When Wonderbook: Book of Spells was officially announced at E3 2012 in Los Angeles, it was safe to say that most were surprised, yet intrigued by what Sony were revealing and exactly what Studio London’s interactive story telling title was all about. I witnessed during my time at E3 just what Wonderbook: Book of Spells was all about and the huge amount of charm and fun that it bought to the younger audiences and families in their droves. Fast forward 5 months and I’ve now had the chance to sit down in the comfort of my own home and experience just what it is all about firsthand. Is it a spellbinding, magical adventure? Or a witch induced nightmare? Read on to find out.
First off, I’ll start with the presentation. One thing that strikes you straight away is the beautiful look and feel of the overall package that is contained within the whole Wonderbook: Book of Spells world. The way that the whole creation has been crafted into a digital form through the interaction of a motion controller, a camera and a AR book, is something very special indeed. With JK Rowling’s input with the Book of Spells and the famous setting of Hogwarts library (made famous by Harry Potter of course!) tied in with the integration of Pottermore, it’s clear that Wonderbook: Book of Spells and the PlayStation Move was the perfect showcase medium to bring a new look at wizardry and magic since the finale of the Harry Potter blockbuster films.
“…once the basics are in front of you and you’re waving your move controller around like some sort of wizard pro, this is when the whole premise of the creation comes to life.”
When you first start out your experience on Wonderbook, you are greeted with detailed and easy instructions on what you and the motion controller, in conjunction with the PlayStation Eye camera are used for. With the PlayStation Eye camera focusing on the interaction with the book in front of you, the motion controller brings the whole story and the magic to life with your inputs taking centre stage on screen. Our preview covers the first two chapters of the upcoming game just as a taster of what to expect. In some ways, Book of Spells is a ‘mini-tutorial’ in the way it starts off explaining exactly what and how everything works, but once the basics are in front of you and you’re waving your move controller around like some sort of wizard pro, this is when the whole premise of the creation comes to life.
The motion controller is your wand, your tool if you like at bringing wizardry magic onscreen. By gesturing at the PS Eye camera with the wand and using different techniques (which you learn throughout each chapter of the Book of Spells), you then put them into practice with a small challenge like scenario at the end of each completed new spell to show that you can and have learned your new magic skill. Each spell is done easily by holding down the PS Move button and then drawing the designated shape that you have learned on screen. For example, by doing a hook shaped motion to start a levitation charm to a swirl from left to right to start the water making spell or a number 4 shape to do the unlocking charm spell. Once you have completed the on-screen spell, to use your spell, you then press the PS Move’s ‘T button’ and by moving the motion controller in the direction and way that was shown to you previously.
It’s very easy to do and although there were times when the game lagged slightly, this didn’t cause any real problems with stopping me doing what I was supposed to be doing and I personally feel that this was more down to the camera than the software or the hardware, as it unfortunately does have its limitations due to its low-res image quality and at times, slow responsiveness to the actions that it’s trying to pick up. Although the PlayStation 3’s Eye Camera has been updated slightly since the PS2’s Eye Toy camera, it still has its limitations and I feel these slight issues would not of occurred if the hardware was more advanced. Only a small gripe though as, like I say, this wasn’t a big problem and in all honesty, it didn’t happen much at all, but it is there which is a shame.
As well as the standard motion control method that the Wonderbook uses, the game also features voice incantations as well. At the start of each new spell, you are greeted with a small description of what the new magic that you are about to learn means and then you have to speak a word in ‘open sesame’ style catchphrase to start your new lesson. Be it, by shouting Aguamenti, Alohomora or Incendio at your TV set like some sort of wizardry master!
“The way the end of each chapter has been implemented is brilliantly done as it means that what you have learned needs to be put to the test rather than just finishing each individual spell and that’s the end of the chapter.”
Each chapter sees you learn four new spells, and once you have completed each of the four individual magic spells, you are then sent to a level at the end of the chapter in which you have to use all the spells you have learned to defeat a boss-style like creature during a story based scenario. Using your magic skills in various ways with various puzzles chucked in for good measure, it will keep you occupied for the end of the ‘Chapter Test’. The way the end of each chapter has been implemented is brilliantly done as it means that what you have learned needs to be put to the test rather than just finishing each individual spell and that’s the end of the chapter. It works brilliantly well and ties up each chapter perfectly well and in turn, you are learning new commands as well. The further you progress, the more challenging and difficult the magic becomes. While chapter one was more about showing you the basic implementation of how the spells can help you in your progress, in chapter 2, as you are now more adapted to what your task involves, the spells are more demanding and require more skill. New spells that feature in chapter 2 include using your wand to reveal invisible ink, bringing out a flock of birds from the end of your wand or even the art of fire-making. Once you have completed a chapter, you are given a conundrum poem read out by the author of the Book of Spells, Miranda Goshawk and it’s brilliantly implemented and fits perfectly in the moment and what your are experiencing. It could have come across as being slightly childish and cheesy but the way Studio London has bought it all together in one package with everything fitting nicely into the Book of Spells world, has been done with so much craft and love.
One thing that really strikes you whilst playing Wonderbook: Book of Spells is just how intuitive it is and how the interaction with the book and the on-screen scenarios, really brings everything together in a beautifully natural kind of way. It really does feel great when you sit there and access that it’s your inputs that are making these worlds and situations spring to life from what can only be described as an augmented reality book, a low megapixel camera and a plastic motion controller in essence, but the beauty of it, is that all of this is coming from tech that is very simply incorporated to bring the whole thing together and it really is very well done indeed.
Like I previously said in my ‘E3 2012 Preview’, which can be found by clicking here, there is no doubt that this is aimed at the younger audience or families, but at the same time, just because I personally don’t fall into that age category for example, that doesn’t mean to say I’m going to spout off and say its not as good as blowing up wave after wave of infested humans like some sort of possessed nutcase, or clambering and traversing across landscapes like some crazed lunatic, as that’s not what the Book of Spells is all about and if you expect it to be, then you will be highly disappointed indeed. Look at it for what it is and that’s a genuine, fun, charming and a break from the ‘manly’ style titles that slap us full on in the face for the best part of 11 months and you will start to see just what this has to offer. Wonderbook: Book of Spells has enough to keep you coming back for more with its varied amount of chapters and unlockables through your time with the game.
When I experienced exactly what this was all about while seeing a presentation at E3 2012, I stated that the title is so intuitive and engaging that this could be used, not only to bring families together with interaction and learning but also children with learning difficulties that are in need of coordination skills and interaction as well and after sitting down and experiencing this first hand, my opinion hasn’t changed and has actually shown me how much more this could help children and families. Video games seem to get a huge amount of negative press for whatever reason like being too violent or for taking a social interaction away from children, but this is something that can increase that even more. It’s a tool that cannot only give children huge amounts of fun and pleasure, but give them the tools to learn and interact with something that is supposedly a ‘bad medium’ for children.
While Wonderbook has a slight issue here and there with the camera and the responsiveness, for the most part, this is a fun, engaging and beautifully packaged title that brings so much more to the video game world than so many want to accept. It’s implemented so well it’s a breathe of fresh air in reality and there were times playing it that it felt kind of surreal and felt like I was being drawn into the experience more than I thought I would, but that says it all about what Wonderbook is. What’s quite ironic is that the Book of Spells is all about becoming a master wizard, and this is indeed something quite magical, that’s for sure.
NGB ANTICIPATION RATING