WiiWare Beefs up Nintendo’s Online Service

Nintendo is finally bringing original downloadable games to its popular Wii video game console.

Nintendo’s small white box is the smash hit of the video game industry, thanks to its easy-to-grasp controls and simple games that appeal to a broader audience.

But the Wii has lagged Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3 in offering original games that can be downloaded right from the couch for as little as $5.

That has changed this week with the U.S. launch of WiiWare, a service that Nintendo says lets game makers experiment with quirky ideas that can be brought to fruition for a fraction of the cost of a regular title.

“The possibilities are great — many of the most addictive and enjoyable games on Xbox 360 and PS3 are turning out to be the little downloads made by fledgling studios, and giving the power of the Wii controller set to these hungry, creative types will hopefully take the indie gaming movement further,” video game news site IGN said earlier this year.

After debuting in Japan earlier this year, the service launched in the United States on Monday, with six new titles ranging from the familiar to the off-beat.

For example, one game is a simulation set in the familiar “Final Fantasy” franchise, while another is “LostWinds”, a critically acclaimed adventure in which players use gusts of wind to explore a world and fight enemies.

“WiiWare provides a low-risk environment where developers can create a wide array of compact games for consumers to enjoy at different price points,” Tom Prata, senior director of project development at Nintendo of America, said in an e-mail interview. Reuter’s Scott Hillis reports