By Steve Wright
Sony’s Wonderbook has always sat a bit weird with me. After being introduced at E3 as a reading device, I’ve always raised an eyebrow at it. Does it help young children learn to read? After spending hours with it, I can confirm that it does not.
That being said, it’s still great, great fun.
The first actual “book” that you can “read” (I’ll drop the quotations from here) is J.K. Rowling’s Book of Spells, continuing the magical splendour of the Harry Potter universe. Sony has made the absolute best choice in selecting it as the first Wonderbook experience, as Rowling’s wizarding world is a perfect fit for this new augmented reality tool.
For those unaware, Wonderbook uses the PlayStation 3’s Move controller and Eye camera (which can be bought as a bundle alongside the book) to transform the Wonderbook peripheral into an amazing, interactive experience… so long as you’re looking at the Wonderbook on your TV and not the version sitting on your living room floor. When the Eye camera identifies the blue-and white-flecked peripheral, the Book of Spells truly comes to life. The camera can pick up the book open or closed, and can tell when you’re flipping from page to page.
Book of Spells is comprised of five separate chapters, each taking place over two parts. Each part of a chapter uses the entirety of the Wonderbook itself; when you complete a half-chapter, you’ll have to close the peripheral up, select a new part, and then open the book again to continue reading. It’s a bit annoying, but at 12 pages, the Wonderbook peripheral is already big enough. I’d rather that than using a bigger volume.
The book itself is amazing fun. You delve head-first into Rowling’s delightful world as a Hogwarts student who’s uncovered the Book of Spells. Your goal is to learn the origins of several spells, then use them all practically. With each chapter, you’ll learn at least four spells, their incantations accompanying gestures. Once the chapter has finished, you’ll be asked to use those spells to complete a final quiz, earning you House Points.
As an educational tool, Wonderbook falls flat. Whilst the Wonderbook has subtitles for everything the narrator says, he reads too fast; those learning how to read will never be able to keep up. At other points in its optional short stories, Wonderbook will leave a word or two blank in its narration, expecting the user to input what they think is best. The problem is that both options available to you usually make sense in the context of the sentence; even then, the narrator will chastise you if you choose the option that’s -- for some reason -- not meant to be used. If I had to pick between something that made sense and something that didn’t work at all, then I’d understand. Why I’m not allowed to choose “troll” over “fallen tree” in one instance befuddles me.
With many motion-controlled games, gestures can sometimes be ignored, but I think we’re all used to that by now, eh? On the whole, most of my attempts to conjure a spell or manipulate on-screen objects with a spell (like levitating a frog, for example) worked on the first attempt. Children may have problems initially, but I would hope a parent is about to help if that was the case.
If children become half as engrossed as I was with Wonderbook: Book of Spells, then the purchase is worth it. Commands aren’t hard to learn, and I found myself promising to only complete one more spell before finishing for the night quite often. And failing, obviously. Fans of Harry Potter will undoubtedly love this further journey into a world they so adore.