Sony’s Wonderbook is an “augmented reality” addon for the Playstation Move. In the Wonderbook package you’ll get Book of Spells, which is the launch title, and a 12-page hardcover book that has various symbols printed on it – the Wonderbook itself. The Playstation Eye camera uses the symbols as a reference point so that when you’re playing, video of you and the book will be shown on your TV screen, but the book will be overlayed with whatever the Playstation chooses to overlay it with. If you’ve ever used the 3DS’s AR cards before, it’s the same idea. There’s not a whole lot more to write about the tech behind the Wonderbook – it really is just a 12-page hardcover book, making it possibly the first console peripheral that can be pirated via photocopier.
Book of Spells was developed in-house by Sony with input from Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Yes, this book/game is set within the Harry Potter universe. You play as a student at Hogwarts, and you’ve just checked out a magical book from the restricted section of the library – the Book of Spells, written by Miranda Goshawk, a former Hogwarts teacher from a long, long time ago. If you’re into Pottermore it’s possible to link the game up to your Pottermore account and accumulate House Points as you complete chapters and learn spells.
I should point out that Book of Spells isn’t really a game, as in something with levels (although I suppose there’s chapters that you progress through), but it’s more of a toy, or an object for kids to experiment with. I’d also pitch it for kids 12-and-under, as unless you’re a hardcore Harry Potter fan you’re going to quickly find yourself bored by the pacing and lack of any real challenge.
Book of Spells is narrated by a pleasant Scottish voice (a fictional professor at Hogwarts) who will guide you through each chapter as you learn various spells. The progression is generally: introduction to spell, short story about the spell (usually presented as an interactive diorama), learn the spell gesture, an exercise where you actually use the spell, congratulatory part, and then onto the next spell or chapter. There’s five chapters to the book, and each contains four spells. At the end of each chapter there’ll be a short test that requires using all the spells to pass. Spells are cast by making gestures with the Move controller (which is replaced with a wand overlay) and remain active until the Circle button is held down for a few seconds.
The presentation is quite nice and the whole system works well enough, the problem is I just didn’t really feel engaged at all while playing Book of Spells – at no point did I really feel sucked into the Harry Potter world, although that may simply be an age thing rather than a problem with the game. There’s a lot of weird clipping going on when it comes to the Move controller that sometimes makes aiming the wand awkward, and the voice recognition that asks you to say the name of a spell out loud doesn’t seem to work in any way at all – I yelled “derp,” made fart sounds, and slapped my belly, yet all three methods registered as me having perfectly recited spell names like “Lumos” and “Expelliarmus.” Other than those two problems, Book of Spells seems to do exactly what it set out to do. I’m just not sure if that’s anything to get excited about though.
Note: the below promotional screenshots have been shopped – the Playstation Eye runs at 640×480, which is well below the resolution shown in these images; however they still give a general idea on how the Wonderbook works.