Holiday Buyers Guide 2006: Console Gaming

Don’t you miss the old days when all you had to do was walk into an electronics store, find that one good game and go home happy? With so many consoles on the market, and even more games to choose from, choosing the right console and right games can become a difficult task. The PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 give you cutting edge high definition graphics, the Nintendo Wii gives you innovative gameplay and the PlayStation 2 is still alive and kicking with the biggest library of games anywhere. If you’re having a tough decision deciding which console you want to purchase, our guide may make life a little bit easier for you, and your wallet.

Sony PlayStation 2

The PlayStation 2 has been out for quite some time, but that doesn’t mean the console isn’t one of the best on the market. Even with the release of PlayStation 3, PS2 games are still being released, and games like Final Fantasy XII and Okami show that the PS2 is truly not going down without a fight. Not only does the PS2 have the largest library of games to choose from, it also offers games for all ages, not just the grown-up crowd that PlayStation 3 is catering for.

The PlayStation 2 offers games in every genre: RPG, Sports, Fighting, Action, Adventure, MMO and shooters. Games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, NFL 2k3, Metal Gear Solid: 2/3 and Final Fantasy XII really show what the PlayStation 2 is capable of. Graphically, the PS2 is a strong competitor against the Nintendo Wii . The PS2 also doubles as DVD player, and gives you online play, though, you’ll have to pay a little extra for that.

The PS2 retails for $129, making it one of the cheapest console in the mix. Though PS2 has a strong library of games, keep in mind that first-party exclusives for the console are all already out. The console is also at the end of its lifecycle, so expect the library to come to an abrupt stop next year. The PS2 is a great introduction to console gaming, but if you’re looking for a meatier console, look no further than…

Sony PlayStation 3

The PlayStation 3 is Sony’s new top-of-the-line console. The console is streamlined, quiet, built to last and features the Cell processor. The premium 60GB console sells for $599. The console features online gaming via WiFi, 60GB hard drive, memory card slots, and HDMI support. The PS3 also doubles as a Blu-Ray player. If $599 is too steep for you, there’s also a $499 version, though, it doesn’t come with memory card slots or WiFi, and features a smaller, 20GB hard drive. One of the stronger points of the console is that it offers users to play games online for free, unlike Microsoft, who charges you to play against other players.

When you first pick up the console, keep in mind you’re going to be spending a lot of money. HDMI cables don’t run cheap and the console doesn’t bundle with component cables either. If you want to experience the console in HD, you’re going to have to pay a little more to get there. The games run for $59.99, the same price as Xbox 360 games. At the moment, the PlayStation 3 offers only a few strong titles. If you plan on picking one up, be sure to check out Resistance: Fall of Man, NFL 2K7 and Call of Duty 3. Graphically, PS3 does not have a game that rivals Xbox 360’s Gears of War, so if you’re looking for a console that’s going to impress from day one, you may want to read up on the Xbox 360.

The PlayStation 3 is really a console for the older gaming audience. Most of the exclusive games coming out for the PlayStation 3 (Lair, Metal Gear Solid 4, and Devil May Cry 4) are going to be very violent. There will be games that are suitable for youngsters, but these games will also be available for cheaper consoles like the Nintendo Wii and Xbox 360, so it’s really not worth spending the extra money on those games unless you’re a die-hard Sony fan or if you want a Blu-Ray player in your living room. The PlayStation 3 also features a motion-sensing, wireless controller called SIXAXIS. The controller is lightweight, feels great and works well with all types of games. If you’re a fan of the rumble feature, you may be disappointed in the fact that the SIXAXIS does not vibrate. The motion-sensing aspect isn’t implemented in too many games, but it does work well in the games it has been featured in so far. It’s not as innovative as the Wii’s new controller, but it’s still giving users something they didn’t have before.

Since the PlayStation 3 is such an intricately structured system, it does have some bugs at the moment. The SIXAXIS controllers of the PS3 have been locking up, online browsing has caused some consoles to crash and users have also had problems with displaying the PS3 at 720p. None of these problems are big, and Sony will have them fixed by the time most consumers will have a chance to get the console.

The PlayStation 3 is more of an investment right now. Sony promises there will be more great games coming to the console, a wider selection of Blu-Ray movies and it tells us the console will be around for the next 10 years. PS3 has a lot to offer, but for anyone to see the true power of the console, Sony needs to release better games in a wider variety. Keep in mind the first two PlayStations also had rocky launches (and they turned out to be great consoles), so if your heart is set on the PS3, don’t let the bad press surrounding it stop you from getting one.

Nintendo Wii

Parents look no further: the Nintendo Wii is here. The new Nintendo console is a user-friendly, affordable and above all, fun system. Rather than going the route of Microsoft and Sony and giving users a high definition experience, Nintendo decided to stick to fun factor and gameplay instead. The Nintendo Wii hardware isn’t anything like the 360 or PS3 — the graphics look more the GameCube or PlayStation 2. Don’t be worried: what the Wii lacks in graphics it more than makes up in with its innovative wireless controller, the Wiimote.

Nintendo Wii features two separate controllers. One of them is called the Wiimote and the other is called the Nunchuk. Some games make you use both controllers at the same time, while others only require the Wiimote. Instead of hitting a button to swing a sword or baseball bat, the Wii actually makes you swing the Wiimote to mimic the movement. Every game on the console (so far) features motion detection. The Wii is actually centered around this feature, which it has fully integrated into the gameplay of every one of its games.

With the Wii, you already have a great selection of games including The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, Rayman Raving Rabbids and Madden NFL 07. The Wii also comes with a game called Wii Sports, that is suitable for all ages and lots of fun on your own, or when you’re having people over. Though the games for the Wii may sound childish, the Wii actually delivers a great experience for both adults and kids. It’s more of a social console than the 360 or PS3 as its controls are very intuitive and it’s easy for someone to pick up and play. Keep in mind it’s up to Nintendo to keep releasing games that will utilize its new controller. If games start to run dry and users end up doing the same thing in every game, the Wii could end up being a novelty console.

The Nintendo Wii retails for $250, making it the cheapest next gen console on the market. The Wii not only features free online play/browsing via WiFi, but the console also features “Virtual Console.” Users can get online and download NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis and Nintendo 64 games, and play them on the Wii. The games cost a little bit of money, but nothing out of the ordinary. The Wii offers something for everyone, but there are a few things you’ll have to watch out for. Honestly, if you have a HDTV, the Wii’s graphics don’t look very good. It’s better to go buy separate component cables rather than using the composite cables that come with the console. Not only do you have to spend extra money for the cables, but they are sold out just about everywhere. There is also a shortage of controllers at the moment, so if you plan on having more than one person playing at a time, be sure to order a controller online so you can get one by the time you get a Wii.

Because of the Wii’s hardware limitations, it doesn’t have as big of a big chance of lasting as long as the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Nintendo has to keep delivering games that make users use the Wiimote in different ways. Innovation is the key for the Wii. Lots of consumers fear that the Wii will be short lived and then become a novelty item. The GameCube really didn’t do it for gamers, but the Wii has had a great launch, now all Nintendo has to do is keep up the good work.

Microsoft Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 launched in November of 2005, and if you think that makes the console not up to par with the Wii or PS3, you’re sorely mistaken. At the moment the Xbox 360 features the strongest gaming library of the three next gen gaming consoles, and it’s cheaper than the PlayStation 3, selling for $399 for a 20GB model and $299 for a model without a hard drive. The good thing about Xbox 360 is that the console is HD-ready out of the box. Since the console comes with component cables, all you have to do is plug in and you’re ready to go. The bad part is, if you want to watch movies that are comparable to Blu-Rays, you need to get buy a HD-DVD add-on for the 360, which runs for $199. Another downside to the console is that the lower end version doesn’t come with a hard drive, making you fork over another $100 to get one of those. Also, the console doesn’t feature WiFi, so if you have wireless internet, you have to buy a wireless adapter for the console, which also runs for $100.

The Xbox 360 revolutionized online gaming. The Xbox Live Marketplace allows users to browse game downloads, demos, trailers, arcade games, expansions with ease. The interface is easy to use and customizable, which also adds to the fun factor. Finding your friends and sending text/voice messages is simple, and inviting others to play a game you’re currently playing is only a click away. Microsoft really set a standard for what a console should be able to do with its online capabilities, and the both the PS3 and the Wii are doing similar things now. There are a couple downsides to online gaming with the 360. The first is, you have to pay a $50 fee yearly to play against other players. Also, there’s no internet browser for the 360, though we may see one in the future.

Where the console falters, it makes up for in games. The Xbox 360 features great games like Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, Perfect Dark Zero, Rainbow Six Vegas and the extraordinary Gears of War. With that being said, you can already tell that the Xbox 360 is another console for adults. Most of these games are violent, have bad language and aren’t the best choice for your 8-year old to spend his time on. The console does have titles for everyone like Rockstar Games Presents: Table Tennis, Kameo and Burnout Revenge, but most of the defining games that make the 360 what it is are for older audiences. Another strong aspect of the 360 is its controller. The Xbox 360 controller isn’t too heavy, features rumble and just feels right when playing just about every game. The controller has been so successful that many PC gamers have gone out and bought a 360 controller to plug into their PCs via USB.

If you want to impress your friends from day one, and really show them what next gen gaming is all about, the Xbox 360 is the way to go. A user-friendly interface, great games and great controller design make the 360 what it is. Especially since the 360 is the only console to offer Gears of War, which is the new standard of what next gen games need to look like. The Xbox 360 does have some hidden charges up its sleeve, so you’ll be paying almost as much as a PS3 when you think about add ons and online play, but the experience you get from the console is more than worth it. All Microsoft needs to do now is keep releasing strong titles for the Xbox 360. Oh yeah, and where are the RPGs?

This entire article, however, is moot if you can’t find a Wii or a PS3. The 360 is available almost everywhere, right now, much to Microsoft’s benefit. However, in a recent trip to Nintendo World in New York we learned that people are still lining up at midnight to get a Wii when the store opens at 8am. There are a number of “packages” being sold online in upwards of $1000 – don’t fall for it. Parents: if you’re stuck without a Wii this holiday, pick up a few classic titles for the kids older console and grab one right after the 25th. The PS3 is impossible to find – only a few hundred thousand were made for the U.S. market, so either go 360 or pick up some classics for the PS2 to tide the little buggers over.

Next year we’ll all be Wii-ing, PS3-ing, and 360-ing. This year, we’ll be stuck outside the shop window, salivating over our electronic Red Ryders like Ralphie.