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PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 have eye-popping, high-def graphics but Wii pops them in the eye — with a right jab.

The brawl among the three console makers enters Round One this weekend with Friday’s release of Sony’s PS3 and Sunday’s release of Nintendo’s Wii. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has been out for a year.

Sony and Microsoft boast impressive computing power and enormous graphics potential — and hefty price tags if you actually want to enjoy all of that potential.

However, Nintendo has taken a different route — cheap and surprisingly revolutionary. At $249, Wii is designed to attract new players and hard-core gamers who are more interested in new styles of gameplay than high-def graphics.

The new element designed to knock out the competition is Wii’s wireless, motion-sensitive controller. Now, instead of twiddling your thumbs and pressing a few buttons when playing a boxing game, you can actually swing both fists and land a punch on your digital opponent. You can also bob, block and break into a sweat doing it.

Boxing is part of the “Wii Sports” game that comes with each Wii. The game also includes tennis, baseball, golf and bowling. Each of these uses the controller in a slightly different way, displaying the potential for this immersive style of play.

The controllers are quite accurate, making the exact timing, speed and angle of a player’s swing very important. The controllers also emit sounds — the crack of a bat and thud of a boxing glove — adding to the realism and fun.

In addition to its standard controller, which looks like a simplified TV remote, Wii comes with a motion-sensitive “Nunchuck” attachment, which contains a small joystick and additional buttons for expanded control options.

Setting up the Wii was very easy, just a matter of plugging all the cables into the right slots and finding a good spot to place the sensing bar that interprets the controllers’ motions. (We got some odd readings when we placed it on a glossy tabletop, but they disappeared when it was moved to a different surface.) Syncing additional controllers can get a little tricky — meaning that we actually had to consult the instructions.

Before playing, a gamer must establish a “Mii Channel” identity. This process includes creating a character that acts as an account icon in the console’s memory and also as an avatar in the “Wii Sports” games. This can be fun in itself because you can re-create your own face shape, hair, beard, glasses, moles, etc.

The first game most players should try is “Wii Sports” because it acts as a great tutorial for the controller. For example, in baseball, players learn it’s best to hold the controller like a real bat. In boxing, players hold the controller in their right hand and Nunchuck in their left and jab, swing and block using both hands.

Basic gameplay is rather simple in “Wii Sports.” Of course mastering these isn’t so simple.

A word of warning: Playing these games properly can be tiring — and wearing on the rotator cuff.

The graphics for “Wii Sports” are pretty rudimentary. For example, when baseball players take the field, they look similar to characters from Stars and Stripes’ “Downrange” comic strip.

However, graphics are much more impressive in other Wii games, such as “Excite Truck,” “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” and “Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.”

The console isn’t just for Wii games. Gamers can play GameCube games or connect to the Internet through the console to download games from Nintendo’s vast catalog of pre-Wii titles. The console has four connections for old-style controllers and slots for memory cards.

It also allows owners to upload photos from digital cameras for viewing — or “enhancing” with different graphic treatments. It also ran videos that were on our camera’s memory disc.

However, none of these options lets the Wii match the potential of the PS3 and Xbox to become overall entertainment centers, playing high-definition movies and more. In making a choice for a new gaming system, players will have to make a choice between gee-whiz innards or an immersive new style of gameplay — at half the price.


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