Wonderbook: Book of Spells review: Inter-house unity

Wonderbook Book of Spells review Spellbound

I've been unwittingly preparing for this review for eight months, since I joined Pottermore on the day it launched for the public.

Pottermore is an official, browser-based supplement to the Harry Potter series, inspired by social networks. Each member has a profile and travels through the Harry Potter books in a series of active illustrations, collecting trinkets, learning more about the characters and events, and earning points for whichever house they are sorted into. There is a set of spell-casting and potion-concocting minigames that eventually lead to the House Cup celebration, where the house with the most points wins. Pottermore now has more than 4 million members worldwide, and yes, even as a woman in my mid-20s I think this whole thing is perfectly normal and necessary.

When I learned there was a new badge for finding Miranda Goshawk's Book of Spells in the Restricted Section on Pottermore, I was excited (again, totally normal). My heart pumped half a beat faster, my cheeks flushed and I smiled, for Merlin's sake. I was filled with joy at the prospect of uncovering secrets about a fictional book within the universe of an already fictional book, and I reveled in it. It wasn't until I discovered the tome, which played a quirky promo for Sony's Wonderbook: Book of Spells, that I finally understood how this related to my professional life.

If I could be excited for Book of Spells within Pottermore, I should give the actual PlayStation Move game the same chance.

Wonderbook: Book of Spells is an augmented reality game which uses Sony's Wonderbook – a large, blue book with 12 thick pages covered in AR codes – as a platform for lessons in Harry Potter spellwork and lore. The game takes place in your immediate surroundings and the giant blue tome turns into Miranda Goshawk's Book of Spells, transposing dragons, sparks and magic into your living room via the screen. The narration and music seem to draw from the film adaptations, though the art style and incantations themselves are straight out of Pottermore.

Book of Spells begins with players creating their very own moving, wizarding photographs (let's be honest – they're just gifs) for their profile pages, and it's a charming touch. Right away it's possible to link a Pottermore account to Book of Spells, and it's satisfying to see my own house materialize on-screen, and the Move controller become the wand that chose me all those months ago.

From there on, Book of Spells is formulaic, offering five chapters with four to five spells each. The spells are introduced, given a background, and then the player learns the verbal incantation and corresponding wand motion. These last two segments work brilliantly, though the spoken portion is awkward for two reasons. One: Screaming random, semi-latin words at your television feels insane, every time. Two: The game will accept just about any word yelled at the PS Eye during these moments, regardless of syllables or sounds. Have your dog bark, sing the first lines of "Call Me Maybe" or just stand really close to your PS Eye and breathe, and Book of Spells will probably accept it.

When parents buy this game for their children, these silly puppet shows will be their new bedtime stories.

If the mic doesn't hear your desperate screaming, it assumes you're shy or that you're casting nonverbally, and the spell will work just fine from then on. Because magic.

The wandwork portion has you trace a pattern on the screen while holding the Move button, which pulls the spell from your arsenal. Spells are then used by either flicking the controller or pressing the T button. Some spells have interactive, puppet-theater stories related to their origins, and these feel the most bookish of the entire Book of Spells. When parents buy this game for their children, these silly puppet shows will be their new bedtime stories.

Wonderbook Book of Spells review Spellbound

Book of Spells takes players across Hogwarts to practice its incantations and wavings, with final tests at the end of every chapter that use each of the freshly taught spells. The activities are obviously linked to Pottermore, using many of the same inter-chapter game mechanics, but in a new environment and with updated player input. Games take place in static, seemingly hand-painted environments, with players zapping Nifflers and dark wizards as they scurry across the classroom floors, crouch behind walls or hide in the brush. Players are allotted house points according to their performances in each activity, another design choice direct from Pottermore.

Recalling each incantation's movement in every setting and performing it just in time to counteract a hex or save a dragon egg is absolutely thrilling. The activities, however entertaining, are also a clear reminder that Book of Spells has an age barrier, and it's set at "younger than me." The activities are fun and the universe keeps me entertained for a few hours, but the minigames aren't particularly challenging; they're obviously crafted for a less practiced, probably much smaller hand.

Wonderbook Book of Spells review Spellbound

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The final spell is of notable interest to Pottermore fans: the Patronus Charm. Book of Spells reveals the patronus of each player, a personalization feature that is absent from Pottermore. However, I have yet to see any of my house points or my patronus show up on my Pottermore profile. That's a shame, because this might be the only chance I get to feel justifiably superior for having played a children's game, and I'd like to start being smug as soon as possible.

For fans (even those older than 13), Book of Spells presents the Harry Potter world in an engaging way, though progressing through each chapter can become repetitive. Holding the lit Move controller and yelling "Lumos!" at anyone in your house, however, never gets old.

When I learned I'd be reviewing Book of Spells, I assumed it'd be from the perspective of an adult purchasing something for a child. Even with 4 million members on Pottermore and my own maniacal dedication to the Harry Potter series, I figured the game's appeal would be aimed at kids discovering things with fresh eyes, and I was mostly correct on this count. What I didn't consider was the entertainment value for both groups of people: Adult Harry Potter fans and (their) children. Turns out, Book of Spells is a children's game that retains the magical appeal that makes Harry Potter's world so intriguing, even for older players. The games are easy, true, but if you, as a grown-up, can read a young adult novel on a packed bus without shame, you can probably enjoy Book of Spells in the comfort of your own home.

Now if only there were a Wonderbook: Book of Potions in development, Gryffindor would have no chance at the next House Cup.

This review is based on a retail copy of Wonderbook: Book of Spells, provided by Sony.

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