Nintendo Co. announced Thursday that its Wii game console will go on sale in the U.S. on Nov. 19 for $250, hoping that like its plucky game character Mario, it will be able to take on the gorillas of the market: rival products from Sony and Microsoft.

The Wii, which is about the size of a large paperback book, is both cheaper and smaller than Sony Corp.'s much-awaited PlayStation 3, which launches just two days earlier with $500 and $600 models.

The Wii (pronounced"wee") is the successor to Nintendo's GameCube, the third-best selling console of its generation after the PlayStation 2 and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox. Nintendo's Game Boy and 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 Sony's embarrassing PlayStation 3 delays.

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 in which the player swings the wand like he's throwing a ball down the lane. The wand relies in part on a sensor bar that needs to be installed, with tape or other means, on the front of the TV set, adding somewhat to the complexity of the setup.

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

"Thenext 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.

In a somewhat unusual move for the launch of a Japanese product, the Wii 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 GameSpot.com. He believes Nintendo feels it can count on a positive reception in Japan, where its portable game players far outsell Sony's rival PSP.

Fils-Aime dismissed the notion that the release date had anything to do with Sony, saying the reason for the earlier launch is that the U.S. holiday shopping season starts before Japan's.

Nintendo is taking a gamble by putting out a console less powerful than the Xbox 360, which has been on the market since last year. The PlayStation 3 also will far surpass the Wii 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 earlier games for earlier Nintendo consoles like"Donkey Kong."Those games will cost between $5 and $10.

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

AP Business Writer Yuri Kageyama contributed to this report from Chiba, Japan.

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