From J.K. Rowling comes a real life book of magic!
Wonderbook from Sony London combines the PS Move motion controller with a physical book to create an interactive story-telling experience.
The 12 page book features test patterns on every page which are used to map Augmented Reality content directly onto the pages. Through the use of the PlayStation Eye camera, you’ll see stories come to life on the pages as you turn them and interact with whatever title you’re playing.
First out of the gate is Book of Spells. In quite the licensing coup, Sony has landed an original tale from Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling which takes place in that fictional universe. You’ll pick a wand shape, choose a house to belong to and head into the library for an all new adventure.
Interaction with the Wonderbook is mainly through the Move controller, which appears as an oversized wand on screen. But the physical presence of the book means you’ll also be able to interact directly with it – wiping away dust or other debris from its surface. The actual action of the turning the pages also helps to draw you into the world, while closing the book instantly ends the current animation in a pleasing folding fashion.
Much of your time with Book of Spells involves travelling through the tome by noted witch-lady Miranda Goshawk, leaning new incantations, practising them in controlled arenas before a more wide-ranging test at the end of each chapter. With four chapters and two parts to each and about four spells in each chapter, there’s plenty to learn. You’ll also gain clues to a special conundrum set by the witch to be solved at the end and put all your spellcraft to the test in a final challenge.
The most significant thing about this first Wonderbook outing is that it works. Motion control titles have, by and large, been exercises in seeing the potential behind massively frustrating experiences but the combination of an actual tracked object and the reassuring weight of the PS Move means you’ll rarely lose your way.
The interaction itself is generally slick, selecting items in the book is seamless (though the Eye will sometimes lose sight of the pages) and the gesture based spell casting works well. There are quite a few to remember and the shapes you’ll draw to summon them aren’t always that intuitive but the game will usually give you a tip if you’re stuck. Strangely, though you’re also given a command work to speak for the power, Wonderbook doesn’t accept the voice command and you can actually shout out anything you damn well please!
The other major stand out is the presentation. From the opening page, the animation is often magical – words slowly coalesce on the screen of the book, spells fizzle and burst from your wand and a variety of magical creatures spill out from the pages and draw you into the world. You can learn the history of the spells through pop up storybook sections which are beautifully rendered and even feature interactive sections where you can control small elements of the story by pulling tabs with the wand.
Each of Goshawk’s conundrums is also brought to life in a stunning animation, complete with a rhyming poem which is intended to give you clues to the final solution. It’s all shot through with ready humour and some darker elements which nicely echo the style of Rowling’s Potter universe without ever really referencing any of her characters or storylines directly.
So Book of Spells is a beguiling experience and should captivate youngsters even more than this aging cynic. But beyond the seamless interaction and finely crafted presentation things are not quite so perfect.
For one thing, many of your choices in the world are completely inconsequential. Your wand and house selection for example are never referred to again, and even the house points you accrue have no final purpose. The idea of speaking your spell aloud to activate it is a great one, and ideally suited to the Potter lore, but the game is deaf to your cries.
The chapters themselves are front loaded with far too many lessons and little payoff, with rigid practise screens and an extremely light puzzle test at the end. Things open up a little in the final chapter, giving you a chance to fight off some magical beasties, but it’s all over far too quickly. The lack of any real story also hurts the product and serves to make the ending less involving than it should be.
There is some real magic to be found in Wonderbook: Book of Spells, and youngsters are sure get a kick out of the impressive interaction between book and wand – especially if they are Potter fans. But even they are likely to tire of the repetitive nature of the lessons and the strangely finger-wagging nature of Goshawk’s poems, while there’s little real replay value once you’ve closed the book for the last time. Perhaps future Wonderbook titles might work to expand on this potential.