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New breed of games is not all thumbs

Say goodbye to the sore thumb--a number of new video games are played with alternative input methods. Photos: Nintendo dual screen grows up

In the Zen form of archery called kyudo, it is said you must become one with the arrow. Being technology-minded, I have chosen instead to become one with the video game.

Tossing my game controller aside, I let my body take over and watch as my every thought and movement are matched by an onscreen virtual representative.

Sort of.

Harmonix's "EyeToy: Antigrav" is the closest thing yet to a game that allows the player to merge physically with the video console. At times the experience is uncanny.

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"Antigrav" is the most interesting use so far of Sony's EyeToy peripheral, a video camera that connects to a PlayStation 2 console and allows you to control a game through body movements.

Game developers can take a while to connect with a new technology. Until now, most EyeToy games have been simple affairs in which you see yourself onscreen. You would have to wave your hands to hit onscreen objects or put your hand in a certain place at a certain time.

"Antigrav" is the first game to exploit the potential of the EyeToy; it does this by creating a new way to play. In "Antigrav," rather than seeing yourself looking back from the TV, you see a character on a hoverboard skiing down hills and up ramps, controlled by your movements. Lean to the left and your skier slides left. Crouch and your skier ducks. Jump and your skier leaps over obstacles.

This is remarkable. And when it works, it is absolutely exhilarating. Ski off a ramp and your virtual self will do midair tricks based on your arm movements. At times you are launched into the air, and you can steer your flight through a series of hoops by leaning and crouching.

The inclination is to use your whole body, moving as you want the skier to move, but the game tracks only your head and hands.

Unfortunately, the game play comes up against the limitations of the technology. If you move your head out of camera range, for example, your skier will wander uncontrollably for a moment. The game often loses track of your hands, making it nearly impossible to get your skier to grab even half of the colored icons that make him go faster. At times I had to wave desperately to help the game locate my hands.

Though it is often aggravating, "Antigrav" is more often tremendous fun. It is the single best reason to own an EyeToy.

Nintendo's built-in gimmick
The EyeToy is an add-on peripheral, but the new Nintendo DS handheld game console has a gimmick built in: instead of one screen, there are two, and the bottom one is a touch screen that can be used to display information and control aspects of the game.

As with the EyeToy, it is up to developers to figure out what to do with this technological opportunity, and so far they have struggled.

Most DS titles feel as though they were designed for Nintendo's Game Boy Advance, with the bottom screen used for something marginally useful, like a map, or for an option that could easily have been put elsewhere. The DS gimmick feels largely irrelevant in these games. The exception is Sonic Team's goofy "Feel the Magic XY/XX," which could not exist without that second screen. You could deliver the game's mod, 1960s look and quirky music on a Game Boy Advance, but you could not clear a path for a cart by pushing obstacles off the road with your finger.

"Magic" has a wacky story in which a guy tries to impress a beautiful woman by performing crazy stunts with a guerrilla performance art group. These stunts are the basis for various minigames.

In one section, you must put your finger on the protagonist, who will curl up into a ball, then roll him across a busy street to knock down pedestrians the way you would bowling pins.

Sometimes you are told to blow on the screen, which is how you guide a sailboat through shark-infested waters, although the blowing appears to be for the benefit of the DS microphone.

Another minigame asks players to yell into the microphone, which will be fun for parents driving their "Magic"-playing children somewhere.

Some of these minigames are a lot of fun. Others are just annoying, as when you must enter numbers on a calculator or quickly rub sand off a beach to uncover objects. Some are very annoying: The hour and a half it took me to beat an imaginative mission in which you must speed down a freeway picking up pedestrians and hurling them at an escaping truck contained an hour of my life I want back.

Fortunately, the game often lets you bypass annoying games in favor of entertaining ones, so the ratio of fun to aggravation is pretty good.

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