Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Nintendo unveils sensor, 'Wii Fit Plus' at E3 video game expo

To keep the Wii on top, Nintendo intends to keep its finger on the pulse of the game-playing public.

Tuesday at the E3 video game expo, the company showed an add-on that wraps around the finger to takes a player's pulse.

Though no specific games or uses (or price or availability) were revealed, the Wii Vitality Sensor is "another entirely different way of thinking about games," says Nintendo global president Satoru Iwata.

Iwata sees one potential use for the Sensor as a relaxation tool: "Maybe everyone under pressure in our stressful society can use this to relax with video games."

But acknowledging that the main role of gaming is to get the heart pumping, Nintendo also unveiled the Wii Fit Plus with new exercises and games, due this fall, and two new titles starring company mascot Mario: Super Mario Bros. Wii, due later this year, and Super Mario Galaxy 2 next year.

The company has led the way in attracting newcomers with the Wii, which has sold 20 million in the USA alone, and with Wii Fit, with more than 15 million sold worldwide. "We still have a long way to go in expanding the video-game population," Iwata says.

The new Wii Fit software (no price yet) uses the balance board for activities but gives users the ability to "customize their routines more and choose" workout lengths, says Nintendo's Cammie Dunaway. And for those who already own Wii Fit, "your data will transfer and you will now have more customization and more exercises."

One of the new exercise games is a first-person activity that "essentially has you acting like Mario, and you are running and jumping on an obstacle course," Dunaway says.

Another, called Perfect 10, mixes math and motion. "You are encircled by balls, and numbers come up on the balls — 4, 6, 8 — and you wiggle your hips to hit the right balls so they add up to 10," she says. "It's mental and physical at the same time."

At another E3 presentation, competitor Sony made moves to cut into Nintendo's lead in game systems and portables. A new motion-sensitive "wand" was demonstrated as the prototype for a controller that would be used with the EyeToy camera accessory, becoming a sword, golf club, tennis racquet or other tool as needed. Players could hold two wands as a sword and shield for action games. Sony's Jack Tretton said the wireless controllers would hit the market in spring 2010.

And a new PlayStation Portable device called the PSP Go ($250, Oct. 1) can download games, music, video and photos.