How to quantify Book of Spells? Is it a game? Or something else? I approached the, um, title with it solidly prejudiced as an Augmented Reality (AR) game - think EyePet, Eye of Judgement or any number of 3DS AR Games. But in truth, it's only partly a game, but we'll get to that.
The moment you dig in, choose a wand and see the bobble-headed controller transformed into an enchanted wooden sprig, right there in your hand, you'll feel like you're onto something. This goes doubly for kids, as my daughter's squeals "look Daddy, it's changed into a wand!" proved. However, Potter fans will, I'm sure, be disheartened to discover that young Harry doesn't feature in the Book. Instead they'll have to make do with choosing to play for his house, Gryffindor. For the five or six Potterites on the planet that don't want to side with Harry's house, there's also Slitherine, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. Now, open the book to start your learnings into the art of spells!
With the Wonderbook laid out in front of you, on screen you see a dusty old tome. Brushing aside the dust, the book - on-screen of course - becomes animated, with letters streaming forth to form sentences and tendrils of light indicating "hot spots" that can be activated with the Move/wand. While holding the trigger, a flick of the controller activates each hotstop. These offers up details and instruction on how to conjure the spell. Effectively a series of tutorials, you're guided through the incantations and gestures needed to conjure each spell. Though there's a modest amount text with each page, all of which can be read out loud by the narrator, there's the option to go deeper and discover more through in-depth stories about each spell and its origins.
It's during these sections that the book does literally come alive - miniature plays are acted out by paper cut-out characters on a pop-up stage. Encouraged to take part at points, you can choose between one of two options by "pulling" out tabs on either side of the stage.
In terms of interacting with a story, it's a feeble effort. But at first you can forgive it for this, as the way in which you can play with the Wonderbook and see the book on-screen follow its every move is utterly bewitching. In fact, you're urged to handle the book to see more of this spectacle, often prompted to tilt it to peer into chasms that have sunk through the pages, or after spraying water from the wand, to lift the book to shake it dry.
But let's take a moment to talk about the spells. If you've read the Potter books or seen the movies, then you'll probably be acquainted with them already. After all, who doesn't remember brattish Hermione correcting Ron on his pronunciation of the levitation charm, "Wingardium Leviosa", or Harry fending off the Dementors with "Expecto Patronum"? Yes, yes - anyone that hasn't read/watched the stories, that's who. The Book instructs you to utter each spell's incantation, confirming when it's heard you.
In fact, it hears any outburst and accepts it - whether you mumble "Aguamenti", blurt "Sausages" or bark "Woof!". It totally takes the shine off the conjuring. The wand gestures, on the other hand, are recognised much more effectively. Pin-point accuracy isn't required, which is perfect given that for many it may be the first time with the Move controller (and they probably haven't waved a Wii controller in many months). A rough J shape will have you levitating with next to no fuss, and a wave shape will, appropriately, activate the water spraying spell.
So what use are these spells? After learning how to conjure, you're given some toys to play with; levitate a jar of eyeballs and set it down without breaking it. Fill a bowl with water, search for items in a dark room by using the light spell.
A more demanding challenge awaits at the conclusion of each chapter, where you must recall the necessary spells and charms appropriate to overcome obstacles or counter a hex or a jinx. These take place in scenes painted around the player and their book, depicting locations from the Pottermore world - a musty old library, the herbology greenhouse, a ruined castle - giving greater freedom to flex your magical muscles.
The entire experience fits in seamlessly with the Harry Potter world, and fans of the series are sure to being able to work their own magic. The problem I found, however, is that it's dismally repetitive. Chapter after chapter, it's totally formulaic and lacks any real draw for gamers. That's the snag - it's hardly a game. What it is, though, is an interactive book of spells, which is all it is claiming to be. And, let's face it, that's probably everything the target audience is looking for. One has to wonder, however, if were it not interwoven with Potter lore, would anyone really care?
+ Adds depth to the Potter world
+ Spectacular augmented reality
+ Great use of Move as a controller
- Repetitive "game play"
- A bit heavy on the "show & tell"
- Feeble interaction
SPOnG Score: 6/10