The Magic of Hogwarts Comes Alive
In this video game, exclusive for the PlayStation 3, kids sit on the floor and place a plain-looking book filled with navy and light blue designs (called the "Wonderbook") on the floor in front of the PlayStation Eye camera. When players look up at the TV screen, they see themselves sitting on the floor with the book, but the book has magically transformed into an ancient "Book of Spells." Kids discover that this mysterious book was written by a famous witch named Miranda Goshawk and that it normally resides in the "Restricted" section of the Hogwarts library.
Shimmering with magic, the book invites you to pick up your Move motion controller to interact with it. When you do, the TV screen shows your hand -- but instead of holding the Move controller, you are now wielding a magic wand. Even better, the book sparkles and changes as you wave your wand over it. Special wand actions can draw words out of the book so that they float above and are read aloud. In this manner, the book takes you on an adventure to learn 20 magical spells.
How to Play
Kids use the Wonderbook peripheral to explore five chapters. Since the cardboard book is filled with augmented reality tags, the game's software reads them to create the story and activities. Players use the 12-page book over and over again to read the chapters.
Each chapter teaches four new spells. A spell lesson involves learning what the spell can do, saying its name, performing a wand motion to trigger it and then visiting a spectacular place to practice the spell. Kids learn all of the favorites from the Harry Potter books and movies, including Wingardium Leviosa, Incendio, and Protego so that they can lift things, produce fire and create a protective shield.
In addition to learning and practicing spells, the book also contains historic stories crafted by J.K. Rowling about the wizards who first created the spells. These back stories are presented on a 3D puppet stage that arises out of the book. Players contribute to the stories by filling in missing words or choosing to add special effects.
The pages also contain occasional student scribblings that can lead to fun activities. When you use your wand to pull up one such scribbling, a dragon flies out of the book, circles around, and then breathes fire on the pages. You end up wiping the soot away with your hands.
Each chapter ends with a test in which you must use all four of the spells that you have just learned. Your home, which is normally shown on the TV screen with the book, gets enhanced. You may be whisked away to a special room inside Hogwarts to duel other witches or appear in the herbology greenhouses to fend off gnomes and Devil's Snare plants. Depending on how well you remember your spells, you win house points for Gryffindor or whichever house you selected at the beginning of the game. You will also earn a conundrum about what it means to be a great wizard or witch.
The Overall Rating
Wonderbook: Book of Spells bursts with imagination and novelty. It is a must-buy for Harry Potter fans that own a PlayStation 3. If you already own a Move controller (and the corresponding PlayStation Eye camera), you can buy the peripheral book and game for $39.99. If you need the Move controller and Eye camera, it comes bundled with the Wonderbook and game for $79.99.
However, this new technology takes some getting used to before it works seamlessly. I had to fiddle with the camera angle to get it just right so that it could read the special augmented reality codes found in the book. The navigation can also be initially confusing because each chapter has two parts. The first part stops when you come to the end of the book's 12 pages. To start the second part, you close the book and then flip it over to the front cover. From there, you pull up a menu and select part two of a chapter. You once again flip through the peripheral book's 12 pages, but what you see is completely different from the first time through. That is because the software uses the AR tags to change what you see.
J.K. Rowling's stories and writings sizzle with interesting tidbits and amuse you in the process. The book features a droll narrator who relishes luring you into new and frequently dangerous lessons which result in the unleashing of scary magical creatures. But that is all part of the enchantment of going to school with this magical book.
All tech products are judged on a five star scale by looking at the following factors: fun, education, ease of use, value, and technical.