The U.S. and Canada are the first two countries where users can buy the Wii. The console will go on sale in Japan on December 2.
The Wii goes up against Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 in a competition that doesn't just test games or graphics ability, but puts to the test Nintendo's differing vision of what a games console is all about.
Microsoft and Sony are both pushing high-definition graphics and raw processing power as the main attributes of their consoles. The games have richer colors and look more realistic but are otherwise little different in basic concept from those already available for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles.
Nintendo is trying to expand the gaming audience to new players and is positioning the Wii, which lacks high-definition graphics, as a console on which the whole family can have fun. At the center of this strategy is the "Wii-mote," a television remote-control like wireless controller that includes motion sensing.
With the controller Nintendo wants to simplify gaming so that people who have never touched a console game might give it a go. In "Wii Sports," a launch title being bundled with the Wii, there are no complicated button sequences to learn. In a tennis game the Wii-mote is swung like a racket and in a boxing game thrown like a punch. Hold the remote in your hand and simulate bowling a ball and you've got the hang of the bowling game.
The console also features an online service called Wii Channel. It automatically downloads news and weather, includes a sticky notes-like message service that can be used between family members and allows access to the Internet through a version of the Opera web browser. Game downloads are also included through an online store.
While it will go up against both the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 it's the former of these two, Sony's PS3, which will be its immediate competition because the competing console went on sale last Friday.
Nintendo is already off to a good start. The Wii has enjoyed positive reviews from many for its ease of use and the amount of fun to be had with the console. In addition to the Wii-mote Nintendo has a couple of other aces up its sleeve: At US$250 it's half the price of the cheapest of the two PlayStation 3 consoles and it will be available in greater quantities than the PS3 during the crucial holiday season in the U.S.