Instant Wii Play

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A model deomonstrates Nintendo's new interactive video-game console, Wii, by swinging it's remote, which has a built-in motion sensor, to simulate the motion of a tennis raquet. .

Last Friday, Nintendo's new $250 videogame console arrived and in spite of being an admitted non-gamer, I was giddy with anticipation. I actually caught myself dancing a little jig. That evening, my wife and I were in the family room with another couple. My friend Chris and I got to work, connecting the Wii (pronounced "we" not "why") to a 42-inch Philips LCD TV, while the womenfolk looked on with politely condescending curiosity.

Wii Sports, a collection of cartoonish tennis, baseball, bowling, golf and boxing scenarios, comes with the system. I had presumed that it was merely an elaborate demonstration of the Wii Remote, which responds to natural motions rather than arcane button combinations. I discovered quickly that it might be the greatest videogame ever made.

Chris and I cleared a decent amount of space between the couch and the TV-the need for playing room cannot be overstated. We selected Tennis for two players. The TV's wide screen split into two frames, one for each side of the court. I tossed the ball in the air with a tap of a button, then swung my arm. A perfect serve. Chris returned the serve with a flick of his wrist, then I swung again. Early clumsiness fast became aggressive, aerobic, precise gesticulation. You develop a forehand, a backhand, even an overhead smash, just like on the real courts, and you work up a sweat doing it. Each time the virtual racquet hits the ball, it delivers an unbelievably satisfying "thok."

Looking on, my wife couldn't remember the last time she saw something as silly as two dudes jumping around, waving their arms and strutting like Agassi at a Grand Slam. But since the controls were so simple, she wasn't allowed to refuse when we told her it was her turn. Before long, she was channeling Steffi with her own fancy net work. I had my revenge.

The following night we hosted a dinner party. Though it was conceived without an inkling that the Wii would be in our midst, it became the official activity of the night. We designed hilarious avatars for each partygoer, so they could play games using a cartoon mini-self, or Mii. By selecting and adjusting face shapes, eyes, noses and hairstyles, you can build accurate caricatures, but beware of false friends who make your nose two sizes too big, or attach a sinister handlebar mustache to your otherwise handsome mug.

Everyone sampled all five Wii Sports. Tennis is still my favorite, but my wife got into the more cerebral Golf, achieving victories on the Wii what she was unable to deliver during her high-school golf-team years. Bowling probably came in third place, though Baseball and Boxing found fans. By the end of the weekend, the little machine had hooked ten people of very different temperaments and interests. Only one among us, Chris, was a bonafide gaming guy, and his years of button mashing didn't give him an unnatural advantage over anyone else. Excited as I was about my own attraction to the Wii, I was stunned by its universal appeal.

My zeal is directed mainly at Wii Sports. The Wii Channels network for weather, shopping and even surfing the Web, had not yet launched, and other games, such as Legend of Zelda title and Excite Truck, looked okay but didn't hook me. My hope is that Nintendo continues to develop games like Wii Sports—it's easy to dream up Wii versions of other activities, from fishing to snowmobiling.

Although the pull of the Wii is strong, I should point out a few issues that you should know. For starters, although the basic Wii system costs $250 and comes with Wii Sports, you absolutely have to buy a second Wii Remote ($40), along with its Nunchuk joystick attachment ($20).

Also, widescreen HDTVs are much better for split-screen two-person gaming, though paradoxically the Wii's video is only standard definition. For Wii Sports, this doesn't matter much, but it's a shame that Zelda and other visual titles don't get the high-definition treatment they deserve.

Finally, all this physical activity has a downside. As thrilled as I am that I now can play videogames in lieu of other aerobic exercise, I am sore. It may be the good soreness of muscles in need of a long-overdue workout, yet I fear that some people might get real tennis elbow from Wii's virtual Tennis, or even tear a rotator cuff when pitching in Wii's Baseball.

I encourage you to go out and get one, even if you're also planning to buy Microsoft's Xbox 360 or Sony's PlayStation 3. Just be careful, because Wii is physical.