Release of Nintendo Wii sends thousands to stores at midnight for new console

NEW YORK – Nintendo Co.’s entry into the game console wars, the Wii, went on sale yesterday, and quickly sold out in many stores despite stocks that far surpassed those of the rival PlayStation 3, which went on sale two days earlier.

Spot checks at area stores turned up only one, the Toys R Us in Times Square, with Wiis in stock. The store hosted a midnight launch event that drew a crowd of more than a thousand people for the sale of the very first Wii.

The first buyer, Isaiah Triforce Johnson, had been waiting outside the store for more than a week. He wore a Nintendo Power Glove, a wearable controller that came out in 1989, while shaking hands with Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime. Johnson said he had legally changed his name to include a reference to Nintendo’s “Zelda” series of games.

The launch apparently went smoothly, a contrast to the launch PlayStation 3 release, which forced police to disperse rowdy crowds at some stores around the country.

Sony had about 400,000 PlayStation 3s in North American stores on Friday. Nintendo has said it would have “five to ten” times as many Wiis available at launch, and will have shipped 4 million units by the end of the year.

The Wii costs $250, including one game, half of what the cheaper PlayStation 3 model costs. The most common PlayStation 3 model costs $600, with no included game.

On the eBay auction site, Wiis were selling yesterday for twice the store price, indicating that supplies are still tight. The PlayStation 3, meanwhile, was selling for around $1,500, already down about $1,000 from Friday.

Launching right after the much-vaunted and technically sophisticated PlayStation 3 is a brave move for Nintendo, which lost the top spot in the market to Sony Corp. in the mid-90s. More recently, Microsoft Corp. has waded into the market as well.

The Wii takes a different tack than the competition, forgoing the high-definition graphics that Sony has spent billions to develop for the PlayStation 3.

Instead, Nintendo aims to draw gamers and non-gamers alike with intuitive game play.