It’s impossible to approach Sony’s cross-media Wonderbook as you would a ‘normal’ video game. To cynical, adult eyes, it’s more of an independent peripheral, and a fairly odd one at that. A large, padded book full of Augmented Reality markers that, when matched with a PlayStation Move wand and a PS Eye camera, brings its contents to life on screen. The technology and concept behind it is brilliantly… basic, almost.
Wonderbook isn’t meant for those cynical, adult eyes though – it’s deliberately, unashamedly intended for kids and families. The launch software, Harry Potter spin-off Book of Spells, is a genuinely enchanting effort. Cast as a book found in J.K. Rowling’s fictional universe (and functioning as a part of the wider cross-media Pottermore project), you’ll make your way through the tome as a Hogwart’s student, learning the same memorable spells of the novels and films. Supernatural beasts leap from the page, players are transported to familiar locations, and interactive stories that delve into the lore and history of Harry’s world play out as you progress. The way you interact with the physical book, manipulating it to peer down wells or brush off dust, adds a fantastic tactile element that, for younger fans, will really make it a – sorry – magical experience.
However, it’s not perfect. Finding an angle to set the camera at that fits both the Wonderbook and the would-be wizard in view is a trick in itself, with all but the smallest child likely to be digitally decapitated. Performing certain spells, particularly the levitating Wingardium Leviosa, can become frustrating, the camera often struggling to pick up the characteristic “swish…. and flick!” The overly-friendly, endlessly-repeated admonishments of the narrator when the gesture isn’t detected is likely to drive at least a few parents to drink, too. Conjurations not requiring such finesse are usually easily read, thankfully.
That said, for its intended audience, Wonderbook: Book of Spells is a charming, captivating must-read, and one that might even warm over some of those cynical adults too.