If you can remove the cynical goggles that everyone seems to wear these days, and cast your mind back to simpler times, where everything wasn’t digital and we weren’t always connected to everyone and everything at all times, you might remember these things called books. I know about books because I read them to my children every night. And no, not on a Kindle or an iPad, these are actual, hard-cover books, with stories that tell tales of wonder, of happiness and, strange as it may seem, sometimes we can even learn from them.
I love stories, I really do. From the anonymous, yet heart-breaking “Go Ask Alice” to the macabre “American Pyscho”, or the Hans Christian Andersen marvels that still hold up today. In truth, video games and other digital media forms have replaced reading for me. Where I’d once spend time sitting on the sofa reading a book, I’ll now listen to an audio-book, or play a game for my escapism.
So Sony’s attempt to get video game fans “reading” again is something I’m very interested in. My children are of the age now where they are becoming increasingly interested in video games, loving Mario, Sonic and even the more modern things like Skylanders. Hell, both of my children love Minecraft! And whilst those games can be a social experience, offering multiplayer or other hooks to get people together, in my mind there’s nothing like sitting down for a good old fashioned storytime.
A mix of the new and old, with some J.K. Rowling thrown in for good measure, and we have Wonderbook.
Just looking at the first few chapters of Book of Spells, Sony could actually have a winning Holiday gift on their hands. I’m far from a fan of motion controlled games, but this more of an interactive storytelling and learning experience than a game, though, of course, it does have fun mechanics for all to enjoy. Most of the time you are pointing or swooping the wand around, dragging things from the book, lifting, swinging; the usual fare.
Wonderbook involves the player at every turn, making them feel as though the story is tailored to them. From the very beginning, where you’ll have to choose which house you belong to, this is very much the player’s story.
The setup is similar to the re-released EyePet title, though the execution with Wonderbook is near flawless, even based on these first few chapters. A simple tilt of the PlayStation Eye toward the floor, only requiring the player to get themselves and the book in view of the camera, and you’re away. Every movement is picked up with Sony’s superb Move wand and despite heavy hand-holding to begin with, you’re in the game very quickly. It’s a simple augmented reality game at heart, but with so much fiction to draw from, it quickly becomes so much more.
At this point, it’s worth pointing out that if you’re a hardcore gamer, who happens to be a fan of Harry Potter and the universe he inhabits, sure, you might get a kick out of this, but the narration and manner in which each section is told to the player is clearly aimed at young children, for family time around a home console; which is commendable. Innovation is rarely rewarded, and this is something wholly unique to Sony’s Move device, with the power of J.K. Rowling behind it, too. It’s a learning tool as well as a game.
It’s bizarre in a way, the level of excitement I got just from thinking of experiencing the Book of Spells with my children surprised me. They can’t join in with me when it comes to Halo or God of War, but they can absolutely enjoy this for what it is. Clever implementation of existing tech and a superb use of a licence such as Harry Potter means that if you have young children who are beginning to read, or have just learnt to read, this is an excellent excuse to get the whole family sat around a video game console and immerse yourself in what appears to be a healthy sized experience.
Lose the cynicism and you’ll enjoy Wonderbook for what it is. Know that it’s not aimed at the hardcore gamer market, but what it does, it seems to do very well indeed. Sony have tried for a while to find the Christmas hit for Move, and with Wonderbook, they may finally have done it. To the non-believers, I say Expelliarmus!
Wonderbook: Book of Spells is due to launch November 13 in North America, November 14 in Europe and November 16 in the UK, exclusively for PlayStation 3 with Move.