It’s not Nintendo’s style to talk very much about a new game, system, or accessory until it can really demonstrate what its new toy can do. The company has been especially silent about the Wii Vitality Sensor, the little finger-clip accessory that’s supposed to measure the user’s heart rate and other inner beats and bumps.
Nintendo might be holding off on revealing its plans for the Vitality Sensor thanks to reactions to the device at E3 2009, which ranged from apathetic to outright hostile. It’s a good strategy: If Nintendo can show us that the Wii Vitality Sensor will mean all sorts of cool new gameplay additions, all will be forgiven. Unfortunately, the recent revelation of what may well be a patent for a Vitality Sensor game doesn’t inspire confidence.
The patent outlines an unnamed game that involves controlling a little blobby guy through a corridor using Wii remote gestures and “breathing,” which is aided by the Vitality Sensor. Much like Brain Age, you can stack your personal data against previous attempts to note any marked improvement, presumably in the control and depth of your breathing.
It’s only a glimpse of what the Vitality Sensor might be used for, but it’s disappointingly familiar. We trained our minds with Brain Age; we trimmed our bodies with Wii Fit. Nobody wants a repeat experience, even one that will supposedly let you unlock the secrets of productive breathing.
It’s not to say that the Wii Vitality Sensor will be useless, or that Nintendo or third parties will be incapable of producing something we’d be interested in. Nintendo has asked for our faith and patience on this project, and it would honestly have been nice to be surprised by a patent for a really cool, original idea instead of Wii Fit III: Fit Harder.
The news of the patent did spark the imaginations of commentors on Kotaku, who suggested that Nintendo might be better off augmenting a game with the Vitality Sensor instead of basing a whole new title around it. In a horror game, for instance, the environment might shift and become more or less frightening based on the player’s heartbeat. Or someone in a sniper role might have to steady their breathing in order to get a clean shot.
There are lots of suggestions for non-violent use, too (which Nintendo would undoubtedly prefer). Breathing is as important as movement when an exercise is being done; the Vitality Sensor could fill in the vital gap that fitness games have not managed to bridge thus far. Similarly, future fitness games–or even action games–can include calm meditation breaks. One particularly interesting suggestion involved a Lumines-style game controlled by the player’s heartbeat.
The Wii Vitality Sensor has the potential to immerse the player with a thoroughness that’s even impossible through Sony’s PlayStation Move and Microsoft’s Kinect. Nintendo just has to remember that we want a great game first. Our breathing coach can stand where a coach typically does his or her best work: In the background.