Console Wars: The Saga Continues

Sizing up the video-game platforms

Console Wars: The Saga Continues
Illustration by Jason Stout

It's that time of year again. Time to put a price tag on your loved ones. Perhaps it's the spirit of the season, a drop in the price of the technologies used, or, most likely, a measured marketing ploy, but all three players in the ongoing video-game platform wars have lowered their prices in the past several months. True love is now in the $300 price range. As much as you don't want to believe it, a top-of-the-line gaming system is the new pony or bicycle.

Still the least expensive and putative victor of the platform wars, the Nintendo Wii has bucked its inferior processing power with exhausting cuteness and undeniably inviting playability. It helps that franchise titles (e.g., Mario, Super Smash Bros.) continue to impress. Not impressing, though, is almost every other game on the system. The glut of releases are largely half-baked and have little replayability. Even the touted fitness games are slowly garnering criticism for overblown expectations, but Wii Fit still burns more calories than any sit-and-shoot game. Young kids and casual gamers, who could care less about photorealistic blood spatter and frame rates, will likely love the Wii, but beware the teens who might want to obliterate zombies or race realistic-looking cars. The Wii doesn't do violence or realism.

Bottom line: $200 (system) + $60 (second Wii Remote/Nunchuk combo) = $260

The hardcore gamer in the family will settle for nothing less than the king of the shooters, Xbox 360. The fact that the Halo first-person shooter franchise is developed solely for this platform single-handedly makes it the default system for rabid online gaming. The Xbox's online content is unparalleled on any of the other systems, which makes the absence of wireless capabilities (standard on the Wii and PlayStation3) all the more noticeable. Additionally, online play will run you about $50 for a year's subscription to Xbox Live Gold, which also grants you access to streaming content from Netflix to your TV (with a Netflix membership), among other perks. The new, stripped-down Xbox 360 Arcade system, which lacks a built-in hard drive, might seem like a deal at $200, but if the current downloading trends continue, you will need that hard drive sooner than you think.

Bottom line: $250 (60 gigabyte system) + $50 (second controller) + $50 (one year of Xbox Live Gold) = $350

The big loser of the platform wars, the PlayStation3, has been waging a comeback thanks to its $100 price drop. With a Blu-ray player, free online gaming via the PlayStation Network, and recently acquired access to Netflix, it has a lot going for it. What it lacks is the smooth online controls of the Xbox – both the PlayStation Store and Netflix interfaces are in dire need of face-lifts. Hindsight also favors the PlayStation, knowing what we know about the infamous and almost inescapable technical problems of the Xbox. The PS3's position is a tricky one, with the Wii stealing the casual gamers that were the PS2's ticket to victory in the last round of system warring. Casual gamers are likely finding their Wii options limited and might be upgrading for racing games, Grand Theft Auto, Madden, and other perennial favorites. We'll see if Sony can capitalize on this newly acquired momentum.

Bottom line: $300 (120 gigabyte system) + $55 (second controller) = $355

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