Wii Unmasked: Nintendo Reveals Price, Launch Date, Lineup Of Games

Console will be half the cost of a PlayStation 3.

NEW YORK — Nintendo finally dotted the i’s on its new Wii video game console Thursday (September 14), announcing the machine’s U.S. launch date, price and starting lineup of games.

The console will hit U.S. stores on November 19 and sell for $250. The flagship title remains “The Legend of Zelda: The Twilight Princess,” a game initially designed for GameCube. Packed into each console will be a copy of “Wii Sports,” a compilation of sports games (tennis, baseball, golf, boxing and bowling) that utilize the system’s motion-sensitive controller to emulate the swing of a baseball bat, the stroke of a golf club and more. Like the GameCube before it, Wii will not launch with a “Super Mario” title. The system will have 25 to 30 titles by the end of the year. The system will also include one Wii controller and nunchuck attachment.

“Our strategy is based on one core belief: that the next step in gaming is bringing gaming back to the masses,” Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime told about 300 reporters and game developers assembled at a studio at Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers Thursday morning. “It is literally that simple; appealing to current gamers as well as broadening that industry to new gamers — people who today don’t even consider themselves in the gaming industry.”

The launch supply of this year’s new consoles was a hot topic since Sony announced last week that its PS3 will be in short supply when it arrives in the U.S. and Japan in November (see “Good Luck Snagging A PS3 — Sony Cuts Console’s U.S. Shipment In Half” ). Fils-Aime told the New York audience Thursday that Nintendo will ship 4 million consoles by the end of the year, twice the number Sony has said it will be able to ship of its PS3s. “The Americas will receive the largest share of that total,” Fils-Aime said. “The flow will be continuous and even to minimize out-of-stocks.”

Nintendo’s console will be priced at half the cost of Sony’s more powerful PS3, which launches November 17, two days before the Wii. Sony’s machine will retail in America as $500 and $600 versions and boast a Blu-Ray drive for playing what Sony hopes will become a new standard disc format for high-definition movies, which don’t fit on a standard DVD. The Wii won’t play movies, but Fils-Aime showed Thursday that it will enable users to browse the Web on their TVs. The system will support at least a dozen “Wii Channels,” offering customized weather and news channels and a shopping site for downloading retro games on the system.

Instead of cutting-edge graphics, Nintendo leaders have emphasized the system’s controller. They have also pushed the system’s low power consumption and built-in WiFi that combine into Wii Connect 24, a service designed to encourage users to keep their console on constantly as it is systematically fed downloads of new content. Nintendo has also pushed its Virtual Console service that will allow Wii users to download retro games from past Nintendo systems as well as Sega’s Genesis and Hudson’s Turbo Grafx 16. Games on that service will cost $5-$10, with the higher prices reserved for more recent games. Thirty retro titles will be available at launch, including “Super Mario World” and the original “Zelda,” with 10 more titles promised each month.

The de-emphasis on graphics is understandable, given that Wii games look more similar to cutting-edge games on Xbox and GameCube than games for Xbox 360 and PS3. “If you want power, frankly you’re going to go somewhere else,” Fils-Aime said. He noted that Nintendo’s goal was to bring gaming back to the masses and emphasize novel approaches.

Other Wii games being released this year include specially designed versions of “Madden” and “Need for Speed” and a Tony Hawk-designed game (see “For ’Downhill’ Wii Game, Tony Hawk Put Life On Line So You Don’t Have To” ). “Trauma Center: Second Opinion,” a surgery game utilizing the Wii remote as a scalpel and syringe, will also be released in what Fils-Aime referred to as the system’s “launch window.”

Support for the system increased throughout the year among many game publishers that had formerly given Nintendo’s motion-centric strategy a cool reception. Major publishers such as Ubisoft, which had committed only the original first-person shooter “Red Steel” and the kid-friendly “Rayman Raving Rabbids” to Wii back at E3, have since announced plans to bring at least a half-dozen 360 titles to Wii, each tailored for Nintendo’s unique controller. What most companies still haven’t committed to, however, is making many original games from the ground up for Wii. That’s still a job mostly handled by Nintendo itself.

Just over a year ago, at the 2005 Tokyo Game Show, Nintendo President Saturo Iwata reached into his coat pocket and produced the remote-control-shaped, motion-sensitive Wii controller (see “Nintendo Revolution Controller Unveiled, And It’s Revolutionary” ).

Nintendo’s well-kept secret stunned an industry that had been promised a left turn from Nintendo but which many thought could be a drive right off the cliff. Microsoft was preparing to launch the Xbox 360, a machine so powerful, its corporate parents said it could only be fully appreciated on expensive high-definition TVs. Sony promised a PS3 that could handily trump the 360. Meanwhile, Nintendo’s top people — whose company had launched the wildly successful Nintendo Entertainment System and Game Boy as well as the dubiously experimental flop, the Virtual Boy — refused to talk about how powerful their new machine would be, instead claiming that the most important Wii circuit would involve the spark of imagination triggered by the concept of a controller that cares if players swing it around.

“We’re able to give players the freedom to do the types of actions that they want to do in video games without so many complicated buttons,” Nintendo’s star designer Shigeru Miyamoto told MTV News at E3 in May, “thereby making it both intuitive for longtime game players and for people who have never played video games before” (see “Nintendo’s Design Guru, Shigeru Miyamoto, Says Wii Can Destroy Gamer Stereotype” ).

Nintendo’s previous console, GameCube, launched in November of 2001 for just under $200. Its premiere launch-day games were “Luigi’s Mansion” and “Super Monkey Ball.” GameCube has lagged far behind the rival Sony PlayStation 2, selling about a fifth of the 100 million machines moved by Sony in the five years since its release.

Watch “MTV News RAW: Shigeru Miyamoto” for a inside look at Nintendo’s new direction from the mind behind games from “Donkey Kong” to the latest “Zelda” adventure.

[This story was originally published at 7:51 a.m. ET on 09.14.2006]