Will you choose between graphics and features, or innovation and gameplay, in the new generation of video game consoles?

photo by Lindsey Gooding

photo by Lindsey Gooding

Video games have changed a lot over the years. Buying a system is no longer as simple as going down to the local toy store and picking up a Nintendo Entertainment System to play “Super Mario Bros.” Even when the video game industry evolved to include a full-blown competition between the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, all potential console owners really had to decide on was whether they preferred the high speed thrills of “Sonic The Hedgehog” or the slower paced adventures of “Super Mario World.”

Now that video games have become an entertainment behemoth comparable to the movie and music industries, there is much more to consider when purchasing a next-generation game console. Which system has the best peripheral uses for your needs? Which system has the best online features? Which system is the best value price-wise? All of these questions and more are answered in this video game system buyer’s guide.

Unique Qualities

The first thing to consider when deciding on purchasing a video game console is whether the system’s unique abilities are appealing to you. The console with the most unique additions is the Nintendo Wii. The main feature of the Wii that separates it from its competition is its motion and depth sensitive controller, which is visually reminiscent of a standard television remote control. Through its unique capabilities, players will be able to use the controller to do everything from swinging a baseball bat in real-time to performing surgery. A mini-game in “Wario Ware: Smooth Moves” even has players holding the contraption at the waist in order to perform the hula.

While Nintendo provides a new way for people to play games, Sony has added features that expand the multimedia capabilities of the game system. The Playstation 3 includes a built-in Blu-ray disc player. In addition, the standard Playstation controller has swapped its rumble feature for a motion sensor. Though much more limited than the Wii controller, the Playstation 3 controller, nicknamed Sixaxis, will allow for basic movements in games that are compatible with the motion sensitive abilities.

Microsoft has taken a slightly more conservative approach with its unique features. The aspect that has proven most successful is the gamer score system. Every game published for the X-Box 360 is required to have challenges for the player to complete. These challenges can be anything from winning a certain amount of online matches to finding a secret location inside the single player game. The player’s accumulated gamer score is viewable by any player online, so there is incentive to increase the score to impress others.

Available Games

Microsoft’s second home video game console, the X-Box 360, was the first system to be released this generation, therefore it has gained a year head-start on Sony and Nintendo which has paid off in the sense that the library of available games is already decently sized. Also, games like the Sci-Fi action thriller “Gears of War” have shown that the X-Box 360 is in its second generation of game quality, while Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii have barely entered their first.

Unfortunately for the X-Box 360, it is the worst-off when it comes to backward compatibility with the previous console generation. Since it relies on a form of emulation to play X-Box games, only about half of the X-Box library is playable. Nintendo Wii is able to play all Nintendo Gamecube games, and the Playstation 3 has the ability to play nearly all Playstation and Playstation 2 games as well.

All of the systems also allow owners to buy shorter games via their respective online communities. The system that has old-school gamers most excited is the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console, which will provide games from the NES, SNES, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis and the Turbo-Grafx 16. These games will range in price from $5 to $10.

Price and Value

The topic of which game system gives you more for your money is the biggest factor in this generation’s console war. Nintendo is taking a cheaper approach with the Wii. Since the system is less powerful than its competitors, it was able to be released at a much lower price. For only $249, buyers will get the system as well as the game “Wii Sports,” which is one of the more anticipated titles for the system.

However, if you are looking for a more multimedia-friendly system, you will be disappointed by the Wii.

The Playstation 3 is the most expensive of the three systems. However, it is likely the best deal. The system launched at $499 for the core version and $599 for the premium package. Both versions allow owners to watch movies on Blu-ray discs, but the $599 version comes with a 60GB hard drive while the $499 version comes with a 20GB drive. Currently, Blu-ray players bottom out at around $1,000, so for about $400 less, consumers can purchase the PS3 and have both a Blu-ray player and a state-of-the-art game system.

The X-Box 360 lands somewhere in the middle of the Wii and Playstation 3 in terms of price and value. At $399, the premium package is significantly cheaper than the Playstation 3 (though a $299 Core Pack is available, it is not recommended as it does not come with many of the things that make the system special, such as the hard drive or cordless controllers), however it does not come equipped with a new format movie player. It does have many multimedia capabilities typically found on a PC.

Who Should Buy What?

Microsoft X-Box 360 will be appealing to the more competitive gamer. Multiplayer games, the comprehensive online presence and the incentive of the gamer score system all combine to make this the system for the more hardcore gamer. It is also the system to buy if you want a significant technological leap but are unable to afford the pricey Playstation 3.

Nintendo Wii will appeal to two major groups. The first is the longtime Nintendo fan. Not only is this the only system where gamers can play the new Zelda or Mario games, it also includes an extensive back catalog of games from Nintendo’s extensive history. Nostalgia is sure to be a factor for many Wii purchasers. The other group includes those gamers tiring of the same old gaming conventions and are looking for something new. The touch-based Nintendo DS has proven that this group of people is large enough to make a system successful.

Sony Playstation 3 is sure to appeal to the more tech savvy among gamers. The system is the most powerful of the three, and, as long as money is not a concern, is really the best deal of the group. The Blu-ray player is sure to entice movie buffs, as it is the cheapest option for such a player.

Yesel Manrique swings the Wii remote while playing a vigorous game of Wii Sports. The Wii features a wireless, motion-enabled remote. / photo by Lindsey Gooding

Yesel Manrique swings the Wii remote while playing a vigorous game of Wii Sports. The Wii features a wireless, motion-enabled remote. / photo by Lindsey Gooding