Wonderbook: Book of Spells Review For PlayStation 3
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
Sony, for quite some time now, has been a big proponent of augmented reality. That is, using your gaming console and a camera to bring the video game experience into the real world for an augmented experience. From the Eye of Judgment collectible card game, to the Pokémon-like Invizimals on your PSP, and a slew of AR games for the PlayStation Vita, Sony has very clearly pushed for games that not only immerse gamers in virtual worlds, but blur the lines between the real and not-so-real. Wonderbook, Sony’s latest entry in the AR space, is a game that is clearly designed with the younger gamer in mind; however, with the first title available, J.K. Rowling’s Book of Spells, you might find that the Wonderbook has some entertainment value for the entire family.
Set in the Pottermore universe, Book of Spells is a game where you take on the role of a young wizard at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You find a mysterious book in the Forbidden Books section titled The Book of Spells, written by Miranda Goshawk over 200 years ago. Reading along with you is an unnamed librarian who serves as your narrator on your adventure to learn many spells featured in the Harry Potter series.
In order to play Wonderbook and Book of Spells, you’ll need the PlayStation Eye camera, a PlayStation Move controller, and of course the Wonderbook itself. The game requires that both the book and player are clearly seen on the screen to function properly, so the Eye will have to be raised above the eye-level of the gamer. Ideally, you’ll be playing the game either seated on the floor or at a low level surface such as a coffee table. Once you’ve gone through the calibration steps, you’ll be able to embark on your journey as a Hogwarts student!
First off, you’ll be prompted to connect to your Pottermore account (if you already have one), or be given the option to create one if you so desire. In addition to the usual features found in Pottermore (e.g. exploring key scenes within the Harry Potter books, reading new content by J.K. Rowling), House Points collected in the game will be reflected in your online account. Once you’ve completed the setup, you’ll see yourself and your trusty book being pulled into the magical world of the Book of Spells. The pages of the Wonderbook are transformed into the spell book, while your PlayStation Move controller takes on the appearance of the magic wand that you chose. The super accurate accelerometers and other tech built into the PlayStation Move wand controller do an excellent job in tracking in the game with very little lag noted. I actually had to take the Move controller by the wrist strap and twirl it quite intensely in order to get it to separate from the image overlayed on the screen.
Gameplay is rather simple, yet diverse enough to hold the attention of the youngest wizard or witch in training. The book is divided into a series of chapters, which are split into two parts to accommodate for the mere 12 pages that the Wonderbook holds. Every chapter features a number of activities dedicated to teaching the wizard or witch the spells he/she will need to master in order to pass a test given at the end of the chapter. Each spell you learn is introduced with a short story on the spell’s origins, or the reason for learning it (as well as a safety warning for those spells which can cause harm if used improperly).
Many of the spell’s background stories are told through pop-ups in the book, much like you would find in a children’s book. The narrator reads the story as it plays out in the pop-up, while the player is able to interact with it through tabs that appear on the sides of the page using his/her wand. In some instances, pulling the tabs merely add amusing bits to the story such as setting off fireworks, making rats scurry across the ground – just to name a couple. In other instances, the action tabs are used to help the narrator figure out missing or unintelligible words. One tab will have an incorrect, yet often amusing, answer (such as wizards throwing cauldrons at an actor giving a bad performance), while the other tab will have a correct answer (such as pumpkins being thrown instead).
Other stories come in the form of animated events that are often found as scribbles on the pages from either Miranda Goshawk or an unknown mischievous writer with a penchant for leaving charms on the pages that bring creatures to life; these magical beings must be dealt with quickly, lest they turn things upside down in the school. These scenarios provide the practice players need with their spells and charms, and do so in a unique way by creating the environment on-screen around the player. The gamer views the world through a portal and interacts with it using his/her wand to perform spells to unlock doors and gates, get rid of pests, and explore environments looking for treasures that they’ll need to complete objectives. It’s here that Book of Spells does an excellent job of drawing players, especially young ones, into the game by making them feel like they’re truly a part of the world instead of just conveying a story on the screen and allowing them to interact on a semi-physical plane.
The game’s storybook-illustrated graphics do a wonderful job of creating a fantasy world for the player to take part in, with scenery straight out of J.K. Rowling’s books and movies. Each sequence, whether it be the pages as they appear in the Book of Spells, or the world as it appears around the player starts off as blank parchment, with the objects in the environment coming into view as illustrations on the page before colors wash across the screen, bringing everything to life in a three-dimensional toon-shaded world. The only complaint with the game graphically is the camera zooming in on the book, or sometimes the player, for some of the activities. The low resolution camera of the PlayStation Eye tends to look rather grainy on the screen when zooned in, and does detract a bit from the allure of the game.
The voice acting adds to the storybook charm of the game as well, with the actors doing a good job of conveying the narrative in a way most suited for younger gamers, but not overly childish so as to make older gamers feel as though the game is too immature for them to play. The music is very reminiscent of the Harry Potter movies and provides that mystical atmosphere in the same manner as John Williams’ original score did.
Wonderbook: Book of Spells is a game that can be enjoyed by gamers both young and old, but where the real enjoyment can be had is with the family as a whole. The Pottermore theme is a large part of this, of course, as the Harry Potter universe appeals to a wide demographic. But it’s the storybook experience that really hits home as a game that will draw parents to sit down with their children and play together with them. Moms and Dads can play this game with their little ones and help them along in finding all of the little secrets hidden throughout the book, while the simplistic controls of the PlayStation Move keep it from becoming too cumbersome for children to wield the controller and having to have their parents take over completely.
It isn’t a perfect game unfortunately, as there does seem to be an issue at times with the game transitioning from one page to the next. There was one point where I had to flip the pages back and forth a few times because it didn’t enumerate the illustrations on the next lesson, and wouldn’t continue the story until it had done so. Those moments are far and few between, however, and don’t detract much from the magic that is the Book of Spells.
Overall, Sony’s Wonderbook: Book of Spells is not only a great reason to have a PlayStation Move, but is one of the best family games that I’ve seen hit the market for 2012. Simple controls make the game highly accessible to children, while the story and activities are enough to draw a Harry Potter fan of just about any age to it. If you’re looking for a good starter to get your little gamer acclimated to the world of video games, Book of Spells is an excellent jumping point.
Wonderbook: Book of Spells receives a 4.5/5.0.
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