I’ve been playing through Kirbys magic toothbrush canvas (or something) on the DS, and trying to figure out what was so different and refreshing about the control method. Obviously its touch-screen based, using a pen to control the action, but thats not what the main innovation is. There are a number of games on the DS that use stylus control for input, but the thing that really makes the difference with Kirby is the implementation of indirect control for interaction.
With the vast majority of console titles, the control method is direct… that is that your movements directly correspond to a movement on the avatar or avatars on the screen. Press A to jump. Press left to turn left etc. The difference with kirby is that while there are some basic actions you can perform directly (such as the currently purloined ability), the real challenge and core of the game is in the creation of these magical conveyor belts used to guide the blobby pink umm gas thing around the environment (I loathe Kirby as a character. Someone at HAL was either lazy or drunk or the boss’s nephew that came up with that one). In effect you are manipulating the environment rather than controlling the character. Obviously games have done this before (such as the wonderful Chu Chu Rocket), but this takes it far further. Rather than arranging blocks in a structured logical manner, you are drawing curves and guiding the avatar in a kind of symbiotic manner. You as the player are not kirby, you are not some kind of maintanence man removing rubbish from his way…. you take on an entirely different role. And its great, a genuinely new experience. A really new type of game design that could only have been realised on the DS.
Hopefully with the more widespread appearance of devices that allow gestural interaction (such as the DS pad and the revolution controller), this form of indirect interaction will continue to grow and evolve. Whether used to make waves in a water simulation to guide kids in bumper boats around an obstacle course, or throwing appropriate vines at an energetic ape, I think theres a lot to be explored.