for yourself
The Short Version: Book of Spells brings Harry Potter's world of witchcraft and wizardry to life in fine fashion, but it runs out of ideas a little too quickly and spends rather too much time telling players how to be a wizard or a witch, without really letting them become one in satisfying fashion. It does, however, potentially point towards a bright future for Wonderbook in terms of execution and originality.