Before there were video games, TV, film and even radio, there were books. You know what a book is right? I’m not talking about the words found inside your Kindle. I’m talking about a good ol’ fashioned book. Hardback, or paperback, a sturdy spine, and pages of wonderful words for you to read and enjoy. The book has been around for an incredible amount of time. Whether you’re old or young, everyone knows how to use a book; and in all this time, the book really hasn’t changed. We’ve had TV and film innovate with the times, and the same has happened to music and even video games. The biggest change to the book is with the arrival of the e-reader, but it does nothing to improve upon the books function. However, thanks to Sony it seems that that age old paper filled creation could finally be getting the reinvention it deserves. Wonderbook makes pop-up books look like child’s play.
Sony are positioning Wonderbook as a family gaming platform, allowing for children to enjoy stories and instill a sense of wonder without parents having to worry about questionable content. Perhaps they’ll even find a reason to participate themselves. Don’t switch off though at the word family. Wonderbook has the potential to be so much more than that. Wipe those Wii and Kinect stock images of families cramming onto a sofa or stood in a living room the size of a warehouse, waving their arms or laughing gleefully as they play. Wonderbook is a different type of family game. It’s one that puts considered events, brilliant story and simple mechanics together to create something as familiar as a book but as exciting and new as a new medium.
Having been in various stages of development since the days of the PlayStation 2 and its EyeToy peripheral, Wonderbook has some impressive technology behind it, despite being deceivingly simple to use. Placing the plush and solid hardback book on the floor infront of the PlayStation Eye, the AR card pages – in tandem with the PS Move controller – means you can interact with onscreen images with unprecedented accuracy. What’s even more impressive is that the Wonderbook, which is nothing more than an ordinary book in form, can tell how it’s oriented and thus react onscreen in the same way.
This means that the sense of discovery is even more rewarding. You can turn the book around to see behind objects and lifting and tilting it means the objects on each page react – water runs off pages, feathers tumble away. It’s just so very impressive to see, and offers pleasing visceral responses. Of course, while it feels great to use and is very simple in both style and execution, its success all hinges on the software available to use. Luckily it seems that Sony London Studio have managed to pull out a title that every kid will love.
Due to Sony’s partnership with J.K. Rowling for the online Harry Potter experience Pottermore, Wonderbook‘s first title comes from the mind of J.K. Rowling herself. Written as a young witch or wizard’s guide to essential spells, Book of Spells throws down all the major incantations found in both the books and films. It’s clear to see why this will be popular with children of all ages, but as someone that doesn’t particularly like Harry Potter - and is also at least 12 years outside of the target demographic - I found myself being sucked right into the papery charms that Wonderbook: Book of Spells casts upon players.
Taking up the role of a young wizard who’s been sent to retrieve Miranda Goshawk’s Book of Spells from Hogwarts’ Library. It appears to be lost within the restricted section – the one place young witches and wizards don’t go in the library. It’s here you’re caught by a teacher and then taken through each of the key spells found within the Book of Spells.
Progress takes the form of moving through five chapters that each have two parts to them. While it’s a nice way of sectioning gameplay up, as each chapter takes around 40 minutes to complete, it does get a little irritating navigating back to the chapter menu to undertake the 2nd half of your current chapter. It makes sense though, as the Wonderbook itself has 12 robust card pages, so each chapter lasts 24 beautifully sectioned pages.
Having a solid item to interact with is incredibly gratifying. Turning pages really makes play feel like progress and being required to uncover secrets and pull text from pages. All this means that you forget that the book at your feet is made of paper and card and instead imagine it as the magical tome onscreen. You’ll be shouting forth Flippendo, Lumos and Expecto Patronum as you earn house points and gain experience. However, it should be remembered that this isn’t a game in the same sense other christmas releases are. These are interactive stories; and as such narrative is key to your experience. Therefore everything here is wrapped in words, words written by J.K Rowling herself, and thus they draw you right into the world of Harry Potter and ooze the charm that her books do. Although, understandably, it contains only a few unintentional innuendos, opposed to the many found in her books.
Story is handled in a manner that doesn’t bog younger players down with the guff found in bigger titles. It’s flowing with descriptive and amusing language that both captures young minds and inspires them to imagine. Stage shows appear every now and again to provide a witty anecdote about the spells past, which adds to the Harry Potter universe as well as being an entertaining break from spell casting. At the end of each chapter you’re given another amusing conundrum that tells tales of woe befallen young witches and wizards who experimented with magic. Their silliness and absurdity will easily make children laugh, but they’ll also be well written enough to raise a smile out of any adults in the room.
Seeing as I’m not a ten year old, nor do I know any ten year olds, anyone with ten year olds or have a ten year old child myself – or kids of any kind actually – it’s hard to really tell you exactly how enjoyable they’ll find Wonderbook: Book of Spells. However, while I may be well out of the target age range I thoroughly enjoyed my Hogwarts experience, and if such a product was available when I was younger I’d be hanging off my parents sleeves begging for it.
Wonderbook: Book of Spells may get repetitive when playing continually, but it’s sectioned perfectly for an hour or so of play. It’s also impressive how all the technology just works wonderfully underneath, seamlessly creating little worlds for you to explore. However, the family market is a fickle one. Something can be snapped up easily and then left by the wayside shortly after. The real test of Wonderbook‘s success will be the games that arrive over the next year or so. Development can’t be slow on them either as consumers will want big catalogue quickly. Nevertheless, Wonderbook: Book of Spells is an extremely strong start for the platform and one that creates a magical adventure for the whole family to enjoy.
Audio/Visual – 5/5: The sound of spells and interactive characters and moments bring the book to life, while the glorious paper aesthetic roots the mystical book in the real world.
Gameplay – 3/5: Simple and occasionally repetitive, but for a child it’ll keep the experience pure, clear and incredibly enjoyable.
Innovation – 5/5: It’s something completely new that uses a combination of great technology to bring something different to homes. And it does all of this while being pleasantly simple to use and set up.
Value – 4/5: For what you get it’s rather cheap, especially if you already have PS Move – if not you’ve just gained a PS Move to use with other titles. Lots to do and plenty for kids to go back and enjoy again and again.
Final Score: 4/5