Wonderbook: Book of Spells (PS3)

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Wonderbook: Book of Spells is an innovative and engaging augmented reality (AR) title for PlayStation Move that successfully paves the way for future entries in the Wonderbook series. Written in collaboration with Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and developed by AR pioneers SCE London Studio (EyeToy, EyePet), this interactive spell book is primarily aimed at children who can’t get enough of all the fantastic charms and hexes featured in the Harry Potter books and movies.

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To play Book of Spells you’ll need a PlayStation Eye camera, a Move controller and the Wonderbook which comes packaged with the game. This 12-page book feels like it’s made from cardboard and is 28cm long, 23.5cm wide and 1.5cm thick. The front and back covers and all the pages have large AR markers on them so the camera can work out exactly where the book is positioned and which page you’re on. You can play in a variety of lighting conditions and can be seated on the floor with the book in front of you or seated on a couch with it resting nearby. Your PlayStation Move controller should be in full view of the camera and you should be able to hold it over the book when required.

According to the game’s fiction, the Book of Spells you now find in your possession was written by a talented Hogwarts student called Miranda Goshawk over two hundred years ago and can be found in the Restricted Section of the school’s library. It is an advanced textbook for wizards and witches in training, featuring anecdotal facts and casting advice on twenty spells that include popular choices such as the Patronus Charm (Expecto Patronus!), the Disarming Charm (Expelliarmus!), and the Impediment Jinx (Impedimenta!).

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Book of Spells contains five chapters featuring four spells apiece, and each chapter is split into two parts. Since each part comprises twelve pages the book is essentially 120 pages long, although there are also two bonus sections where you can view your collectibles and view the various ‘conundrums’ that are unlocked upon completing each chapter. These conundrums were written by J.K. Rowling herself, and take the form of a poem that describes a failed Hogwarts student who lacked a certain quality essential for making a good wizard or witch. Upon completing all five chapters the conundrum is solved as you learn exactly what these five indispensable qualities are.

Each chapter culminates in a special test that requires you to use all four spells you have learned during that chapter to subdue an enemy or complete a specific task. For example, one of these tests tasks you with putting a bridle on a water dragon’s head in order to calm it down. These are not the only instances of traditional gameplay in Book of Spells as there are also mini-games that are designed to put every new spell you learn to the test. These include repotting Mandrakes using the Levitation Charm, and helping the Knarls teach the Gnomes a lesson using the Engorgement and Shrinking charms. The chapter tests and mini-games are generally well designed and feature excellent visuals, although there’s no real sense of danger or urgency since you can’t die and the only penalty for performing badly is being awarded a few less ‘House Points’ upon completing the task. Incidentally, the number of House Points you earn over the course of the game makes no difference to the Trophies you are awarded, and unlocking a coveted Platinum Trophy is as simple as completing the game.

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Besides from mini-games and end of chapter tests, Book of Spells also features anecdotal facts about each enchantment along with tutorials covering the incantation associated with each spell and the shape you need to make with your wand (i.e. the PlayStation Move) in order to cast it. A narrator with a voice remarkably similar to Ewan McGregor’s gives you information and advice as you move from page to page, and his constant instructions such as “turn the page to proceed” or “hold your wand over the page and press the T button to select” can become annoying after a while.

If you don’t want to learn more about each spell you can simply turn to the next page and play through the challenge associated with it. While this flexibility is welcome, every so often there’s a humorous skit revealing the origin of the spell in question. These skits feature cardboard cut-out characters and sets, along with a fair amount of player participation. If you tilt the book towards the camera you can view the action from a top-down perspective which isn’t very practical but at least allows you to see the depth of this charming cardboard theatre. These skits were one of the highlights of Book of Spells for me and I’m sure kids will be thoroughly entertained and amused by them, although a few do test your attention span by running for a couple of minutes too long.

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While Book of Spells is consistently entertaining and fun, it’s best enjoyed in small doses due to the identical structure of the chapters and slightly repetitive nature of the challenges associated with each enchantment. I would advise parents to tackle one chapter a night with their child as this will take around an hour to complete. Children can also use Book of Spells to practice their reading as text is highlighted as the narrator enunciates each word.

Usually AR games like Book of Spells have a few technical issues that draw you out of the experience. However, this game is surprisingly polished considering it’s the first Wonderbook product and everything works as advertised. Occasionally there’s a glitch where your wand tip passes through the cardboard theatre, but by and large the illusion of a magical spell book at your fingertips remains intact. You’ll want to hold up the book to the camera to see page illustrations in more detail and when you do you’re likely to marvel at just how realistic the animated pages appear. The Wonderbook concept clearly has a lot of potential and Book of Spells proves that the technology is already there to create truly engaging AR experiences utilising Wonderbook and PlayStation Move.

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While Book of Spells won’t appeal to everyone, there’s no denying that all the apprentice wizards and witches out there are going to savour this experience. Although no Harry Potter characters or plot details are referenced in the game, many of the spells and other elements from the franchise feature in Book of Spells along with original writing from J.K. Rowling. Sony clearly has a winner on its hands with Wonderbook, and Book of Spells is a great way to spend this holiday season with your child or a young family member who’s eager to brandish a virtual wand and wield some ‘wicked’ spells!