By Jared Newman | Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 8:56 am
I’ll talk about video games to anyone who can stand to listen, but I’m always surprised when someone asks me which of the three current home consoles is the best. Choosing a video game system isn’t about superiority — sorry fanboys — it’s about having fun with your $300 to $500 investment instead of using it as a dust magnet. With Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all cutting prices, it’s a pretty good time to talk about buying a Playstation 3, an Xbox 360 or a Wii. And now that I’ve got all three in my living room, I feel pretty comfortable helping you through it.
For the sake of getting everyone up to speed, let’s start with an overview of each system.
For $300, you get a console with a 120 GB hard drive, built-in Blu-ray, one controller and USB plug for charging, standard-definition cables, built-in wireless and free access to the Playstation Network.
Notable games you won’t find on other consoles include Resistance 1 and 2, LittleBigPlanet, Gran Turismo 5 (due next year), Metal Gear Solid 4, Killzone 2 and Infamous. But the killer apps are the two Uncharted games, which take the player on treasure-hunting adventures akin to those of Indiana Jones.
You’re looking at about $90 in extra costs for a second controller, an unofficial HDMI cable and third-party Bluetooth headset.
$200 gets you the console with a 512 MB flash drive, one Wii Remote and attachable Nunchuck running on two AA batteries, standard-definition cables, built-in wireless and free access to online services.
Wii Sports, arguably the most popular Wii game available, is bundled. Nintendo’s long-running franchises otherwise rule the console, including Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros. Wii and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Wii Sports Resort, for $60, is like the original but with an accuracy-boosting MotionPlus attachment, and the Wii Fit with Balance Board, for $90, will give you the illusion of exercise for a couple weeks before you get bored and put it away forever.
An extra Wii Remote costs $40, a Nunchuk costs $20 and additional MotionPlus units cost $20. Any SD card will boost your storage capacity.
The Elite model costs $300 and includes a 120 GB hard drive, a built-in DVD player, one controller running on two AA batteries, standard-definition cables, access to online purchases and a wired headset. There’s also a stripped down $200 Arcade model, which I don’t recommend.
The Xbox 360’s hallmark franchises are Halo and Gears of War, but the console has a stable of other impressive exclusives, such as Left 4 Dead, Mass Effect, Fable 2, Forza Motorsport 3 and Dead Rising.
Without online play, your extra costs will be about $90 for a second controller, an extra battery pack, a play-and-charge kit and a cheap HDMI cable. To play games online, you’ll need a $50 per year subscription to Xbox Live Gold and either a wired Internet connection or an $80 wireless adapter.
The Wii is cheaper, smaller and less technologically advanced than either the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3, but its family-friendly approach and use of motion and pointer-based controls captured the hearts of people who haven’t touched a video game in years, if ever. Meanwhile, so-called hardcore gamers scoff and point out that the novelty of motion controls eventually fades, at which point the Wii becomes a worthless gimmick.
Regardless of which camp you’re in, the Wii is best as a party console. With enough friends around, you’ll come back to Wii Sports time and again, occasionally branching out to Wii Sports Resort, Mario Kart Wii or New Super Mario Bros. Wii. That said, you’ll actually need to think about your social or family situation when considering this console. Do you have young children? Do your friends frequently wind up at your apartment before or after a night of boozing? If the answer to either question is “yes,” you’ll get lots of use from the Wii. If the party’s often happening elsewhere, consider a different console.
It Won’t Keep You Up All Night
Sure, there are some games that will demand your solitude, such as Super Mario Galaxy or Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, but the next time a blockbuster game like Modern Warfare 2 comes around, and you realize the Wii doesn’t have it, you’ll be disappointed. Games that attempt to feel like current-generation experiences often come off as consolation prices. They just don’t compare to the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3.
Also, online multiplayer on the Wii is practically worthless. Rare is the game that includes online play, and setting up a match with friends involves exchanging long, alphanumeric codes by phone or e-mail. Once that’s done, there’s no voice communication in most games (and you likely won’t spring for a headset anyway), so you might as well be playing Super Smash Bros. Brawl or Mario Kart Wii alone. Do not buy the Wii with any expectation of online play, because it’s very low on Nintendo’s priority list. On the other hand, the Wii is the only console that truly cherishes playing with friends in the same room.
Onwards, to considering a high-definition console.