Don’t judge a book by its cover. The age old idiom has as much graceful relevance when it comes to Sony’s PS3 augmented reality Wonderbook as it does in reference to any of those other “regular” books bulking out the shelves of your front room. So much more than just an indulgent flash-in-the pan gimmick, Sony London Studio’s new augmented-reality compendium, the Wonderbook and its first lexicon of “wonder” – the Book of Spells – offer a refreshing and impressive experience akin to nothing else available in the way of peripheral enhanced gaming. It’s not perfect by any means, but for as long as it lasts, it’s a striking and intriguing journey into an extended Harry Potter universe that kids and pre-teens will just positively love.
Announced at E3 last month alongside the joyously surprising and original Harry Potter property in “Book of Spells”, Wonderbook represents the latest extension of London Studios’ celebrated affection for peripheral enhanced gameplay as seen in everything from this generation’s EyePet to last gen’s EyeToy. Book of Spells, brought to life by the Wonderbook, the PlayStation Eye and the PlayStation Move, is a seamless confluence of tangential PS3 peripherals, anchored to a truly unique and magical experience in the Wonderbook. “Magical” is probably the most befitting descriptive synonym of the experience represented between the pages of this seemingly innocuous AR book. Once the book comes to life, Book of Spells, much like the parent Harry Potter franchise it is emulating and complimenting, is simply magical. The fact that you can interact and influence the world therein to boot is just brilliant.
Book of Spells’ storyline revolves around finding an advanced textbook found in the restricted section of the Hogwarts library, and teaches users different spells in order to become expert wizards through the greater interactive experience. On your television screen, you can see yourself and the book in a fully immersive and interactive world as observed by your suitably angled PlayStation Eye camera. Complimentary to this living and breathing magic book is your PlayStation Move controller and its new status as your stalwart magic ‘wand’. It’s important to note that this is an original Potter experience, fused together by any number of recognisable spells from the greater Harry Potter universe like ‘Incendio’, ‘Wingardium Leviosa’, and ‘Alohomora’. There’s 20 odd spells to get to task with, starting off with basic levitation style castings before graduating to more advanced and complex magic. They’re not particularly challenging and there isn’t much diversity, but coupled with the PlayStation Move, it makes for a novel way of interacting with the experience. Waving your Move over highlighted points activates a task, lesson or a spell. You can also use your voice to command certain spells, via the PlayStation Eye. The presentation is exceptional. The visuals, coupled with impressive audio, really enhance the greater authentic feel of the experience.
As you progress through the book’s chapters, you will be tested on the information and spells that you have learned there previously. For the most part, you will have to apply your wizardly skills to help solve some kind of conundrum, awarding you with relevant house points based on how well you performed in your task. Apart from the main “read-through”, you can tackle any number of smaller challenges and mini-games that certainly add a little weight to proceedings. In saying that, there’s not much longevity in the package. You’ll certainly get through the main story in less than a couple of hours, with the mini-games and extra challenges only adding at most another hour of play time to events.
The only problem with Wonderbook as such, is that there’s not a lot in here. For all its innovation and its tangible authentic charm, it just doesn’t offer enough variation beyond 20 noticeably similar PlayStation Move interactions. There’s not nearly enough variety in terms of gameplay. Yes, the technology is impressive and the book and the Move work seamlessly together, but the content of the book and how it impresses itself on the player to interact with it is lacking. In saying that, if you’re looking for a wholesome family experience that will captivate your kids and pre-teens this Christmas, play lengths and gameplay variation complaints hold little of no clout. They’re going to love this. The detail and the way it is presented is exceptional.
It’s really difficult not to be captivated by Book of Spells and Wonderbook, even if it’s only at an entry level. It’s an impressive beginning for Wonderbook and in Book of Spells, Sony has almost certainly created the best Harry Potter inspired videogame title to date. Much like any good book, the Wonderbook and Book of Spells is the kind of book that you can pick up and read through over and over again. We really can’t wait to see what Wonderbook produces next.
TGL SCORE: 7/10
Format: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Move
Developer: Sony London Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Release Date: Out Now