Nintendo Sets North American Launch Date, Price for Wii Game Console

Nintendo's quirky game console, the Wii, will go on sale in the U.S. on Nov. 19 for $249.99, a price far lower than competing consoles from Sony (SNE) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), the company said Thursday.

In an unusual move for the launch of a Japanese product, the Wii (pronounced "wee") will go on sale in Japan two weeks after the U.S. launch.

"The release date is clearly a stab at Sony," said Ricardo Torres, editor at

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The Wii, which is about the size of a large paperback book, is the successor to Nintendo's GameCube, the third-best selling console of its generation after the PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox.

Nintendo Co.'s Game Boy and Nintendo DS are dominant in the market for portable game machines, but the company hasn't been a market leader in consoles since the early 1990s.

The company had promised to launch the Wii sometime in the last quarter of this year.

By bringing it out on time, it's avoiding the embarrassing delays announced recently by Sony for the PlayStation 3, which is now expected in November.

The Wii breaks the mold of console controllers: It's a slim wand that communicates the user's movements wirelessly to the main machine.

Nintendo demonstrated a bowling game where the player moves the wand like he's throwing a ball down the lane.

Nintendo hopes the innovative controller, low price and popular game franchises like Mario Brothers and Zelda will recruit new gamers to console gaming.

"The next step in gaming is bringing gaming to the masses," said Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime.

Nintendo plans to ship 4 million Wii units this year, with the largest share going to the Americas.

By comparison, Sony expects to ship only 2 million PlayStation 3 units this year. Its console will come in two models, for $500 and $600.

Nintendo is taking a gamble by putting out a console that is less powerful than the Xbox 360, which is already on the market. The PlayStation 3 will also far surpass it in rendering games in high-resolution, realistic graphics.

"We have a different paradigm for what turns on the consumer," Fils-Aime said. "If you want power, frankly, you're going to go somewhere else."

In particular, the Wii won't render high-definition video output. It's limited to a resolution slightly higher than that of standard TV.

Nintendo is betting that HDTVs are still not common enough to be a major factor for people buying a game console.

However, some other features of the Wii will match the "big" consoles. It will be able to access the Internet if the user has a wireless network in the home, or buys an optional wired adapter.

Through the connection, the user can retrieve weather and news reports, and download games from earlier Nintendo consoles, like "Donkey Kong." Those games will cost between $5 and $10.

Nintendo plans to provide games that allow players to connect to other players online, but none of the approximately 30 games that will launch this year will have online play.