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Testing Wonderbook, the PS3's New Family Peripheral

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Families are often the focus of new gadgets, innovations and entertainment. It can be hard to distinguish which of these are genuinely a good fit and which are over-extending themselves to get into the family market.

This is as true for games as anything else. Families are the subject of no end of casual games on all sorts of platforms and of course the Wii epitomised a family gaming experience with its Wii remote controller.

This Christmas sees the family space crowded again with Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo each coming to market with strong new ideas - Wonderbook, 2-Way TV and Wii U respectively.
I recently had the chance to try out one of these products, Wonderbook, in my own home. Away from the madding crowds of gaming shows it was interesting to see how the new product worked.

Wonderbook (£24.99 on Amazon) is an Augmented Reality interactive pop-up book for the PlayStation 3. It's a little like the Eye Pet games on the system but here you use a plush book to access the different stories. The physical book itself is blank, barring its AR markers, until you put it in front of the PlayStation Eye camera whereupon it springs to life on the screen.

The pages are populated not only with words and pictures but with completely interactive theatres, various challenges and no end of mind stretching experiences - including a moment where a deep hole opens up in the middle of the page! Wonderbook will support an ongoing range of titles, and launches with its first book in November - Book of Spells from J.K. Rowling.

Book of Spells uses the Wonderbook peripheral, along with the PlayStation Eye and Move controller to tell a completely new story from the Harry Potter universe. It teaches you the roots of various spells before letting you cast them yourself using gestures with the Move controller.

I'd been impressed with this at various trade shows this summer but was keen to see what my family (children of five, seven and nine years old) made of it in the home. I was particularly keen to see how reliable the technology was in our dimly lit living room and with limited space. Happily it worked like a dream. The size of the book itself and the proximity to the camera meant that the tracking of pages was spot on.

My kids instinctively picked the book up, looked underneath and generally whizzed it around in front of the camera. Amazingly Wonderbook seemed to have no trouble keeping up. Even flipping backwards and forwards through the 12 pages was kept track of. Other similar technology has been much fussier, and it was nice not to have to rearrange the room before playing.

The kids could take down Wonderbook from the shelf and start the game themselves.

The game itself, in demo form, took us through a number of stories and spells. The kids really enjoyed learning the levitation spell and them seeing a jar of eyeballs float round the room. There was a little squabbling over who's turn it was which made me wonder if there would be any two player Wonderbook titles in the future, but generally it was an experience we could enjoy together.

Although Wonderbook looks set to be a PEGI 7 rated game there were some elements of it that my five-year-old was comfortable playing (after I had vetted them ahead of time). He was also able to control the wand using the Move controller and turn pages without a problem. This is unusual as even on the Wii with its slightly fiddly pointing mechanic, he can need a little help.
The challenge for Wonderbook when it launches in November will be keeping the bar high for the content. Detective story Diggs Nightcrawlers and more educational Walking with Dinosaurs from the BBC have been announced, but these need to be bolstered by a strong catalogue to warrant the investment required from families.

Providing this is forthcoming, and I can't imagine that won't be the case, I suspect that Wonderbook will be the must have family peripheral at the end of the year.