Hands on with the J.K.-Rowling-infused Wonderbook: Book of Spells

Wonderbook Book of Spells at Sonys E3 ConferenceThis E3 was light on big shocks. Most of the announcements were better looks at things we already knew were coming based on earlier announcements, or leaks that snowballed into common knowledge. There were a few exceptions though. 

Book-of-Spells-ClassroomAt the Sony press conference, one of the loudest audible exclamations came during the presentation of Wonderbook. The game itself looks interesting enough. You have a book covered in sensors that the PlayStation Eye Camera reads as whatever the particular software tells it to, and with the Move controller, the game uses augmented reality to create a game you become part of.

Wonderbook seems like it will be an interesting and fun interactive experience (and a potentially intriguing learning tool), and with different software offerings planned it definitely has potential, but for a smaller, niche audience. And then Sony dropped the news that J.K. Rowling would be involved and the first offering for Wonderbook would be based on the Harry Potter universe. Jaws dropped.

It’s one of the first times that Rowling has worked on Harry Potter outside of the books, and it is certainly something that will bring a lot of attention to the Wonderbook project. At E3, we got the chance to try it out.

Hands on

The book is designed with several markers on each of the pages. Using augmented reality, you see yourself on camera looking at the book, which on screen appears to be a magical tome straight out of Hogwarts. It needs to remain relatively stationary to keep the image consistent, but it worked well enough for what is still essentially a prototype.

On camera, the Move controller becomes a wand, which should make more than a few kids squee with delight. There will, of course, be a contingent of older Harry Potter fans that will no doubt try to look tough while holding their magical weapon. Pro tip: It won’t work. Ever.

Wonderbook Book of SpellsThe book will feature several options for you to choose, and they will teach you how to cast spells the Hogwarts way. Each spell will require a different movement to cast, and those movements will become progressively more complex as the game progresses, but none are so difficult as to be truly frustrating. They will typically just be a short series of fluid movements, forming things like a figure four or an up and down stroke. Each movement will activate a different magic that you can then use with a flick of the Move.

The lessons are broken into chapters, and after learning the necessary magic spells you will then be taken to the chapter test, which is a cross between a quiz and an adventure. In the demo being displayed, the chapter ended in a pyramid with scorpions coming after you. As the scorpions stepped on a grate, you could cast a reduction spell to shrink them and send them down the openings in the grates. Each challenge has a particular solution, and some will require you to quickly switch between types of magic. If you get stuck, the handy British narrator is there to give you hints.

The demo showed the player at the mercy of a sphinx, as questions needed to be answered correctly to proceed. There’s no fear of dying in these games, and the riddles won’t trouble younger gamers that much and older gamer at all.

The real appeal of Book of Spells are the tales that are told as part of the lessons, and they will give more stories from the Potterverse.  They won’t change or add to the actual Potter stories, but they will be a fun bit of background for fans.

Book-of-Spells When you boil it down, Book of Spells is an exceedingly simple game but the Harry Potter name alone will bring an incredible amount of attention to it. Younger fans will likely go insane over it. It won’t really appeal to older fans though, unless they are willing to put up with some very basic move-based gameplay in order to hear a bit of Potterverse backstory. But the real question for Wonderbook is how do they follow it up? How do you keep people interested in the technology after debuting with a Harry Potter-themed game created in conjunction with J.K. Rowling?

For now though, Wonderbook: Book of Spells will be a great offering for younger audiences — much younger audiences. There isn’t much to the game itself beyond the immersion fans of Potter will bring to it, and that will inevitably limit the appeal. But for those that are of the right age, this game will be a huge hit.

Product Review

Anthem shows a glimmer of brilliance that's quickly dampened by its grind

Anthem is an online shooter from BioWare that’s already proven to have a stunning open-world with action-packed combat that distinguishes itself with its story, characters, and lore. But will it continue to invest in those things as we…
Gaming

This list of PlayStation 4 exclusives puts its competitors to shame

The PlayStation 4's game library and incredible selection of exclusive games could make anyone with an Xbox One or Nintendo Switch think twice. Here's our list of the latest and greatest PS4 exclusives.
Movies & TV

Stay inside this winter with the best shows on Hulu, including 'Legion'

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in December, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to 'Roma'

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘Norsemen’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Computing

Here's what you need to play games and watch movies in 4K on your PC

4K display tech is now cheaper than ever, but there's more to running stuff at such a high display resolution than just handing over the dough for a 4K-equipped display. Here's what you need to run 4K.
Gaming

Activision not doing itself any favors with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 loot boxes

New loot boxes added to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 have caused a somewhat uneven playing field for those who choose to spend extra money. Certain limited-time items can now only be found in loot boxes.
Computing

Between Intel and AMD, these are the best gaming CPUs at every price

What are the best processors for gaming you can buy? You don't need to spend a fortune to get an amazing gaming CPU and now that AMD is competitive again, there are more choices than ever.
Computing

Logitech’s G MX518 gaming mouse pairs classic looks with all-new tech

Logitech is relaunching one of its most popular classic gaming mice, the MX518. Now called the G MX518, it sports upgraded internals that give it a 16,000 DPI optical sensor and new and improved memory.
Gaming

One game console is better than the rest, and we're not afraid to say it

We've seen a relatively large influx of new consoles in the last year, including the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One X, so we've updated our recommendations for the best dedicated game hardware.
Gaming

Everything we know about Devil May Cry 5, including characters and combat

Devil May Cry 5 is just around the corner, and is the first game in the original series since Devil May Cry 4 in 2008. Here is everything we know about the game, including its playable characters.
Gaming

Apex Legends adds its first new gun, the Havoc energy rifle

Respawn added the first piece of new content to Apex Legends, the Havoc energy rifle. It's available now for PS4, Xbox One, and PC players. The fully automatic rifle can be modded to shoot single-shot energy beams.
Gaming

Samsung Galaxy S10 optimizations make it great for Fortnite

Samsung's new line of Galaxy S10 devices have been optimized for gaming. All three offer improved support for the Unity engine and the S10 Plus also offers vapor chamber cooling, similar to the Xbox One X.
Gaming

Having problems with your Xbox One console? We have the solutions

The Xbox One has evolved over the years, but so have its problems. Thankfully, we have solutions for some of the console's most enduring problems, whether you're experiencing issues with connectivity or your discs.