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A good book has the power to ignite your imagination and take you on a journey where you can walk through its pages in your mind as if living the experience. The Harry Potter series has the power to do just that. Anyone who has read J. K. Rowling’s work will have visualised what it’s like to wander through the cobbled streets of Diagon Alley or have a drink at The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade.
J.K. Rowling manages to bring her world to life with words only, while the movies based on the books have captured her wizarding tales superbly on the big screen. Wonderbook however is the first medium of its kind to let you interact with J.K. Rowling’s stories via augmented reality technology and actually become part of them.
Wonderbook is a physical book which comes to life as you turn the pages. Set to host numerous stories over the coming months, including the world of the BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs and an interactive adventure called Digg’s Nightcrawler, Wonderbook’s launch game is Book Of Spells. Exclusive to PlayStation 3 and written by J.K. Rowling, Book Of Spells brings the wizarding world to life like never before.
Though it doesn’t feature Harry Potter, his friends or refer to any storylines from J.K. Rowling’s books, the world is instantly recognisable, the spells familiar and the new tales fit into existing Potter lore perfectly. This is a brand new chapter in Rowling’s Potter legacy and The Book Of Spells is written by the witch Miranda Goshawk over two hundred years ago and found only in the Restricted Section of the Hogwarts library. You are personally invited to read it.
Over the past week, I’ve had Book Of Spells at home to experience the first two chapters with my family, including my young four-year-old daughter Amelie. Being somewhat sceptical of augmented reality and its place in gaming I really didn’t expect much, but after playing Book Of Spells over and over again over the past week it’s become crystal clear that it’s a technology that really does have the power to capture the imagination.
The main appeal of Book Of Spells looks likely to lie with youngsters and families who love the idea of being a witch or wizard, or those who love J.K Rowling’s work and want to get even closer to experiencing the sensation of being in a magical world while enjoying her unique way of story-telling.
Seeing the face of my daughter light up when she casted the Water-spell (Aguamenti) to send liquid shooting out of her wand, seemingly splashing all around the room and dripping down the T.V. screen, or watching her summon a flock of birds with the flick of her wrist to attack a cat who was enjoying a lazy moment in front of a hearth, was enough to convince me that Book Of Spells is set to be a unique experience in which families can enjoy some magical moments together.
Book Of Spells isn’t just for very young children either. My wife and I, both huge J.K. Rowling fans, have set up profiles, will be linking our Pottermore accounts to the game and have enjoyed playing through these first two chapters, which smoothly integrate with the Potter world as they dish out snippets of information that further builds on its lore.
To enjoy Book Of Spells you’re going to need the Wonderbook, a large (roughly A4-sized) padded book filled with all kinds of mysterious symbols. You also need a PlayStation Move controller and the PlayStation Eye. Via a simple set-up process, you adjust the camera so that it shows you on screen (I sat down in the floor) and then place the book right in front of you. After choosing from one of three wands (which are purely for aesthetic purposes only) you choose one of the four Hogwart Houses to join for which you’ll earn House Points for by learning spells and partaking in tasks.
The game is divided into Chapters tasking you with learning spells and then putting them into practice. After completing an incantation (speaking a spell out loud into the PlayStation Eye microphone) and learning the wand-waving gesture for each of the spells, you’re tasked with putting them into practice by completing an objective. After learning all the spells in the Chapter, you then have to combine them together for a final test which challenges your memory as well as your wand skills.
There are also entertaining stories within these pages presented via the pop-up theatre that appears to play out right in the centre of your living room. These tales are entertaining, humorous and told with the typical quality you’d expect from such an esteemed author. There’s also a fun side-game tasking you with guessing the missing words from within the text or causing objects and creatures to move within the theatre with a flick of your wand.
As you flip over each Wonderbook page over, the strange symbols are transformed on screen into interactive images. You see yourself on screen with the animated book in front of you, but now the PlayStation Move controller appears as a wand which you can swish and flick around to cast the likes of levitation, illumination and fire spells and witness objects and creatures pop right out the book for you to interact with, such as frogs and a jar of eyeballs. The book essentially comes to life.
You soon find yourself in the Herbology greenhouse levitating Mandrake to repot them with the Wingardium Leviosa spell, in the Restricted Section of the library using Lumos to light your way through the dark to find objects, and even have your living room transformed into an aquarium with fish seemingly floating around you as you come under the spell of the Bubble charm.
The fact that all these magical animations and actions appear to be playing out in your living room is quite a sight and my daughter was incredibly excited at what was happening around her as she cast the Lumos spell to see off vines that were threatening to wrap around her, or shot fire bolts at a dragon flying around her head. Fortunately, Move translates these wand-waving actions very well on screen.
The tasks begin fairly simply, but are still visually stimulating, as you fill a cauldron full of water, or levitate a jar of eyeballs and then place it gently back onto your Book Of Spells. As you progress, the actions get more challenging and by the end of Chapter 1 I was having to escape from behind a closed portcullis by using ‘Alohamora’ to break a lock, levitating cogs to raise the gate with ‘Leviosa’ and seeing off attacking vines with ‘Lumos’ before taming the sea creature that magically sprung out of the book at the beginning of the final task.
As you progress, you unlock charms which you can browse through in the collectibles section of the book and earn housepoints based on how well you’ve completed each spells task, so there’s a feeling of progression and reward throughout these early chapters. Spells get more complicated to master and tasks become more challenging. There's a good variety of spells too. In the second chapter, for example, you have multiple tasks to handle as you shrink trolls, enlarge what look like 'muggle' hedgehogs and cast a charm to reveal hidden messages.
Even at this early stage, it’s clear that Wonderbook has great potential to entertain families and Book Of Spells seems to be the start of something really special for Move. Our daughter has been obsessed with spell-casting since it arrived, but I’ve also been charmed by the interactive world that Sony and J.K. Rowling have created. If Book Of Spells isn’t an instant hit this Christmas, I’ll eat my wizard's hat.