Though the Nintendo Revolution was partially unveiled at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, its controller is the final piece of the venerable hardware manufacturer's next-generation puzzle. Speculation about the device has run rampant, because its manufacturer has made a point of keeping it well hidden. Nintendo has chosen only to drop hints that it would be an integral part of the Revolution's unique gameplay experience.
Today, in his keynote address at this year's Tokyo Game Show, Satoru Iwata touched on those themes again, giving further clues about Nintendo's vision for the future, and how the Revolution's controller plays into that future.
Thankfully, GameSpot had the chance to gain a better understanding of what Nintendo is going for with the benefit of a visual and tactile aid--a working prototype of the Revolution controller. Yes, we touched it. Yes, we used it. But is it a "revolution"? It just might be.
Our guided tour of the Revolution controller was led by none other than Shigeru Miyamoto, the industry legend whose talent has been one of the driving forces behind Nintendo's success. But, as always, he was his humble self, emphasizing that the day's presentation was about the possibilities of the controller and not his own upcoming projects. With that disclaimer, Miyamoto and the assembled Nintendo Japan reps unveiled the long-awaited controller, a modest-looking device that is low on flash, but big on functionality.
Miyamoto noted that the impetus for the controller design came from Nintendo's desire to do something "different" after hearing user feedback on consoles. The company felt the current generation of machines was coming close to overwhelming players by taking up too much space in their living rooms and creating briar patches of cables that must be navigated. As a result, Nintendo wanted to offer a solution that starts simple but supports expansion and that offers accessible experiences for casual players and more intricate experiences for hardcore gamers.
The form factor on display wasn't the absolute final design for the Revolution controller, and Nintendo reps noted that it is still a work in progress. That said, it was enough to give us an idea of where the company is headed. The controller itself bears no resemblance to the myriad fan-generated renderings purporting to be the real deal. The unit basically looks like a slim, ergonomic television remote that's about as long as your hand.
As can be seen in the images released today, the controller features core elements along with some you wouldn't expect. A power button at the top left of the unit appears to let you power the Revolution console on or off. An old-school digital D pad rests just below the power button. A large GameCube-controller-style A button is prominently placed below the D pad. Its counterpart B button is located on the opposite side of the remote, like the Z button on the Nintendo 64 controller. Directly below the A button is a series of three buttons: select, home, and start. While it's easy to guess what they do, Nintendo reps offered no details on their exact function.
Below the select, home, and start buttons is another set of vertically aligned buttons labeled X and Y. On some of the prototype controllers we looked at, the X button had a small "B" next to it and the Y button had a small "A" next to it, indicating that the controller can be held sideways to approximate a classic NES controller. Directly beneath those buttons is a horizontal row of colored lights that indicate which controller slot the owner is using--1 to 4 are planned at the moment. The plan is for the controllers to include built-in rumble packs and to run off of batteries, à la the Wavebird for the GameCube.
Finally, the base of the controller features a unique plug that lets you make use of a wide variety of peripherals. One such peripheral is an analog stick attachment with two shoulder buttons labeled Z1 and Z2. Though it gives the combined items an odd, nunchaku-like appearance (which is actually Nintendo's tongue-in-cheek nickname for it), the add-on demonstrates the controller's versatility. The analog stick peripheral will come included with the Revolution hardware, with other attachments to follow in the future. While Miyamoto didn't say much else about what other attachments were in the works, he did note that it's theoretically possible to have entirely different configurations plug into the port--which got us thinking about SNES and N64 controller attachments.
One of the most interesting features of the peripheral is tied to its functionality as a "pointing device." A glossy section of the top of the controller houses a transmitter--much like any remote would have--that was used extensively in the demos we saw. The signal from the unit is picked up by sensors you'll place near your television, which will then reflect your actions on the screen. Based on the responsiveness of the demos that we tried, this feature has the potential to turn the entire base controller unit into a new kind of pointing device. It also has great potential applications for sports games, such as laser-pointer-style play calling.
Overall, despite its unorthodox appearance, the Revolution controller has a comfortable feel. The assorted demos on hand also indicated that playing Revolution games will be a more active, physical experience than playing current-generation games. Whether you're using the pointer mechanic to actively control onscreen action or using two hands to take advantage of attachments, the Revolution controller will likely change how games are played.
Will the change the Revolution heralds be successful? It's too early to say for sure. But given Nintendo's well-documented history of breaking new ground in gaming (such as the DS) we're game to see just how this all pans out. The potential for a revolution is there; Nintendo just has to lead the way with software.
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