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Wonderbook: Book of Spells

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The Harry Potter franchise was built on a foundation of wish fulfillment. The first book begins with beleaguered Harry, the unwanted foster child of the horrible Dursleys, discovering his wizard ancestry and embarking on a journey of discovery. Likewise, much of the appeal of the various strains of Potter media — the movies, the videogames, the theme park — get their intrinsic appeal from welcoming the readers, viewers, players, and ticket-holders into Harry’s world.

In that sense, the videogame Book of Spells has a simple gut appeal. Utilizing the Playstation Move and an Augmented Reality apparatus, Book of Spells lets you hold a magic wand in your hand and cast spells like Levitation, Engorgement, and ultimately even the old Expecto Patronum. Book of Spells comes with a Wonderbook, which — when held in front of the PS3 Move camera — becomes a magical tome, filled with bright lights and elaborate moving parts. You appear onscreen for the entire game. If you wave your wand in a certain way, you’ll start spraying water all around the room.

The technology is fascinating, which is more than you can say for anything else in Book of Spells, which unfolds as a series of lessons and is precisely as much fun as sitting through a lecture taught by a bored substitute teacher. The visuals in Book of Spells have been constructed with a bit of humor. I enjoyed how, at the end of each ”lesson,” a little digital diorama pops up in your book to tell a complete little story. The stories have a bit of the old J.K. Rowling wit. (The ever-present narrator, conversely, is an expositional bore.)

Confession: I am not the target audience for Book of Spells. But you’re also not the target audience for Book of Spells, because you can read. The game is rated E10+, but there’s nothing in the game that would disturb your 4-year-old, and there’s a lot that will bore your five-year-old. If you already have a PS3 Move, then Book of Spells is an inexpensive proposition — it’s only $25. If your child is still easily amused by the simplest possibly visual delights, then Book of Spells will prevent them from being bored for at least half an hour. The Wonderbook technology will create something interesting someday. Book of Spells ain’t it. C-

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