When it comes to capturing the imagination, few franchises do it better than Harry Potter. The idea of a magical subculture existing in our world, one that you might catch a glimpse of at any moment, is immensely intriguing. And being plucked out of your normal life and told you have magical powers? Well, who wouldn't want that? Wonderbook: Miranda Goshawk's Book of Spells is an augmented reality game aimed at giving you the chance to feel like you are playing with such powers, and thanks to some clever hardware tricks, it largely succeeds.
Book Of Spells places you in an augmented reality-version of Hogwarts, with the specific brief of learning and applying 20 of the classic Harry Potter spells, most of which featured in the books. As you progress, the spells increase in power, until you’re fighting duels and creating objects out of thin air, and feel you’ve earned your wizarding spurs. In the past, augmented reality has felt like one of those technologies that--while initially impressive to behold--struggles to maintain your attention for long. However, Wonderbook: Book Of Spells is a game that uses augmented reality to create something truly compelling.
Playing Book of Spells is as easy as getting the Move to work, although extra care is required as far as positioning the PlayStation camera is concerned; the camera has to be angled down so it gets a clear view of both you and the book peripheral. The game is designed to be used with you sitting cross-legged on the floor, with the book in front of you, but we played it sitting on a sofa with the book on our lap, and it worked fine.
Boot the game up, and the on-screen book magically transforms into the Book of Spells (thanks to a bluish cover pattern on the peripheral reminiscent of a QR code). Given that this book features heavily in J.K. Rowling's novels, it's a neat sensation to feel like you're leafing through its pages. Bear in mind though, that if you're an older Potter enthusiast that happens to be outside of the target age-range of 6-12, once you've got over the novelty of apparently possessing a sacred item from the Potterverse, the book's contents become formulaic.
Before you can start playing, you have to choose a wand type. Whichever you opt for, the wand is considerably longer than the Move in your hand. This is typical of the seemingly minor and unimportant touches in Book Of Spells that actually bring about a stunning level of immersion. Thanks to the wand appearing longer than the physical Move controller, you have to manoeuvre it with more care, because its extended portion can catch on virtual items. So while your hand tells you that you're holding a Move, your other senses (you can see yourself throughout the game) are fooled into believing that you're grasping a wand.
You're also given some Potter-related tasks, namely deciding whether or not to link Book of Spells to your Pottermore account, choosing your house, and generating a wizard photo. Once that's done, the proceedings begin with a typically cute touch: your book is covered in dust, which you must brush off with your hands. Then an owl-mail greets you, followed by a foreword from Miranda Goshawk herself. By the end of that setup preamble, it's time to take part in some proper action.
The first chapter sets the structural tone for the rest of the book: it's one of five chapters, each split into two parts. Each half-chapter contains one, two, or three spells, which are introduced before you learn their incantations and gestures. The gestures are easy to learn, thanks to onscreen prompts that display the required motions. Circles and wavy lines dance on screen along with sparkly visual flourishes that help you keep track of your wand position. You're tested on each spell's use, and every chapter concludes with a test in which you have to use all the spells together.
Beyond the spells, there are assorted other elements to keep you entertained. Occasionally, you come across jottings by the mischievous, unnamed ex-owner of the book, which generally invoke amusing little curses (even Miranda Goshawk inserts one, which makes your bogeys turn into bats and fly out of your nose). Some spells come with a colorful pop-up, diorama-style cardboard theatre, in which the stories of the wizards and witches who invented them are acted out. Pulling tabs using the Move lets you change certain words of the story, and often to humorous effect.
You're rewarded for successful spellcasting with collectibles and house points. Five to 15 house points are on offer for each chapter test. And after each chapter test, you're given a rhyming conundrum, each of which concerns the attributes required to be a great wizard. Disappointingly, you're never given the opportunity to solve these, and they're a tad easy too.
The joy of Book of Spells is in the way it sucks you into a very convincing evocation of Hogwarts. The hand of J.K. Rowling herself is easily detectable: the spells (many of which are central to the Harry Potter books) are fleshed out and given backstories laced with plenty of Rowling's trademark humour. Exercises take place in recognisable parts of Hogwarts, like the herbology lab and the library. You encounter the likes of gnomes, sphinxes, and baby dragons, and you might have to help them out by casting spells to drive away predators, or thwart their mischief making by moving Golden Galleons before they can be stolen.
Throughout the game, you see yourself in a small window, complete with book and wand. This image moves around screen depending on the in-game environment, but because it always displays a mirror-image, casting spells in the correct direction always seems intuitive, and sports an impressive amount of fine control. This is augmented reality that works--the other reality in which it places you is believable and, crucially, adheres to real-world physics.
There are some issues, though: it's a shame that only one person can play at a time, although you could envisage a bunch of kids assembling around and taking turns with the Move wand. The story fizzles out at the end too, and there isn't much replay value. But what is on offer here is a thoroughly entertaining experience for children, one that offers up unique spellcasting gameplay that's a lot of fun. Seeing a simple-looking book transform from a blue-and-white peripheral into a living thing is a truly enchanting experience, and captures so much of the character and wonder of Harry Potter. There's not a whole lot here for adults, but--within the context of children's entertainment where it resides--Wonderbook: Book of Spells is a triumph.'