(3 of 5)
Nintendo gave TIME the first look at its new controller--but before I pick it up, Miyamoto suggests that I remove my jacket. That turns out to be a good idea. The first game I try--Miyamoto walks me through it, which to a gamer is the rough equivalent of getting to trade bons mots with Jerry Seinfeld--is a Warioware title (Wario being Mario's shorter, fatter evil twin). It consists of dozens of manic five-second mini games in a row. They're geared to the Japanese gaming sensibility, which has a zany, cartoonish, game-show bent. In one hot minute, I use the controller to swat a fly, do squat-thrusts as a weight lifter, turn a key in a lock, catch a fish, drive a car, sauté some vegetables, balance a broom on my outstretched hand, color in a circle and fence with a foil. And yes, dance the hula. Since very few people outside Nintendo have seen the new hardware, the room is watching me closely.
It's a remarkable experience. Instead of passively playing the games, with the new controller you physically perform them. You act them out. It's almost like theater: the fourth wall between game and player dissolves. The sense of immersion--the illusion that you, personally, are projected into the game world--is powerful. And there's an instant party atmosphere in the room. One advantage of the new controller is that it not only is fun, it looks fun. When you play with an old-style controller, you look like a loser, a blank-eyed joystick fondler. But when you're jumping around and shaking your hulamaker, everybody's having a good time.
After Warioware, we play scenes from the upcoming Legend of Zelda title, Twilight Princess, a moody, dark (by Nintendo's Disneyesque standards) fantasy adventure. Now I'm Errol Flynn, sword fighting with the controller, then aiming a bow and arrow, then using it as a fishing rod, reeling in a stubborn virtual fish. The third game, and probably the most fun, is also the simplest: tennis. The controller becomes a racket, and I'm smacking forehands and stroking backhands. The sensors are fine enough that you can scoop under the ball to lob it, or slice it for spin. At the end, I don't so much put the controller down as have it pried from my hands.
John Schappert, a senior vice president at Electronic Arts, is overseeing a version of the venerable Madden football series for Nintendo's new hardware. He sees the controller from the auteur's perspective, as an opportunity but also a huge challenge. "Our engineers now have to decipher what the user is doing," he says. "'Is that a throw gesture? Is it a juke? A stiff arm?' Everyone knows how to make a throwing motion, but we all have our own unique way of throwing." But consider the upside: you're basically playing football in your living room. "To snap the ball, you 'snap' the remote back toward your body, which hikes the ball," Schappert says. "No buttons to press, just gesture a hiking motion, and the ball's in the hands of the QB. To pass the ball, you gesture a throwing motion. Hard, fast gestures result in bullet passes. Slower, less forceful, gestures result in loftier, slower lob passes. It truly plays like nothing you've ever experienced."