Thankfully Book of Spells won’t be put in the “could’ve been cool” category as it’s not a forgettable title that reeks of being a tech demo for a new peripheral. The base of the game may be aimed towards children and younger gamers, but the immense charm found within the wizarding world and the solid gameplay ought to be something that a wide array of gamers can enjoy. Devoid of any annoying technical glitches, Book of Spells is a good example of what developers can achieve via the Wonderbook as it provides one of the more immersive experiences to hit the world of gaming.
+ Wonderbook works really well, both technically and within the context of the game.
+ Graphics are surprisingly detailed and really sharp. It’s obvious a lot of care was put into the game.
+ Gameplay is simplistic but it’s still fun.
- Wish there was more freedom within the game.
-The player representation on the screen may have benefited from a visual filter of some kind to make things look cohesive.
Over the last few years Sony has been called a lot of things. At times the company may be applauded for it’s innovation within the PlayStation brand yet at other times things like the PlayStation Move can draw the ire from folks since it has a “copy & paste” appearance. However, I think Sony has finally struck gold with the arrival of the AR driven peripheral that is Wonderbook and the accompanying title that is Book of Spells as it provides a truly magical gaming experience.
Using the magical world found in the Harry Potter series, franchise creator J.K. Rowling has once again expanded upon things via Book of Spells, an endeavor which falls under the canonical Pottermore extension. While Harry Potter, his friends, and occasional enemies may not appear in Book of Spells due to the game taking place two hundred years prior to the birth of the wizarding world savior, the game nonetheless manages to create an amazing atmosphere which is definitely driven by the fantastic AR visuals and easy to handle gameplay.
For a lot of people there may be a small amount of skepticism over the Wonderbook and Book of Spells as it may seem like nothing more than a gimmick. The concept of using a book like peripheral and flipping through pages to continue action within a game may sound lame, especially in this tablet fueled society, but it works tremendously well within Book of Spells. Perhaps such a thing is because the actual book itself is given a personality of sorts thanks to a full-on proper visual representation that’s created via the AR mapping of the game. Even though I may have only held a small plastic book in my hands, thanks to the tech that drives the game it appeared as if I was holding an ancient book that was either dusty, covered in leaves, or even had deep holes that led to mysterious places.
The premise of the Wonderbook may still sound gimmicky in a sense, but the game honestly has one of the most immersive feelings I’ve played in a game recently. I don’t think Sony has struck absolute gold or reached a never before reached height within the industry since we still haven’t received the much sought after Holodeck experience I’m sure people are trying to figure out, but all together Wonderbook manages to create a world that is definitely entertaining and which also has a tangible quality to it.
Whereas Sony has tried other AR driven games on the PS3 in the past such as EyePet, Book of Spells is an obvious step up in every department since the game not only looks good for what it is, but it also performs well technically. Setting up my PlayStation Eye to capture me as I sat on my floor was easy as was it recognizing the Wonderbook and my PlayStation Move controller. Despite having a living area filled with halogen ceiling lights, the game still recommended I improve my lighting for some reason. Although I was a bit worried about the lighting issue I somehow received, the game still performed well as there were never any tracking issues, other than when I decided to move or if the Wonderbook was sporadically shifted from it’s central position.
The real interesting thing about Book of Spells is how closely related the moment to moment gameplay is with the razzle dazzle effects show that is being presented via the Wonderbook. There was a slight disconnect with past endeavors such as the EyePet since only a series of items could be controlled which merely consisted of small one to two minute minigames. Book of Spells on the other hand is absolutely driven by gameplay, in this case me being a budding wizard holding a wand crafted that’s digitally imposed on my PlayStation Move controller.
Obviously the hook within the game is that I would learn new spells and such a thing is definitely the crux of the game. It may sound slightly laborious to go through a game learning nothing but spells and shouting Latin sounding phrases like an idiot, but the game doesn’t get bogged down in repetitive mechanics as it’s always showing you something new or letting you go wild a bit after you’ve learned a basic spell. Featuring spells Harry Potter fans will recognize such as Protego (shield spell), the game also includes handy spells that allowed me to either unlock locks or even see things that were otherwise invisible. Each spell is explained through a brief history lesson which often includes a wonderfully rendered puppet theater which “pops” out of the Wonderbook. Modeled after mid 16th/17th century theater, these wizarding world tales delve deep into the history of the universe, such as the creation of the Wingardium Leviosa , and feature some nice interactive moments that I could partake in.
One of the many tales told within the game.
It’s these theater sections that Book of Spells and the Wonderbook really shine in as I could literally move this fully rendered model with various characters/items within it around and look at every glorious detail it had. Visually these sections have a more stripped down style since it’s not trying to be realistic like other sections within the game, but I was still blown away by how good everything looked and how it wasn’t glitching out if I made one minor movement, a thing which has plagued other AR driven PlayStation games in the past.
Learning the basics of each spell is relatively simple as I just had to trace a basic shape to cast a spell. After learning the basics of a spell I then found myself using my newfound knowledge to do something, whether it be looking for items within a dark room by casting a light spell, or multiplying things in a time of need. I often found myself doing an array of different actions thanks to the new spells I would learn, yet the game didn’t falter in the control departments nor did it come across as a slew of mediocre mini-games were put together to pad the experience. I of course did have my favorite sections within the game, but all together the gameplay in Book of Spells is consistent and I was impressed with how easy the controls were.
The game definitely isn’t advanced in any way since only two buttons are ever used on the PlayStation Move controller, which was represented as a wand in my hands when looking upon my TV. Even then I worried about whether things would feel sloppy when it came to the Move implementation only to be pleasantly surprised since everything handled like a charm. Using the Move to do a dozen different spell maneuvers was easy and definitely felt more rewarding compared to things like Sorcery, even if the core actions I was doing were a bit simplistic.
The spell segments of the game do have a more familiar visual style to them that would literally put me in the wizarding world by showing me on screen, in my full scruffy faced glory, by inserting me into a portion of the game screen. I’ll admit that it does look a bit hokey to see me and my surrounding environment be “part” of a dark castle or a garden filled with baby mandrakes, but the in-game visuals are surprisingly nice and I didn’t find it too distressing to see my ugly mug within the game. And to be honest I’ll take seeing my actual self in a game any day over some horror show face mapping as seen in another more recent wizard game.
These initial spell learning sections don’t have much in the way of immediate difficulty since I was often told to do one simple task, of which there was no time limit or immediate harm present. There’s certainly a basic entry level within the game, though things do become slightly more hectic when it comes to taking the final test at the end of each chapter. Yes, there are actual chapters within Book of Spells (five all together), and each one is capped off with a special test that does up the difficulty ever so slightly with a more pertinent task that utilizes all the spells learned thus far. The real kicker of course is that the game doesn’t tell you which spells you need to use during a given scenario so it’s actually beneficial to pay attention and memorize each spell pattern.
Some basic spell casting.
All together the gameplay in Book of Spells is rather brisk and easy, two things that consider to be fine since this is a game that’s catered towards younger gamers and not those who have reached Prestige level 10 in the latest Call of Duty game. To be honest, I did feel as if the game was pandering too low to the younger audience in a way - not because of juvenile jokes but because there’s a clear hand-holding element within certain portions of the game. The ever cheerful Scottish, or perhaps he’s Welsh, narrator was indeed helpful at times and sometimes soothing through his appeasing accent, yet I did yearn for a level of freedom within certain segments of the game. A familiar pattern is definitely created as each chapter starts off in a similar fashion with an equal amount of side bonuses or things of that nature popping up before or after learning a spell.
Again, I didn’t mind the small level of monotony too much as I found myself enjoying the game, though I did wish there was a small level of independence within the game. Why couldn’t I be a bad student and flip through to another page to see what happens? I guess having a moderately restrictive layout was required for technical reasons as the only thing I could do is complete chapters in any order I want post completing the first chapter.
For the debut title of the Wonderbook, Book of Spells manages to be a surprisingly entertaining entry that proves what the device is capable of. I wouldn’t put Book of Spells in the killer app category just now since it’s the only Wonderbook supported title on the market, but the game thankfully doesn’t have the tech demo or throw away feel like other software does which accompanies a new tech release. Even if you don’t have any kids in your family or aren’t an immediate kid at heart, Book of Spells will likely still impress you as it’s presentation and often engaging gameplay creates a memorable experience that is certainly unlike anything on the market right now.