Each of the “big three” have come out with some interesting hardware innovations this year; but out of all of them, the Wonderbook for the Sony Playstation 3 is the most novel (ha!*). While there are a number of different SKUs, the majority of people will most likely be looking at the Wonderbook: Book of Spells bundle. I’m going to talk about the game and the book; how they work together and what sort of future that the Wonderbook might bring.
I refer to the Wonderbook as non-electronic hardware because it is exactly that: a book full of simple augmented reality (AR) codes – much like the cards that are included with the Playstation Vita, or the Nintendo 3DS/3DSXL. For the uninitiated, these codes are similar to those little QR codes that you see all over the place that you can scan with your smart phone. However, rather than containing website or contact info, the AR codes contain data that allows your device to build a virtual visual construct using the AR code as an anchor (just take a look at the image below, and you’ll understand what I mean). The Wonderbook requires the Playstation Eye and Move wand to work; but given the marketing numbers, a fair number of PS3 owners already have the hardware (thanks to the Playstation Move push a few years ago).
This game will not set fire to your carpet.
Book of Spells is like an interactive add-on to the Harry Potter Universe, allowing players to perform some of the magic within the mythos, as well as learn about the stories behind the spells. A word of warning: if you think that this game is a passive extension of the series delivered entirely by narrative, you will be disappointed. No, in this game you will have to do a little bit of work before you truly get any rewards.
The game casts you as a student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Anxious to learn more, you visit the library and stumble upon the Book of Spells by Miranda Goshawk (or, rather, it stumbles upon you). The book contains every spell and incantation that you might need as a witch-or-wizard-in-training, and more besides. The book starts off teaching you simple spells (like levitation or unlock) and moves onto more complex incantations. The physical book -when everything is set up correctly- will appear (on screen) to look like an old tome. Your Playstation Move wand becomes your on-screen wand – and you play yourself in this adventure. The real magic is in how the game plays out.
Accompanying each of the spells (there are 20) is a somewhat interactive story told through a paper puppet theatre. At times you will use your wand to fill in some of the blanks of the story – but it is usually impossible to fail, and the narrator will guide you along. To complete your spell training, the book conjures up a practice area for you to show how well you have done. The game also records your best moments for you to play back later.
The paper puppet theatre is pretty cool.
There is a fair bit of repetition in the formula of this game: learn the spell; practice it; take the test; see the puppet show. If you don’t have the patience for this type of delivery, then you will not like this game. However, if you are a fan, or have kids, this kind of structure is like candy. While there is definitely a routine at play, each spell’s story is different and entertaining – and the level of interactivity by just using the book is fantastic. You can pick it up and rotate it, for instance; and the on-screen image will rotate as well, allowing you to see a different view of the book, or different parts of the puppet stage that may be projected onto the book.
Book of Spells for the Wonderbook is entertaining for fans of Harry Potter and for kids. Littlest Thumb and I found this J.K. Rowling adventure charming and enjoyable. I wouldn’t say that Book of Spells is revolutionary; but I feel like it’s a promising start** for an interesting piece of hardware. It might just be what’s needed to breathe some new life into the Playstation Move.