The Week in Games: Jan. 26, 2007

News from the virtual world:

— WHERE IS WII? Who would have thought, given all the publicity surrounding the PlayStation 3's arrival last fall, that the Nintendo Wii would be the must-have console of the new year?

A month after Christmas, it's still hard to find a Wii, and crowds are still lining up in front of electronics stores every time a new shipment is promised.

On eBay (EBAY), Wiis are still being auctioned off for around $500, double the console's list price. It's even tough to track down Wii controllers, since most of us who have been able to buy a console are stocking up on extra "Wiimotes" so the whole family can play.

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Meanwhile, Sony's (SNE) PS3 is pretty easy to buy. The Web sites for GameStop (GME), Circuit City (CC) and other nationwide retailers have it for sale, and eBay auctions are starting lower than the $600 list price for the 60-gigabyte model.

Several electronics store clerks have told me that buyers have been returning unopened PS3s after realizing they weren't going to make any money selling them on eBay. Serves them right.

— DESPERATE MEASURES: The continued shortage of Wii consoles may have contributed to one death, thanks to a misguided contest at a radio station in Sacramento, Calif.

Deejays on KDND-FM's "Morning Rave" offered a Wii to the listener who could drink the most water without going to the bathroom.

Second-place finisher Jennifer Lea Strange, who drank nearly two gallons, died a few hours later of water intoxication. The radio station's parent company has since canceled the show and fired 10 people who were connected to the broadcast.

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department launched a criminal investigation into the incident, and attorneys for Strange's family plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the radio station.

— KID ROCK: How young is too young to play video games?

According to a survey from the NPD Group, which also tracks video game sales, kids are getting into gaming as early as age 2.

NPD polled parents of children ages 2-14 to find out how tech-savvy they are, and found out that the kids know their way around cell phones, computers and digital music players — probably more than their folks do.

For starters, an astonishing 93 percent are playing electronic games, whether on a console, a computer, a phone or an MP3 player. The next most-popular activity is listening to music, which 52 percent of children enjoy.

"To kids, there is nothing new or novel about digital sources of entertainment," said NPD analyst Anita Frazier.

— MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS: "Guitar Hero," one of the most popular franchises launched in the last few years, looks like it could be undergoing some changes.

Publisher RedOctane, which was acquired by Activision (ATVI) last year, announced that it will be handing over development of future entries to Neversoft, the studio responsible for the Tony Hawk skateboarding games.

The news struck a wrong chord with fans of Harmonix, creator of the first two "Guitar Hero" games.

Why the switch? Well, Activision owns Neversoft, while Harmonix became part of MTV Networks last fall.

RedOctane's Dusty Welch told the GameDaily Web site, "Internalizing development allows for more control of the creative elements of the game and, in this instance, provides for a much more robust and feature-laden franchise."

Meanwhile, the GameSpot Web site discovered that Activision has filed patents for "Guitar Villain" and "Drum Villain," and fans are hoping the publisher will take the series in fresh directions rather than milking it dry.

— NEW THIS WEEK: With three interesting new handheld games out, this might be a good week to travel. If you own a PlayStation Portable, you can hit the high seas with "Sid Meier's Pirates" (Take 2) or "The Legend of Heroes III: Song of the Ocean" (Namco Bandai). Or you can check into Nintendo's "Hotel Dusk: Room 215," a noirish mystery for the DS.