Wonderbook: Book of Spells Review

A game that comes with hardware demands a review of the game as well as the hardware. We’ll see how well the Wonderbook hardware fares over time, but for now, we’ve got good impressions.

The Hardware

Wonderbook as a piece of hardware is a unique sort of accessory you get for a gaming console. It’s a blue book with no words or pictures, but rather an elaborate series of what amount to modified QR codes. The book itself is not the only component you need, however. Paired with a PlayStation Eye camera, Wonderbook actually becomes any kind of book you need it to be. Place the book in front of the Eye’s lens, and it will magically become the book for the game you’re playing. Turn a page, and the book in the game follows suit remarkably well.

For the most part, Wonderbook and the software running on the PlayStation 3 works as intended. You can easily break the game by turning the book to an angle that hinders the Eye’s view of the book. But when you’re actually playing the way the game expects you to, you should encounter very few problems. Sony is very fortunate that they’ve built a lot of power into their home console, as we’re guessing there is quite a bit going on behind the scenes to track and render objects in real-time. In fact, your PlayStation Move controller also becomes a wand in the game we’re taking a look at today, and it manages to do a pretty good job of masking the glow from the orb atop of it with in-game graphics.

Beyond this, there is very little to say about Wonderbook as a piece of hardware. It does what it’s supposed to do, although, like any real-time augmented reality system, it is relatively easy to fool. Much like any piece of gaming hardware, Wonderbook is reliant on having great software behind it to make it shine.

Book of Spells

Which brings us to Book of Spells. Sony is a very smart company. They own the rights to the Harry Potter franchise and they’re going to put it to good use. So what better way to introduce the new hardware than to use J.K. Rowling’s best-selling book and movie franchise?

The thing about the Harry Potter universe that makes it so appealing is that it is somehow rooted in reality. In tiny glimpses in the films and books, you see how the wizard world and normal human worlds are so closely connected, yet no human is really aware of the wizards’ existence. Of course, with entire theme parks dedicated to the series, there is nothing stopping a developer from putting some even more original thought into how to make a new kind of Harry Potter game.

Enter Book of Spells. This game is a one-of-a-kind in that it requires the use of the Wonderbook as its controller in a way. But does it hold up as a game, and more importantly as one that feeds us as gamers? The short answer is yes. Overall, we have a few gripes, but beyond those, Wonderbook: Book of Spells is actually the best implementation of augmented reality and Move controls.

Overall, the game is very story driven, although most of it feels like one giant tutorial. You play through chapters, learning spells through each, completing tests on all the spells you learned in that chapter. There are interesting bits that fly you away from the book world and into a Hogwarts classroom here and there to dispense of some enemies with your fire spell – incendio, for all you non-Potter buffs – but these are few and far between.

Some pages in the book seem relatively dull, although the animations that introduce them are never boring. There are interesting interactive bits where the book is covered in dust or soot and you have to clean it with your hand which were certainly amusing and put a smile on our face.

There are also sections of the book that really make the screen come to life. Some pages in the book become massive pop-ups that could almost only be possible in a virtual world. The amount of time and care to craft such incredible pop-up sections in real life would be astronomical. The designers were also smart enough to design for all angles of the book. Turn the book so that the back faces the camera and you’ll actually see the back of the pop-up, complete with paper structures to support the weight of the pop-up.

Graphics are decent, but nothing mind-shatteringly stunning. There are little visual elements like sparks and flourishes of colour that make it very easy to understand where in the virtual world you’re holding your Move controller. You’ll almost always see yourself on screen, either above the book, or in a little oval floating above a scene, but we actually found that one thing that pulled us out of the game. We’d have much rather not seen ourselves because the couch and LEGO sets behind us aren’t exactly what you’d find in a Hogwarts classroom.

Other visual touches that do make the game more than just an augmented reality slash PlayStation Move game is the way the text darts out of the way as you pass your wand between the letters, as well as creating your own moving wizard card at the beginning of the game. The camera hardware also uses software to zoom into the book as well as pan around as you move it within the frame; it’s an ingenious piece of software engineering in its depth and simplicity.

The story in Book of Spells is what you’ll come back for, however. While the game does introduce some pretty great mechanics for gameplay that redefine the link between augmented reality and motion controls, every spell you learn in the game has its own backstory. Every little detail in the game is explained in a way that makes the whole thing seem somehow plausible.

Overall, the experience is rich and deep for a Harry Potter fan. It won’t draw you in nearly as far as the books, nor keep your attention for a fraction of the time. But as a side-story full of tidbits of information you can’t gather from the books, Book of Spells is a winner.

It is also worth mentioning that the entire bundle of the game with Wonderbook hardware is only $39, with a bundle that includes a Move controller and PlayStation Eye at just $79. It also means that if you don’t have a Move controller and PlayStation Eye, you’re getting one of the best deals on motion controls on the market right now.