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Gaming Review

'Wonderbook: Book of Spells' review (PS3): A real page-turner

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Released on Tuesday, Nov 13 2012

'Wonderbook: Book of Spells' screenshot

© Sony


Release Date: November 13 (North America), November 14 (Europe)
Platforms available on: PS3
Developer: London Studio
Publisher: Sony
Genre: Education

Gaming and literature have always been uneasy bedfellows, but those innovative folk at Sony London have devised a way to bridge the gap between the two mediums. Wonderbook: Book of Spells is an interactive fiction experience that uses the PlayStation Move controller and Eye camera to bring the work of JK Rowling to life. With the Harry Potter author on board, it's sure to be a commercial success, but is there any real magic to be found in its pages?

The Wonderbook itself is a light blue, hardback volume no more than a few pages thick. Between the covers are a series of what look like QR codes, which serve to facilitate the augmented reality effects crucial to the game. Book of Spells, which comes on a Blu-ray disc, isn't really a game in the traditional sense. It's the software that conjures the experience, transforming the unspectacular-looking text in front of you into 'Miranda Goshawk's Book of Spells'.

'Wonderbook: Book of Spells' screenshot
Book of Spells is essentially a Hogwarts text book that comes to life on your television screen. It's an extended lesson in magic usage, in which you'll learn to how to cast 20 spells from the world of Harry Potter. Players start out with straightforward levitation charms before graduating to the kind of complex curses required for duelling with rival wizards.

Wonderbook is refreshingly simple to set up. Once the PlayStation Eye camera and Move controller have been connected, it's a matter of loading up the disc and positioning the book on the floor, in view of the camera. The software does the rest, guiding you through a brief calibration process.

Lighting proved to be a slight obstacle for us. If the room is poorly lit, the level of responsiveness drops significantly, and if you happen to live in a building where a lot of natural light seeps in, it barely works at all, though we can hardly blame Sony for our ineffective blinds.

Once you're up and running the Move controller takes on the form of a wand in the hand of your on-screen self, and the book comes to life. Points of interactivity are highlighted on each page, and players can move their virtual wand over them to access either a lesson or a task. Players are taught the vocal command to cast each spell - which is picked up by the camera's microphone - as well as the necessary wand movement.


They can also call up a brief history lesson on the origin of each spell, which plays out like a semi-interactive short story. These are accompanied by vocal narration that can be switched off by parents keen to encourage their children to do some reading. Once players have learnt how to cast a spell, they can put their skills to the test in specially designed mini-games.

These are rarely challenging since the game is reluctant to punish players, but its target audience is the under-13 demographic, who will lap up everything it has to offer. At the end of each chapter, players sit tests that involve combining all of the spells they have learned to solve a conundrum. Budding witches and wizards are assigned house points depending on how well they performed, so the high score fanatics will find replay value here.

'Wonderbook: Book of Spells' screenshot
Wonderbook performs well for the most part, with only a slight latency to the interface, which the kids are unlikely to notice. The game strives to provide a family-friendly experience, though it's the youngsters who will get by far the most out of it.

The mini-games and challenges might come across as overly simplistic to children old enough to tackle traditional games once the novelty of the augmented reality has worn off, but Harry Potter fans of all ages will appreciate how much attention has gone into capturing the essence of the series.

Rowling clearly had a lot of involvement in the project, and it shows. The short stories behind each spell add to the framework of the Harry Potter universe, albeit in a small way, and have been penned with care and attention, with wit and humour in no short supply. It's authentic in look and feel too, faithfully recreating various locations from around Hogwarts, but the inclusion of more of the series' lead characters would not have gone amiss.

Wonderbook: Book of Spells is an impressive piece of technology, realising the potential of augmented reality as a teaching tool and a means of wholesome family entertainment. Its appeal diminishes the older your children get, but Sony has convinced us that a world of possibilities lies ahead for Wonderbook.

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