When to start thinking about holiday shopping is a subject sure to elicit strong opinions from almost everyone. I am a pretty firm believer in waiting till after Thanksgiving in most cases. However, some things require a little more planning. More often than not, getting a new video game console is one of those things.
There are people who can drop a couple hundred dollars on a gift without breaking a sweat, but for most of us it’s something we want to put some thought into. One of the big advantages in deciding early is that there are almost always good Black Friday deals to be had, and if you know what game you are looking for, you can better search for the right deal. Not only that, it will give you the strength to ignore the great deals on, say, an Xbox when you’re already decided that the Playstation best suits your needs.
Even though we’re just barely into November, I’ve already had the “What console do you recommend?” conversation with a few of my friends, and I know that the guys at my Game Stop get asked almost every day. It’s a very popular question these days. My limited expertise comes from the fact that we have the big three, Wii, PS3 and Xbox, and all have been played A LOT over the years.
The first question everyone asks when trying to figure out which is “best” is “What kind of games do you like to play?” All three, Wii, Playstation 3 and Xbox, have a variety of games, but each definitely has a specialty. Based on my own experiences, and conversations I’ve had and heard with my trusty game store guys, here’s what you need to know to make an informed decision:
If you are looking for something the whole family can enjoy, the Wii is absolutely the way to go. It is the least expensive of the three, $100-$200* for the console depending on whether you get one new or refurbished, and you don’t have to pay any extra for motion control. Most of the games available for the Wii are family friendly, and the controls aren’t hard to master. Every game I have played has a little tutorial about which way to hold the controller and what all the buttons do. The Wii doesn’t score a lot of badass points, but it is fun. Everyone we have talked into playing party games with us has stopped at some point and said “Wow. This is fun!” regardless of age or gender. Even Wii Fit is fun. It’s a surprisingly effective way of getting some exercise and tracking your weight.
Another point in the Wii’s favor is that it is retro-compatible. You can plug in GameCube controllers and play old GameCube games. Since most GameCube games sell for a few dollars these days, it greatly increases your cheap entertainment options. One thing it won’t do is play DVDs, but you can use the Wii to stream Netflix, so you can still use it to watch movies. It has a lot of downloadable content, but this is a feature I rarely use, so I don’t know much about it. Google and the people at the game stores can tell you more (I really like the guys who work at my local Game Stop, if you couldn’t tell. It’s one of the only stores where I have a relationship with employees. They’ve been there long enough that they know what I like and their recommendations are rarely off the mark.)
My favorite genre of video games is RPGs. It’s like a good book where you can beat the crap out of bad guys. There are not a whole lot of good RPGs for the Wii, but despite this dearth, if I could only have one console I would choose to keep my Wii without a second thought. Why? Two words – Zelda and Mario. I am of an age where Link and Mario set the bar for video game excellence. To this day, they are my favorite franchises and, if you want to play them, you’ve got to have a Nintendo.
- Pros – Less expensive, family friendly, lots of fun, you can weigh yourself with the balance board, Zelda and Mario
- Cons – No DVD player, not very badass, fewer options if you like RPGs or wargames, you can weigh yourself on the balance board
I am most familiar with the Wii, as you may have guessed, so before I started writing this I asked the real experts – my teenaged sons. Without skipping a beat, my oldest said “Get the PS3.” Of the two, Xbox and PS3, the PlayStation is my favorite. It is fairly easy to use, and everyone who uses it can create their own profile. The profiles are handy because all your saved game files live in your profile, thereby eliminating the danger of saving over someone else’s game by accident. According to the boys, they like it better because you can play online for free, the online play is better, the wi-fi is built into the system, and it has an Internet browser. Not too shabby for a video game.
I like it better because of the games. PlayStation has the best selection of RPGs out of all three consoles. In fact, I would say Sony has the best variety of games overall. No matter what you like, you will find an ample selection for the PS3.
One of the reasons we broke down and got one last year was for the movies. You can use it to stream Netflix, but it also has a Blu-ray player and you can store movies on the hard drive. For the first month we had it, it was a movie machine that you cold play video games on sometimes.
The system does have a few drawbacks. It is the most expensive option for the basic package, $200-$300* for the console (again, depending on if you get one new or refurbished) but you can easily get up to $400-$600 when you start looking at bundles and consoles with more built-in memory. However, once you’ve bought your system, you don’t need much in the way of add-ons. The motion control system, the Move, has been rated the best of all the motion controls, but there don’t seem to be many games that make use of it yet. And, of course, it’s tagline is “It only does everything,” when in fact it only does everything but play PS2 games. I still have a collection of PS2 games that I really enjoy, and a PS2 in the cabinet so I can play them when the urge hits.
One of the scary things about having a PS3 is that sometimes they crash, and when they crash there’s really fuck-all nothing you can do except save up and buy a new one.
- Pros – Great selection of games, doesn’t need a lot of extras for good gameplay, free online play and wi-fi, awesome movie options, no saving over other people’s games
- Cons – Kind of expensive, not too much motion control action yet, not retro-compatible, if it crashes, you’re screwed
The Xbox is my least favorite option, largely because it confuses the crap out of me. As far as gameplay is concerned, it is fairly user friendly, it’s all the extra stuff that I don’t understand. Of the three, the Xbox seemed to be the biggest money sink, there was always something new that the boys absolutely needed to buy to make the games better and if you want to play online with other people, you have to buy a monthly subscription. The console ranges from $150-$300*, more if you buy it with the Kinect system included. After that and the added memory, the headset, the new cables, and the new headset to replace the one the dog ate, the monthly subscription fee was a bit much to take.
The Xbox is also the most prone to technical difficulties. From the Red Ring of Death to scratching up game discs while they are in the console, there have been a lot of bugs. They keep trying to make things better, but the Xbox has been responsible for more gamer rage than any other system. (My inner Mac user is biting her tongue really hard right now.)
However, if you like co-op play and first-person shooters, the Xbox is the way to go. The online community is huge. You do have to navigate around jackass young men, but you will never want for people to play with or against. You have lots of movie watching options, and there is a veritable crapton of downloadable content that ranges from OK to amazing.
The Xbox has the most games available in store, but the majority of them are war games, sports games or driving games. It has the fewest family friendly options, IMO, and not a whole lot for us RPG-ers (at least, not a whole lot that isn’t available on PS3 or Wii as well).
- Pros – better online play, huge online community, lots of games – both downloadable and in-store, lots of sports games and 1st person shooters
- Cons – Monthly subscription for online play, buggy, money-sink, lots of sports games and 1st person shooters
Like I said at the beginning, these are my opinions and experiences. If you have something to add, or if you disagree completely with something I’ve said, please say so in the comments. I’m not an expert, I’m just a gamer.
*Prices reflect the console only. Each has a plethora of add-ons available. It’s a good idea to go to an actual video game store and ask an employee if there is anything they recommend buying with the console like memory cards or extra controllers.