Hands on: Mattel Mindflex game

Train your brain and all these geeks can be your helpless minions! (Probably)
Train your brain and all these geeks can be your helpless minions! (Probably)

There are few truly genuine innovations at CES, so it's all the more surprising to find one at Mattel, a toy company that's usually home to an almost infinite variety of plastic landfill toys like Barbie.

The Mattel Mindflex is the world's first mind-controlled game, using a brain-scanning headset to turn your thoughts into actions on a simple 'mental dexerity' game. TechRadar submitted its cranium to find out what all the fuss is about.

The first step is to put on the snug-fitting headset. This has a metal contact that touches your forehead and two ridiculous dangling electrodes that clip on to your earlobes. Mattel says that together these pick up theta brain-waves, just like you see on electroencephalgrams (ECGs) when Casualty is doing a coma episode.

Brain strain

The headset we tried was a bulky, jury-rigged prototype affair but Mattel promise a much slimmer, lighter more consumer-friendly version for the game's launch in the autumn.

The game's circular playing area consist of a series of plastic hoops and obstacles, through which you direct a tiny plastic ball using a moveable fan. The more theta brainwaves you produce, the harder the fan blows, and there's a dial you twiddle by hand to move the ball around the course. It's a bit like a telekinetic version of the buzzing wire games you get at funfairs.

Playing the Mindflex is simply a matter of concentrating hard, or relaxing, or focusing, or, well, no one really knows. LEDs show how many theta waves you're generating and you just gradually pick it up. After about five minutes I could reliably boost and cut the fan, although the fine control needed to navigate the entire course proved elusive.

Feel the force

If you're expecting full power Jedi mind tricks, this is not the brain-controlled game you are looking for. If you're just looking for a fun alternative to video games or a party ice-breaker, it's definitely worth a look, although I doubt either the gameplay or the build quality offer much longevity.

My real worry, though, is that Mattel's brain-scanning headset is really a two-way device - transmitting as many brainwaves as it picks up. There has to be some reason why I've been seized with a sudden urge to buy Line-Dancing Barbie and her cowboy hat....

Mark Harris is Senior Research Director at Gartner.