Game Review: Book of Spells

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This past June, PlayStation introduced an interesting new peripheral called the Wonderbook. The Wonderbook initially received mixed reactions from onlookers who didn’t really understand its capabilities. Now, the Wonderbook has been released and we have the first game based off of the Harry Potter franchise with Book of Spells. Will this game be a young wizard’s dream or will you want to cast a spell to make this game disappear?

The Wonderbook is an odd peripheral for Sony to dive into. The Augmented Reality games that have been coming out have been alright but, have never come past the special interest stage. I will say that Augmented Reality on a home console and not a handheld seems a lot easier to make a great game out of though and with Book of Spells, they have created a compelling game for fans of the mega-popular Harry Potter series to sink their teeth into.

Let’s first take a look at the Wonderbook peripheral itself for a second. When I first opened up the package, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into. The Wonderbook is such a different beast than PlayStation has ever put out before and it shows with how unique it looks. The Wonderbook is mostly blue in colour with different designs on each page (12 in total) for the PlayStation Eye to read. The pages are fairly thick as well. I’d like to note that this is NOT an actual book as some people may think, it’s nothing like an e-book. This is simply an item that comes to life on the screen when the camera looks at it to produc a digital version of a book where anything can pop out of it.

The very blue Wonderbook.

Book of Spells is set in the Harry Potter universe, the game was created with the approval and input of J.K. Rowling herself.  The premise is that this book was created 200 years ago by Miranda Goshawk and that is is a real spell book. You’re guided along by a Hogwarts professor as you learn and practice different spells. Obviously, this is a game for either hardcore Harry Potter fans, or a younger audience.

The Book of Spells is broken up into five main chapters, each of those is divided into two halves, each of which corresponds to one read-through of the physical book considering it’s only 12 pages long. It’s quite a sight the first time to see the book come to life on screen and your PlayStation Move controller become your wand. This really is a great experience for a young child and one that could keep children occupied for hours, especially with the gentle guidance throughout the game.

Don’t expect to have as much fun as this kid is having.

There aren’t many problems with the technology in the game that I found either, the game performs greatly with the Move controller and Wonderbook provided you have decent lighting. The Move controller does get lost of screen sometimes but, that’s a minor annoyance that happens with most Move games. There’s also the occasional awkward pause and transition but again, it’s very minor. The technology works very well together.

Book of Spells does become quite repetitive though. You say the name of the spell you want to cast at the beginning of the chapter (although you can say anything and it will work oddly enough) There are two main spells to cast, the flicking kind, and the point and hold kind. This is somewhat disappointing when you think about how vast and how intricate some of these spells could be if the developers just took the time to craft them. Your practice tasks are even rather underwhelming with such things as levitating chess pieces and pruning a tree.

The motion tracking is fairly well done though.

At the end of each chapter, there is a more involved test on the four spells from the chapter which would seem to be a great opportunity to actually do something different and yet the narrator spoils that by completely guiding you through instead of letting players figure out the puzzles for themselves. In the final chapter, you get to use your Patronus to defend a village from Dementors and werewolves and yet still, the urgency and adventure just isn’t there. There’s also a little puppet theatre exploring the origins of spells in which you can interact with pull out tabs which is one of the very few storytelling elemtns in this game.

The puppet theatre that tells you the origins of spells.

There are unlockables in the form of non-interactive 3D models of different things like candle sticks. You can also grab house points after each test. The correlation between those two things is that they mean absolutely nothing. No Potter characters are mentioned, Hogwarts is barely mentioned at all. It almost feels as though Sony didn’t actually get the rights to the Harry Potter universe and just tried to pass it off as something from Harry Potter. Even J.K. Rowling is only briefly mentioned in the credits for her ‘words’.

As far as a game, Book of Spells is fairly limited and will be completed 100% in less than a day by any player that has any type of experience with the Move. There’s really no replay value, the game tells you to ‘come back and practice your spells’ but, there’s just no incentive to do that. The age group for this game would probably be under 10 considering how simplistic the gameplay is and it may be a good fit for that type of gamer. The game still definitely suffers from its short length.

Overall, Sony had an ambitious idea with the Wonderbook and Book of Spells but, it just didn’t translate into a very good experience for the user. Don’t write the Wonderbook off yet though, this peripheral is just getting started.

*A Copy of Book of Spells as well as the Wonderbook peripheral were provided to FYIG by Sony Computer Entertainment Canada for review purposes*

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