First off, let me say I've always wanted to make things move with my mind--at least, some small amount of levitation, like, say, lifting a car through the air like Yoda lifted Luke Skywalker's X-Wing. "Star Wars" has played no small part in that fantasy. Oh, wait, did I say fantasy?
Mattel is releasing a toy this holiday that actually lets people raise and lower things with their mind. Well, make that one thing: a blue foam ball.
Obviously, when Mattel reps called CNET asking for a meeting, we quickly ushered them in. We'd heard about this product at CES and in other applications in the past, including the Swedish Mindball (no, we're not making that up). But Mattel's desire to bring this to the masses is admirable, and as we were soon to find out, bizarre. Look above to see the somewhat embarrassing video if you have any doubts.
Like something dropped in out of a late-'70s science fiction movie, Mindflex comes in two parts: a stark white-and-blue plastic obstacle course for a series of small foam balls, and a strange wireless headset/headband. The parts were unloaded from a shopping bag here at our CNET Labs, and quickly assembled. The obstacle course looks almost like a future version of the old kinetic board game, Mouse Trap. Except, as we said, this one's mind-controlled.
Mattel's representatives showed how Mindflex worked with a demonstration before throwing me into amateur mind control, raising and lowering the blue ball through a series of plastic hoops and tunnels.
Mindflex announces the start of challenges (with a straight-from-Epcot robotic female voice), and then players can register their successful moves by pressing buttons on the front of the machine. A large knob turns the motorized fan around the circular track, carrying the ball around the mini-course.
The brain control part comes in when raising and lowering the ball (activating and deactivating the fan), which is all triggered via what the headset is reading from my little brain. To be specific, the control is done digitally: the headband senses concentration and relaxation, and raises and lowers the ball accordingly. Then, it was my turn.
I put the headset on and immediately felt like an extra from "Logan's Run." The clips on the earlobes were the finishing touches on what could be a nice Halloween costume--or the world's most original Bluetooth headset to sport at Starbucks. The elastic headband was snug, but cozy. Mattel's rep explained how the brainwave reader is based on EEG technology that's been available for years in hospitals but never applied to mass-market games. I tried to listen, but was distracted when I realized that I was already making the ball fly in the air.
After a few runs, I relaxed--but concentrating on anything other than the ball produced big ball drops, so to speak. Maybe that's because I have a one-track mind. Notice Joseph from CNET asking me math problems, which I am clearly not paying attention to at all.
Mindflex is meant to be a party game, and several modes involve light-chasing, timed obstacle runs, and point-scoring minigames meant to be played in rounds with friends. Concentration/distraction plus party game suggests that the addition of alcohol would produce even more intriguing effects. How else could Mindflex be flexed? We're sure someone will think of ways.
We do know this: 9-year-olds everywhere are going to be screaming to Mom and Dad for the game with levitating objects and mind control. Mindflex is available this fall for $79.99.