Wednesday, December 15, 2010

One of Life's Toughest Choices: Video Game Consoles

Posted By on Wed, Dec 15, 2010 at 8:00 AM

  • Photograph courtesy of Microsoft

A lot has changed since the introduction of Xbox 360 in 2005 kick-started the “next” generation of home consoles.

Microsoft and Sony came out swinging with two powerhouse machines capable of full high-definition graphics, extended online and media capabilities—with a price tag to match.

Nintendo turned its back on traditional consoles and came out with the Wii: a small white box only capable of pushing out games at a measly 480p resolution with an easy to use motion controller.

Since its release, the Wii has become one of the fastest selling game consoles ever.

But now Nintendo isn’t the only player in the motion control game.

Sony’s PlayStation Move and Microsoft Kinect are now on the market and they’re both looking to dethrone the wiimote. Now that the big three all have compelling motion controllers to bring to the table, making that challenging decision on which console to purchase this holiday season has become even more difficult.

Nintendo Wii

Love it or hate it, the Nintendo Wii has changed the way the masses think about video games with its focus on casual gaming and intuitive controls.

This year, Nintendo has introduced two new Wii bundles for $199 each; the first is available in either white or black and includes the Wii console, one Wii Remote Plus, A Nunchuk accessory, and both Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort. The second bundle is a limite- edition system to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Super Mario Bros. franchise. This bundle includes a red Wii with all of the same accessories as the normal Wii bundle (except in red of course), Wii Sports, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

The Wii has never been regarded as the system of choice for “hard-core” gamers, but there has been a resurgence in some of Nintendo’s classic franchises this past year with the release of Super Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid Other M, Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Donkey Kong Country Returns.

Although the Wii offers online capabilities, it is severely lacking compared to the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. Few games offer online multiplayer, and the ones that do are hampered by Nintendo’s infuriating friend-code system. The Wii’s Virtual Console gives you access to some of the most beloved games from 8-, 16-, and 64-bit eras of gaming, and Nintendo’s WiiWare has paved the way for some cheap and amazing independent games such as World of Goo and LostWinds.

Should I buy a Wii?

If you don’t already own a game console, then the Wii is a good starting point. Aside from the many casual games that have popularized the Wii with the mainstream, there are also some quality third-party titles for the system, and the Wii is the only way to play Nintendo’s classic franchises such as Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong.
There is a basic web browser, news and weather apps, and the ability to stream Netflix (though not in high definition).

Why shouldn’t I buy a Wii?

Of the three consoles available today, the Wii is showing its age the most. Aside from lack state-of-the-art HD graphics, it is offers the least amount of functionality of the three consoles and it’s no longer the only console offering compelling motion controls.

The Wii is primarily a gaming machine and doesn’t offer up a lot of additional functionality. It cannot play DVDs or CDs.

Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 was the first of the three systems to launch in 2005, and it remains to be the more popular of the two juggernauts of the current generation. Microsoft has dealt with numerous quality control issues over the past few years, but the introduction of the newly redesigned Xbox 360 Slim model hopes to make the infamous “Red Ring of Death” a thing of the past.

The new Slim models start at $200 for the 4gb model, and goes up to $300 for the 250gb model.

Microsoft released the Kinect camera this year to compete with the Nintendo Wii and Sony’s PlayStation Move controller. With the Kinect, instead of holding a motion controller in your hand, your entire body becomes the controller.

The tech works surprisingly well, but there isn’t a lot of software to support its $150 price tag. Microsoft also offers a bundle including a 250gb Xbox 360 Slim model and a Kinect peripheral for $400.

One caveat is that you need ample room in order for Kinect to function to its full potential, so a small apartment or dorm room may not be an ideal space to put the Kinect.

Key exclusives include the Halo, Gears of War, Forza, and Mass Effect series. Xbox Live Arcade is also home to many compelling downloadable games such as Geometry Wars and Limbo.

In addition to online multiplayer, a Live subscription allows you to stream Netflix, buy and rent TV shows and movies, and gives you access to applications such as Facebook, Twitter,, and ESPN. You can also use the Xbox 360 as a Windows Media Extender.

Why Should I buy an Xbox 360?

If you consider yourself a gamer, then you can’t go wrong with an Xbox 360. Chances are that if you have gamer friends, then they’re already on Xbox Live. Microsoft Kinect extends the Xbox 360’s appeal to casual gamers and living-room workout fiends looking to move on from Wii Fit. The Xbox is also a serviceable all-in-one entertainment system thanks to its media capabilities.

Why Shouldn’t I buy an Xbox 360?

Unlike the PlayStation 3, the Xbox does not Blu-ray built into the system and isn’t as flexible as an all-in-one entertainment solution. Older Xbox 360 systems are notorious for hardware failure (RrOD). The Kinect is still very much in its infancy, and there aren’t enough compelling titles out yet to justify its $150 price tag.

Xbox Live is hands-down the most robust online console gaming service available today, but to take advantage of all of its features, you have to pay for the “Gold” membership, which costs $50 per year.

PlayStation 3

The PlayStation 3 didn’t have the best launch back in 2006. Its steep price tag and lackluster software library were contributing factors. Four years later, with many hardware modifications and the introduction of a new motion controller, the PS3 has finally gained some traction in the console wars. The new “Slim” model of the PS3 drastically cuts the price of the system down. The PlayStation 3 now starts at $299 for the 160gb model, $350 for the 320gb model, and $399 for the 320gb system with the PlayStation Move bundle.

The PS3 is perhaps the most versatile machine of the three systems. Even four years after its release, it is still one of the better Blu-ray players on the market. The PlayStation 3 also features Netflix streaming, Hulu Plus, Vudu, NHL, HBO, and downloadable TV shows and movies.

While the PlayStation Network is vastly superior to Nintendo’s online services, it still lags behind Xbox Live. Like Nintendo, Sony offers its network free of charge. The new PlayStation Plus promises to enhance the PSN experience for an annual fee of $50. The network is home to some unique downloadable games including Flower, and offerings in the PixelJunk series.

The PS3 debuted with lackluster launch titles at best, but has since shelled out some killer software. The PS3 is home to many compelling exclusives such as Metal Gear Solid 4, God of War 3, Grand Turismo 5, the Uncharted series and the LittleBigPlanet series.

The PlayStation Move is Sony’s latest motion controller to compete with Nintendo and Microsoft, and it is more-or-less a more capable Wii controller. That being said, like Kinect, Move is still in its infancy and there isn’t a lot of software to support the new controller. To use the PlayStation Move wand, you also need to have the PlayStation Eye peripheral. Sony offers a start bundle that includes a wand controller, a PlayStation Eye, and Sports Champions for $100.

Sony is also touting the 3D capabilities of the PS3. With the latest firmware, you can now watch Blu-ray movies — granted you have a 3D capable television and the requisite glasses to view content in stereoscopic 3D — and play a growing list of 3D games.

Should I buy a PlayStation 3?

If you want the console that offers the most features for your hard earned cash, if you’re a videophile who needs all of the HD goodness Blu-ray can offer, if 3D movies and games sounds compelling to you, or if you want the most streaming content available on a console, buy the PS3.

Why shouldn’t I buy a PlayStation 3?

If you’re bitter about Sony pulling PlayStation 2 compatibility and other OS support from the PlayStation 3. If exclusives like Halo and Gears of War are more compelling to you than the Uncharted and Killzone series.

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