The Week in Games: Feb. 3, 2009

Real news from the virtual world:

— ROMANCING THE WII: More than two years after the launch of the Wii, most game publishers are still wrestling with the question of how to appeal to the broader, more casual audience that Nintendo has brought to the industry.

Not Sega, though, which has this year's most impressive lineup of Wii releases — to some extent, more impressive than Nintendo itself.

"Sega was the first third-party publisher to believe in the Wii," says Sega of America President Simon Jeffery, and that head start gave it a big advantage.

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In particular, it allowed Sega to team up with Nintendo on "Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games," which sold more than 10 million copies worldwide.

Jeffery says Sega's games "tap into the same market that Nintendo opened" — particularly the lighthearted Sonic the Hedgehog series, which gets a new Wii installment this week called "Sonic and the Black Knight." "We understood Nintendo's premise of attracting casual gamers."

That said, Sega is still trying to appeal to hardcore gamers who have felt neglected by Nintendo.

Jeffery estimates that "70 to 80 percent of Wii owners are young males, and there hasn't been much fodder for them on the Wii."

The solution: grown-up action games like the gory brawler "MadWorld" (out next week) and the first-person shooter "The Conduit" (due in June), built from the ground up with the Wii in mind.

Whether the broader Wii audience will take to an ultraviolent spectacle like "MadWorld" is still in question.

But all those people who bought the first "Mario & Sonic" mashup will still be happy: The mascots will reteam next year for "Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympic Games," due just in time for the festivities in Vancouver, British Columbia, next February.

— PUNCH-DRUNK: Nintendo's big Wii game for spring is "Punch-Out!!" the long-awaited revival of the goofy boxing game that was on everyone's Nintendo Entertainment System back in the 1980s.

We finally have a U.S. arrival date: May 18. Before that, though, the company is squeaking out "ExciteBots: Trick Racing," which may give you a reason to dust off your Wii Wheel.

Also, fans of the supercute can get psyched for the U.S. debut of "The Legendary Starfy," the undersea adventures of a 7-year-old starfish.

— LITTLEBIG PSP: Sony, meanwhile, is countering the impending launch of Nintendo's new portable DSi with a renewed push for the PlayStation Portable.

At an event for retailers held in Arizona, Sony announced that two of its biggest franchises, "MotorStorm" and "LittleBigPlanet," will be moving to the PSP.

Sony's handheld will also be the home of fresh versions of MTV Games' "Rock Band" and Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed," as well as a new Hannah Montana package from Disney.

— NEW IN STORES: Microsoft's epic war-game franchise gets a strategic overhaul in "Halo Wars" (Xbox 360). ... Ubisoft's epic war-game franchise takes to the skies in "Tom Clancy's HAWX" (360, PlayStation 3). ... Spring training is here, and so are this season's baseball sims: 2K Sports' "Major League Baseball 2K9" (360, PS3, Wii, PlayStation 2) and Sony's "MLB 09: The Show" (PS3, PS2, PlayStation Portable).