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Crowds gather to buy Nintendo's Wii

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nintendo’s new Wii video game console debuted on Sunday as thousands of die-hard fans, some of whom camped out for several days, welcomed the final entrant in the three-way scramble for dominance in the $30 billion global game market.

Isiah "Triforce" Johnson (R) talks with Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America, after being the first customer to purchase a Nintendo Wii video game system during the official launch of the Nintendo Wii at the Toys "R" Us store in Times Square New York November 19, 2006. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

At the Times Square Toys “R” Us store in New York, a line snaked around the block, with more than 1,000 gamers vying for first rights to take the new machine home, while more than 900 enthusiasts gathered for the West Coast release at the GameStop store at Hollywood’s Universal City Walk.

At midnight, Isaiah “Triforce” Johnson, 29, purchased the first Wii as Toys “R” Us employees cheered and Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime helped ring up the sale.

“I had to get it first,” said Johnson, who was dressed in a black leather Nintendo coat and “Legend of Zelda” sweatshirt. He immediately took the Wii out of its box and had Fils-Aime autograph it.

The Nintendo Wii launch comes two days after Sony’s PlayStation 3 hit the U.S. market, setting the stage for a three-way video game console showdown this holiday season between the Wii, the PS3 and Microsoft Corp.’s already available Xbox 360.

Instead of trying to steal hard-core gamers from Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo hopes to expand the traditionally male video game audience by luring new players.

Nintendo priced the Wii at $250, compared with the $600 premium PS3 and the $400 top-end Xbox 360.

The Kyoto-based Nintendo Co. Ltd., which created video game characters Super Mario and Donkey Kong, has hooked girls and seniors with its “Nintendogs” pet training games and its “Brain Age” cognitive fitness title for its hand-held DS machine that is a break-out hit.

The device offers touch-screen and voice recognition capabilities that allow users to “pet” and speak commands to their dog or to write and speak answers to brain teasers.

Nintendo has taken a similar approach with the Wii.

‘MAKES YOU FEEL IN THE GAME’

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The console’s computing power is dwarfed by the Xbox 360 and the PS3 and the Wii does not offer the lifelike, high-definition graphics that its bigger rivals boast.

Still, the Wii has captivated cynical gamers with its one-handed, motion-sensitive controller that lets users simulate fishing, playing tennis or shooting a bow and arrow.

“That’s what makes you feel in the game,” said Sergio Gonzalez, 18, who along with friends Anton Stockton and Tulgat Vandandorj, has been at the front of the Wii line at a Los Angeles Best Buy store since Friday afternoon.

While the PS3 quickly sold out at its debut, Nintendo said it was well stocked for the Wii launch.

“We have enough product to satisfy the demand that’s anticipated,” Fils-Aime told Reuters.

Many gamers who purchased a Wii said they would not immediately sell the consoles on Internet auction site eBay.com -- where people are selling reserved Wiis at an average price of $605, according to eBay Market Research.

Some who got their hands on the PS3 early sold the system on eBay, reeling in more than four times its retail price.

“This is strictly for me,” said Kwabena Ampofo, holding a bag with a Wii. “It’s not being sold at all.”

But not everyone was holding on to the new console. Outside of Toys “R” Us shortly after the system went on sale, Mike Smith, 22, held a Wii that he said he paid $350 in cash to buy from someone who had just left the toy store.

Nintendo’s last console, the GameCube, sold 21 million units globally to land in third place, behind Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Microsoft’s Xbox. The company sold 11 million GameCubes in the United States and intends to double that number with the Wii.

Nintendo expects to ship 4 million Wii consoles globally by December 31, double the number of PS3s expected by year end.

Video game analyst David Cole, president of DFC Intelligence, said Nintendo is offering a one-two punch at launch with its games “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess” and “Wii Sports.”

“I’m a ‘Zelda’ fan. I have to get ‘Zelda,’” Johnson said shortly before being able to satisfy his wish.

Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles

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