- Developer: SCE London Studio
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
- Platform: PlayStation 3
- Release date: 16 November
- Price: £64.99 for Bundle (includes PlayStation Move, PlayStation Camera, Wonderbook and Book of Spells game), £24.99 for Wonderbook and Book of Spells game
Wonderbook: Book of Spells
Peripherals come and go with alarming frequency. Lightgun games aren't popular anymore, nobody uses the Dancemat and Singstar is a free download on the PSN. Even brand new hardware has been difficult to market; the Kinect has a terrible reputation as being both awkward to calibrate and unsupportive of "proper" games - despite being the fastest selling piece of consumer electronics ever.
Sony has had the toughest time with peripheral controllers. The EyeToy never did very well and was promptly shelved once the PS3 came out - the Move, too, has all but failed, with the motion-sensitive market made impenetrable by Nintedo's superlative Wii.
"A thousand stories"
But Wonderbook will be different, promises Sony, boasting the strap line "one book, a thousand stories". A cutesy blue hardback book that sits on your living room floor, Wonderbook is covered in alternate reality codes, beaming images onto the TV screen via the PlayStation Eye camera. Your image, too, is projected onto the television so you can see yourself interacting with the fantastical things coming out of Wonderbook's AR pages.
Take Book of Spells, for instance, a Harry Potter-themed launch title co-written by J.K. Rowling. It makes the Wonderbook look like a Hogwart's spell book, with the words and illustrations moving around and little paper creatures scurrying off the pages.
Using the Move controller, which, thanks to the AR code, looks like a wand on the TV screen, you tap certain parts of the Book of Spells to learn Incendio, Engorgio and dozens of other iconic tricks from the Potterverse.
Wonderbook's animations are at their best during the fire spell chapter, where dragons come to life out of the pages and, thanks to the PS Eye, fly around your living room. You can interact with the pages themselves, too; when the dragon breathes fire onto the Book of Spells you have to physically rub your hands on the Wonderbook to put it out.
It's a perfect child's toy. Under 10s will enjoy the illusion of magical creepy crawlies and Potter characters being in the room with them. Thanks to its tacit, physical controls non-gaming parents can join in too. There's some good writing on show as well, Rowling's eccentric world of magic providing the occasional belly laugh while you learn how to cast Leviosa.
The mix of recognisable Potter lore and easy to learn wand flicks (paint a "Z" in the air to cast Incendio) is great for young Rowling fans.
It's kind of like Beatles Rock Band, a simplified, alternative way to enjoy the literature. As a standalone game, Book of Spells is lightweight and frothy but as an accompaniment to the Potterverse it's a good bit of fun.
Exactly how long it will last, though, is difficult to say. Peripherals' notoriously short lifespan is more pressing than ever, with smartphones, Wii-motes and handhelds already gobbling up the casual market. Despite the "thousand stories" promise, and confirmed franchise deals with Pixar and the BBC, Wonderbook's longevity is nevertheless questionable, the whole package whiffing of post-Christmas Day attic fodder.
Book of Spells is a good start to dispelling that stigma, though, offering just enough entertainment value to keep kids interested until the next Wonderbook game. It's funny, colourful, easy to pick up and fan-serving, even allowing Pottermore.com subscribers to sync with their PSN account and use their custom designed wand in-game.
The multiplayter opportunities are a bit muted, with one player handling all the spell-work while the other, presumably mum, turns the book's pages. But with more games on the way, hopefully the Wonderbook will open up some in the future.
Until then, Book of Spells is an alright launch title. It's enough to show off what the Wonderbook could do in the future, and more than capable of entertaining your children a few hours at a time. It's also more substantial than a lot of other peripheral tie-ins, the long-dead EyeToy in particular struggling to make waves with its launch line-up of mini-games, despite the promising tech.
As for the Wonderbook itself, novelty value is both its biggest selling point and potential pitfall, the alternative reality wow factor likely to shift plenty of units, but also to wear off pretty fast. It's going to take a lot of great first and third-party titles to shore the Wonderbook up, the flashy technology inevitably reliant on good software.
At £64.99 for the full package - Move contorller, camera and Book of Spells included - Wonderbook is a nifty idea for Christmas, especially if you have young'uns around, but it might also be worth holding fire, until a more convincing range of games becomes available.