"It's LeviOsa, not LeviosAR" has never been so important.
Book of Spells Got Right
- + Great use of Move
- + A different type of "game"
- + Harry Potter connection
- + Kids will love it
Book of Spells Got Wrong
- - The story isn't great
- - Not much reading
- - It's a very solo experience
If I were a 10-year-old, I would be ecstatic to wake up on Christmas morning to find Wonderbook: Book of Spells nestled under the tree. It’s a fine example of games evolving into something that can be appreciated by a wider audience and strong use of the widely disappointing Move Controller, in conjunction with the new Wonderbook peripheral.
But I must confess that when I first saw Wonderbook at E3, I was disappointed. I assumed from early rumblings that it would be a learning aid, and help young children learn to read or ignite their passion, in much the same way the Harry Potter books did throughout my childhood. While it won’t be introduced in schools as a teaching aid, it still has potential to get the internet generation -- kids who have never known life without Google -- interested in reading and the magical world of storytelling.
Book of Spells is included out of the box and was developed in conjunction with esteemed author J.K. Rowling as a companion to the Harry Potter series. It takes readers to an augmented reality realisation of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and tells a plethora of interesting stories while you learn to cast twenty of the most important spells the Wizarding world has ever known.You’ll start with Wingardium Leviosa, the levitation spell, before earning your stripes and conjuring water from your wand, rousing fire, and triumphing in Wizard duals.
If I were a 10-year-old, I would be ecstatic to wake up on Christmas morning to find Wonderbook: Book of Spells nestled under the tree.
Augmented reality has struggled to shriek its novelty moniker in the current generation of casual games, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s an established stalwart of the industry if Book of Spells is your first foray into the developing technology. Casting spells and listening to spoken stories from the fringes of the Potterverse require the included twelve-page Wonderbook, which is plastered with blue symbols similar to QR codes, PlayStation Move Motion Controller and PlayStation Eye. The latter two peripherals are included in the more comprehensive bundle.
A combination of these three Muggle items brings Book of Spells to life and transforms it into something you might expect to find in the restricted section of Hogwart’s library. The seemingly blank pages of the real world Wonderbook pop up in 3D on screen, as characters and objects jump out of the page.
The Move controller becomes a Wand in the hand of the player, and is tracked fairly successfully by the PlayStation Eye. There are a few minor tracking issues now and again, but for the most part, it reacts consistently to your movements. The images on screen are a live feed of the player and the book. The simple set-up will prompt you to sit on the floor with the book in front of you, but I had no issues putting it on a coffee table in front of me while sitting on a couch. As long as the camera has a clear line of sight to the book, Motion Controller and your upper body, the story goes on.
Devoted Potter fans will recognise the Book of Spells as something referenced by J.K. Rowling several times through the novels. Even older fans from the late ‘90s will enjoy a sense of nostalgia from finally holding such a prized object in the palm of their Muggle hands. However, after that, it’s very much a title aimed at the pre-teen market and younger fans who have more recently been acquainted with the best-selling series.
As the physical book is only twelve-pages, the story is told in five chapters, each split into two parts to accommodate flipping back to the start. In each half-chapter, you’ll learn up to four different spells that require a new gesture with the Move Wand and prompt you for an incantation of the spell’s name during training -- as seen in the books and films -- but thereafter you won’t need to say anything aloud if you’re not comfortable shouting “LUMOS!” at your PlayStation.
Each chapter concludes with a “test” to see if you’ve been paying attention, but these are quick to offer advice if the player seems lost. I admit to forgetting the gestures for numerous spells I had learnt just minutes before, and the assuring voice of the Scottish examiner always pointed me in the right direction.
Aside from learning the craft, you’ll come across a number of spoken stories, presented in a more traditional pop-up book artstyle on screen that detail back information about the Potterverse, provided by J.K. Rowling. You’ll also come across the mischief of the book’s former owner to test your spells is unexpected ways.
For all its positives, its a shame that the Book of Spells doesn’t really focus much on the reading. As an interactive book in such a popular series, it also would have benefited from a multiplayer component, even if two players took turns sharing the book and Wand to see who could learn a spell first. The story is also disappointing, and only serves to get worse as you progress. Considering Wonderbook is first and foremost an interactive story-telling medium, the narrative needed more work. The back-stories about some of the spells are more interesting, but they still feel like off-cuts that J.K. Rowling couldn’t, or didn’t want to, fit in anywhere else. It also doesn’t offer much in the way of replay value, but it is a book, after all.
The Final Verdict
Harry Potter fans have been looking for a fix since the series -- and now films -- ended, and Book of Spells provides something of interest, even if the progressing story is weak. Wonderbook on a whole is the best use of Move yet, thanks to the virtual wand, and a great initiative as games progress beyond the traditional skill-based gameplay. There’s little for older fans, but kids will love the interactive nature of Book of Spells.
By Ben Salter