As we enter the busiest month of the year for the video game industry, we can expect high-profile game releases, crowded retail stores and late homework assignments from gamers. Another sure bet is that Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony will each move more than a million consoles in November. Many college students have already taken the plunge, but for everybody looking to purchase their first next-generation console this holiday season, here are a few suggestions.
For our purposes, the major three systems will be judged on the basis of price, established game library, longevity and their appeal in a college environment.
Ranging from the $270 Arcade Pack to the $450 Elite version, you get what you pay for with the 360. Without a hard drive or wireless controller, the Arcade Pack should be avoided, but the $350 Pro version with a holiday bundle includes two games (Forza Motorsport 2 and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance) as well as a wireless controller and a 20GB hard drive, providing the best return on your investment.
Released a year before its competitors, the Xbox 360 easily has the largest, and arguably best, library of games. With huge console-exclusive hits like Halo 3, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Dead Rising and BioShock, and nearly unanimous third-party support with titles like Madden, Guitar Hero III, Call of Duty 4 and Rock Band, there is plenty to play. The current trend is to develop games initially for the 360 and then port them to the PS3, meaning that 360 games are out sooner and of higher quality.
The average console lifespan is five years, and the 360 is on its second. People looking to purchase a 360 this holiday probably won’t need to worry about Microsoft announcing the Xbox 720 anytime soon, but the console likely only has another three to four years left in it.
College Factor: A
On college campuses across America, five games reign supreme: Guitar Hero, Madden, Halo, Grand Theft Auto and Super Smash Bros. Sure, other games are popular, but they aren’t even in the same ballpark. Although Super Smash Bros is not available on the 360, the Halo series is exclusive to the platform. Frat houses also love EA Sports games, and Microsoft’s box is definitely the system for that.
Dropping the price to $400 for the new 40GB system and $500 for the 80GB version was a good call by Sony, though the consequent lack of backwards compatibility hurts the console’s value. If you have an HDTV, then you can raise the score an entire letter grade because it’s a fantastic price for a Blu-Ray player. However, seeing as how we’re all paying tuition at Northwestern University, I can’t imagine too many of us own high-end television sets in our dorm rooms.
The Playstation 3’s library is the system’s greatest weakness. Platform-exclusive games like Resistance: Fall of Man, Ratchet & Clank Future, Heavenly Sword, Motorstorm and Lair range from decently good to disappointingly mediocre. With Final Fantasy XIII and Metal Gear Solid 4 not being released until 2008 at the earliest, it’s no secret that the PS3 has yet to have its “killer app.” And of course, no backwards compatibility means fewer games to play. With few compelling exclusives and inferior multiplatform releases, the Playstation 3 hurts where it matters the most: the games.
Sony has made a big deal about “future-proofing” the PS3, and the system’s 10-year lifespan. While nobody usually believes this PR bullshit, the PS2 still receives ample support in its senior years. If Sony’s track record is any indication, they’ll be supporting the PS3 for a long time to come. However, if the PS3 fails to pick up some steam and start selling consoles, it isn’t out of the question for Sony to prematurely kill the console and get an early start on the PS4.
College Factor: B
Unlike the 360 or Wii, the Playstation 3 has few exclusives that have a large appeal to college crowds. Resistance may be a good game, but college students prefer the Halo and Call of Duty series. Most importantly, tell sports fans that the PS3’s version of Madden ‘08 has a significantly slower frame rate than the 360’s version, and then watch how fast Xbox 360s will sell.
At $250, you can’t complain much about the Wii’s price tag. However, the quirky Nintendo console is also the least feature-rich of the three. While the Xbox 360 can stream media from your computer and the PS3 can play Blu-Ray movies, the Wii can’t even play DVDs, a function the PS2 mastered seven years ago.
If you’ve never owned a video game console before, or are a 6-year-old girl, add a letter grade to this score. If you’ve been a fan of video games in the past, don’t feel bad—Nintendo just doesn’t care about you anymore. They’re more interested in targeting the casual market with “games” like Wii Fit or various mini-game collections. There are a few beacons of light for the Nintendo faithful, such as Super Paper Mario, Metroid Prime 3, Super Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which is coming out Feb. 10. However, most titles released are sloppy PS2 and PSP ports and mediocre casual games targeted at soccer moms and elementary school students. The only thing keeping the Wii’s library from a worse grade is the robust line-up of classic games on the Virtual Console.
Sure, it’s more popular than God, but the Wii’s technology is already dated. Hardly more powerful than its predecessor that came out six years ago, the Wii is technologically underwhelming. Also, Nintendo knows how to make a quick buck with hardware reiterations every few years (e.g. DS Lite, GBA SP). While I wouldn’t expect the Wii 2 to come out for several years, I would not be surprised to see a sexier, more feature-rich Wii released, or at least announced, by the end of next year.
College Factor: A-
While it may feature technologically inferior versions of Madden and Guitar Hero, nobody can deny the party potential of the Wii as the most social console of all time. All of those shitty mini-game collections become the life of the party once you get a large enough group of your drunken friends together. It even comes with Wii Sports, so everyone on your floor can instantly start having fun. The casual nature of the Wii appeals to a wider audience than any console since the original NES, so everybody can play instead of just hardcore gamers. Not to mention, there are people on this campus who still routinely play the last Smash Bros. game that came out six years ago, and the release of that little game Super Smash Bros. Brawl is not too far off.
By no means has this article solved your console purchase dilemma. All three consoles are different from one another, and what’s right for one person isn’t necessary right for everybody. However, by following these guidelines, you’ll have a better idea about what you’re purchasing come Black Friday. There are enough great games on each system to be thankful for regardless of whatever console you end up with at the end of the holiday season.