Pros: Easy to use, fun to play, takes up very little space
Cons: Games can be expensive
We've had the Nintendo Wii now since early 2008. After trying it out at a neighbor's house and seeing how much fun my then 7 year old son (who is on the autism spectrum) loved playing it, I knew it would be worth spending close to $300 on it to get set up. Fast forward to now 2010, and we have over 30 games for it - its played nearly every day in our house, usually by my son but often by all of us.
From Nintendo and priced usually around $199 the Wii is a fun gaming system for the entire family. My daughter who was barely 3 when we got this can use it, as does my son (now 9) and my husband and I (not telling how old...). When you purchase it, the Wii includes the gaming console which is a small white tower with what looks like a CD-ROM or DVD disc drive (but plays with Wii game discs), a Wii remote & nunchuk controller, the Wii sensor bar, and a Wii Sports disc. The Wii remote does need AA batteries (and used frequently will go thru them pretty often) while the the Wii Console is corded. It comes with a stand so you can set the console up vertically which saves space.
You can get started right away but will likely want to add an additional Wii remote & nunchuk for ease of multi-player play (so you don't have to keep passing the controller between players). An additional nunchuk controller will run you around $15 and an additional Wii remote controller is around $50. We had purchased the Wii Play game which is a bunch of mini-games it included a "free" wii remote. If you are going this route, it is more like you are paying for the wii remote and getting a cheap game disc of mini games thrown in.
My husband set up our Wii in short order which included downloading some updates and connecting it to our Wireless internet in our house. We have our Wii hooked up to our 50" Plasma TV which makes the play even more fun. I suggest hooking up your Wii to the biggest TV you own because it really adds to the gaming aspect and makes you feel like you are IN the game.
When you power up your Wii it brings you to several startup options including the Mii Channel - here is where you can create custom avatars in your likeness for "players" for the Wii Sports games. Mii making is a game in itself in my home and we have a few hundred of them. You can sort your players by alphabetical order, line them up or send them off to the mii parade if you don't want to use them for active game play. You are able to set a handful of the miis that you create as favorites. The Wii tracks your high scores and personal best as long as you do not delete the mii or send it to the mii parade. My son is the expert mii creator in the house and can make miis look extremely realistic - he also likes to make "custom" miis and has found instructions (via youtube and google) to make miis that look like characters from movies, famous people, disney characters and the like. From making other people's "famous miis" he has gotten awesome at making miis - we have such mii's on our machine as a Hamburger, Wall-E, Eve, Mickey Mouse, and The Chipmunks - it is definitely a sight to see!
The Wii Sports game that the Wii comes with is not sold separately and you should register your Wii with Nintendo because if that game disc gets scratched up you can get a replacement from Nintendo for a low price - this happened to us and several others I know. I am sure this game takes a beating because it is packaged just in a cardboard sleeve and not a protective plastic case like most other games. Also, because it is so much fun it gets a lot of game play.
Wii Sports includes the following games: Bowling, Tennis, Golf, Baseball, Boxing. The games use the Wii Remote and/or coupled with the nunchuk controller. When you play you have to use your whole body or at least upper body to wield the remote. The wii uses bluetooth technology and the sensor detects the motion of the wii remote controller. With Wii sports it is like you are actually playing the sport instead of sitting back and pressing buttons. It is important to remember to wear the wrist strap that comes with the Wii remote because you could easily toss or throw it while doing the gameplay movements if you got excited or by accident. Also, the Wii remote jacket is a jellyish skin that goes over the plastic remote - it is suggested to use the jacket because it not only provides "grip" to the wii-mote but it protects the remote and/or anything that it could hit if it is dropped or thrown. I am always afraid that our kids will throw the remote into our plasma TV!
Wii Games usually cost around $49 a game for new games though you can find many for less than that and "budget" games for $20. Some of the games we have include Cooking Mama where you have to pretend to cook, New Super Mario Bros which is like the old style Mario games, Guitar Hero World Tour band kit which uses a guitar and drum pad accessories and you can "rock out". You can plug a USB microphone into the Wii console for singing games, we have a couple of those in addition to Guitar Hero. There are a ton of games for the Wii and we have sports games, arcade games, kiddie games, girly games and grown-up games. Each of us in the house has games that are our favorite. But, the best aspect of the Wii is the fact that there are times that we all play it together. In so many ways it has brought our family back into the same room. We have also added the Wii Fit which has a balance board and you can use it work-out as well as play fitness games. So, while the system cost a few hundred bucks and the games aren't "cheap" - the family style entertainment is worth every penny of it.
A note on the Nintendo Wii & autism:
I have written an indepth article about the Wii & Autism here (http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art58580.asp) but will provide a brief summary of why the wii has been great for our autistic child:
My son is good at video games and could play them for long periods of time but what I like about the Wii is that he is up and moving vs sitting around. In addition to the Wii Sports game that the Wii comes with he is also a big player on the Wii Fit system which uses a balance board and has fitness games and activities on it like yoga and balance training.
Prior to getting the Wii my son showed very little interest in playing sports. He had tried baseball and bowling but had a hard time with learning the rules. He also had a really hard time with applause and how loud it was at a bowling alley. The Wii Sports game provided a really basic overview to the Bowling, Baseball, Tennis, Golf, and even boxing. You can play the games in a drill mode and not only learn to master using the Wii remote but learn how it is scored. After playing the various sports games and understanding the scoring on the Wii he was able to translate that when we went to a real bowling alley and when he played with the challenger baseball league. Because the Wii is very visual and children with autism tend to be very visual learners it was highly reinforcing for him.
I was initially worried because the Wii has a lot of clapping and cheering on it when you get a good score or for example - bowl a strike. My son like many kids with autism has a lot of sensory issues so I was worried he wouldn't like the clapping. Instead, what I found was he was clapping along with it and cheering - not just for himself but others. I can say that the Wii teaches good sportsmanship skills.
Also a bonus is that since many games are multi-player the Wii has been excellent for my son's turntaking skills. I am impressed that my kids who like most siblings are prone to fighting - generally get a long well on the Wii and play together well on it depending on the game either playing cooperatively or turn taking.
A few Wii game reviews for kids:
Disney Sing It
JumpStart Pet Rescue