Once the king of the video game hill, Nintendo (NQB: NTDOY) took a tumble in recent years. The hotter sales of consoles like Sony's
But the makers of Mario may have the last laugh: Nintendo's focus on creative new ways to play video games finally seems to be paying off. The most recent example: a bizarre but impressive new controller for the company's upcoming Revolution system.
The Revolution device Nintendo unveiled at the Tokyo Game Show last Thursday looks like a regular TV remote control, with one button under gamers' thumbs and another for their trigger fingers. In a unique twist, the wireless controller senses its position, angle and orientation relative to the screen. Now, fantasy fans can slash their broadswords at goblins with a swing of the arm. Shooter-game enthusiasts can take pinpoint aim at onscreen foes. Virtual racers can really lean into those hairpin turns. At least one reporter who got to try out the new gizmo found it intuitive, impressive, and a lot of fun.
It's not Nintendo's first offbeat experiment with game controllers. The classic Nintendo Entertainment System originally came with R.O.B., a "robot" that could move and stack small weights in tandem with onscreen events (yeah, I don't get it either). More recently, Nintendo created a series of Donkey Kong games where players controlled the famous ape through claps, shouts, and rhythmic beats on a set of touch- and voice-sensitive bongo drums. The company also pioneered games for its line of portable Game Boy systems that detect when the system is tilted or shaken.
Why all the wild ideas? When Nintendo realized it couldn't compete with the PlayStation or Xbox for pixel-pushing power, it decided to focus instead on creating engaging new ways to play games. While its rivals raced to unveil louder, shinier versions of the same ol' shooting or racing titles, Nintendo was inviting players to herd groups of helpful little aliens in Pikmin, or solve dizzying barrages of five-second minigames in WarioWare.
Nintendo had plenty of false starts in its efforts, but the company finally seems to be hitting its stride. The Nintendo DS -- a portable system sporting two screens, a microphone, wireless networking, and touch-sensitive stylus -- seemed hopelessly outmatched when it made its recent debut against Sony's slick, movie-playing PSP. But anecdotal evidence (like this post from the writer of online comic strip and videogaming bellwether Penny Arcade) suggests that gamers have begun to enjoy the odd little device and its offbeat games. Nintendogs, a virtual puppy simulator that takes full advantage of the DS's touchscreen and voice recognition, is earning buzz as the coming holiday season's sleeper hit in the making.
I'm not much of a video gamer, but I'm a huge fan of companies that succeed through creativity, and I'm glad to see Nintendo winning praise for trying something different. Its bizarre brainstorms might just be the company's ticket back to the heights of video-game royalty. True, the Revolution will need a solid lineup of games to match the promise of its nifty new controller and lure third-party game developers back to its system. But this is a company that made a plumber, an ape, and a little elf guy into worldwide superstars. I'm willing to give Nintendo the benefit of the doubt on this.
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Fool online editor Nathan Alderman was the only kid on the block without an NES. Somehow, he survived. At the time of publication, he held no financial position in any companies mentioned.