Game Console Buying Guide 2009: How to Choose Wisely

By  |  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.

Sony’s Playstation 3

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.

Nintendo’s Wii

$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.

Microsoft’s Xbox 360

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.

Should You Buy a Wii?

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.



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16 Comments For This Post

  1. Lazlo St. Pierre Says:

    If I was buying a console today, I’d get a PS3, but when I was buying a few years ago I got an Xbox 360, simply because the PS3 wasn’t out yet and the expected price of €600 was simply too much to pay for a console.

    However, some of the games that I have enjoyed the most on the 360 – GTAIV, Fallout 3, The Orange Box, BioShock, Batman: Arkham Asylum – are available on both consoles and the PS3 just seems to pack in more extras like Blu-Ray and built-in WiFi, so I’d go for it today if I was getting one. Exclusives like Halo, Gears of War, Gran Turismo, Uncharted and others for either console wouldn’t be deal breakers for me.

  2. Jake Says:

    I think you should add a paragraph about multiplatform game availability. You mention the unique titles available for each platform, but people who’ve seen the ads for games like Borderlands, Assassin’s Creed, and COD:Modern Warfare II might be wondering which console they need to get to be able to play those. (Answer, of course, is either non-Wii one.)

  3. Matthew Says:

    Nintendo really dropped the ball when it comes to the online experience. The first sign of this was the lack of an ethernet jack. They couldn’t have expected gamers to do serious gaming over wifi.

    The goal of MS/Sony is to sit one of their boxes in every home in America and sell, sell, sell that space. Nintendo has managed to accomplish this, but they are not selling the space. Where is Netflix Wii? Where are the Roku-like features?

    The classic Nintendo fun has not died for me, but I can see why Nintendo isn’t getting as much hype lately. They started the race strong, but they didn’t have enough left in them to sprint for the finish line.

  4. Backlin Says:

    This info might be a bit technical, but Blu-Ray has “profiles” that get updated, and the PS3 firmware updates may make these new features accessible. Another reason that the PS3, or any player that can update itself, are of the best to choose from. Here’s a CNET article that explains profiles: .

    This is also a very well-balanced and multi-sided article. Five stars!

  5. Marc Says:

    For me, the deciding factor is what my friends have. Being able to play online with them, and swap games is vital.

    I also don’t see the Wii as an alternative to the PS3 or Xbox 360. You either want a Wii, or you want a ‘serious’ console. They’re for different markets in my opinion, my Grandma on the one hand, and my 16 year old brother on the other. The 360 Arcade is trying to get into Wii’s territory but it doesn’t have the games yet, maybe Project Natal will change things.

    The PS3 suffers from poor online play, which seems like it was tacked on at the end – whereas with the 360 online play and contacts and built into it, along with Windows Live integration. Microsoft haven’t fully realised its potential yet – you can’t have a voice chat between a PC and an Xbox, and some sort of cloud backup of saved games to Live Mesh would be nice.

    Then there’s that fact that at the moment, many games are written for the PC or Xbox 360, and then later ported to the PS3. This means PS3 owners often get an inferior product months after other console owners. Microsoft started out making developer tools, it has developers in its blood, and so the 360 has great development tools available to it.

    So based on that I went for the 360. I say that as a dedicated PS1 and PS2 fan, although I admit my last Nintendo console was the SNES 🙂

  6. L1A Says:

    that’s easy: ps3
    xbox 360 will last 3 months before it breaks and wii has no games or storage.

  7. ediedi Says:

    Now, I’d go with the PS3. When I got my X630 , the PS3 was much more expensive. However, I do not regret it. My X360 is still going strong, and no problems for me.

    PS. as a ‘hardcore gamer’, I am glad that some of my friends got the wii, wii-parties do have their appeal.

  8. ReynaldoRiv Says:

    PS3 motion control isn’t derivative of the Wii. If anything, Nintendo Copied Sony’s tech demos from over a decade ago!

    Also A controller will always be better for motion controls since you can not only have motion sensing, but you can also input commands.

    Natal looks very very weak in comparison.

  9. bodne Says:

    No fan boy crap… hu. sticking with game cube, Nintendo. don’t care for online play. want ps3 for Christmas please.

    sorry y’all i had to try that 5 word thing.

  10. Charles Forsythe Says:

    Good article, but I would put Little Big Planet in the “Killer App” category for the PS/3.

  11. Mike Says:

    @ Marc : Not really sure where you got your info on your porting claims. PS3 gets all the worthwhile multiplat games at the same time as the 360, the one exception I can think of is Bioshock.

    Not really sure what you’re basing your claims about PSN’s online service on, either. PSN is a great service and I have no complaints about it.

    I never have any problem playing online, and since online is a huge part of games like Killzone 2, Little Big Planet and Uncharted 2 among many, many others, I’m not really sure why you’d think it “seems tacked on.” Quite the contrary, it’s robust and intuitive.

    O and it’s free of charge, which is a HUGE plus for working parents such as myself. XBL Gold subscribers who bought their 360s at launch have to date paid $200.00 just for the privilege of using their console’s online capability.

    Now, I’m not trying to paint the 360 or XBL in a negative tone, rather I’d just like to set the record straight in light of Marc’s incorrect assessment of the PS3 multiplat games and online experience.

    And as an aside, I’m skeptical about “Motion Control” for the PS3 and 360. Maybe it’s just me but I like to sit back and relax while I play games. The whole “Motion Control” thing is just a lame gimmick to me.

  12. JasonOB Says:

    I currently have an Xbox360 which was bought before I had children with the aim of playing the likes of COD online. Now, with two young children, I don’t have the time for any of that! To be honest, now that the boys want to play games too, I wish we had a Wii as I think that is a better ‘family’ console.

  13. Robert Leax Says:

    I have all 3… The Wii is great for the family, the 360 is great for games (more games are in 1080p for 360 than for ps3) and playing online. My ps3 sits and collects dust (I did use it for blue-ray but wont buy blue ray because it does not play in all my other dvd players). Im even thinking about trading the ps3 in for another 360 so my son and I can play COD MW2 together. But I sold my ps2 so my wifes collection of karaoke games will be useless. Well who cares! Anyone wants to buy a 60g ps3???

  14. blair Says:

    oviously, the ps3 is sweet dudes. Its awesome and fun games like modern warfare2, grandtheftauto and arkham asylum. so don’t be a dumb and get the ps3.
    [idiots who like xbox and wii}

  15. stories Says:

    wow. this is just what i need thanks!

  16. Luv Gaming Console Says:

    Great information guys. I agree with quite a gfew of you that the Wii is really a fantastic family/friends gaming console. Especially after a bit of partying we can all hang loose. But I have the Xbox360 for my serious gaming and specially with the Blueray games you can't beat the visual and sound quality.