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Testing out the new Revolution controller

GameSpot had a chance to use a working prototype of the controller and found that it just might be revolutionary after all.

Though the Nintendo Revolution was partially unveiled at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, its controller is the final piece of the hardware manufacturer's next-generation puzzle.

Speculation about the device has run rampant, primarily because its manufacturer has made a point of keeping it well hidden. Until now 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, Nintendo President 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 plan.

CNET's sister site GameSpot had the chance to use a working prototype of the Revolution controller and found that it just might be revolutionary after all.

A guided tour of the Revolution controller was led by game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, whose talent has been one of the driving forces behind Nintendo's success. With the disclaimer that the day's presentation was about the controller's possibilities and not his own upcoming projects, Miyamoto and the assembled Nintendo Japan representatives unveiled the long-awaited controller, a modest-looking device that is low on flash, but big on functionality.

Starts simple, supports expansion
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. 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 hard-core gamers.

The form factor on display wasn't the absolute final design for the Revolution controller, and Nintendo reps noted that it's still a work in progress. But it was enough to give 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 control that's about as long as a hand.

Photos of controller

The controller features core elements along with a few unexpected ones. A power button at the top left of the unit appears to 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.

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 player is using. The plan is for the controllers to include built-in rumble packs and to run on batteries, a 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 appearance, 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.

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 demos. The signal from the unit is picked up by sensors placed near a television, which will then reflect a player's actions on the screen. Based on the responsiveness of the demos, 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 a player uses the pointer mechanic to actively control onscreen action or uses two hands to take advantage of attachments, the Revolution controller will likely change how games are played.

Will the new controller be a success? Given Nintendo's history of breaking new ground in gaming, the potential for a revolution is there; Nintendo just has to lead the way with software.

Ricardo Torres reported for GameSpot.