As we collectively brace for the onslaught of the holiday season, some of you might be wondering how best to take advantage of your speedy internet and your vacation days. Or maybe you’re looking for some way to keep your child occupied while you desperately prepare for the arrival of relatives from out of town. Whatever your reason, video games are a great answer, offering the escapism and engagement of books with the added bonus of interactivity and pretty colors. Plus there’s some noteworthy mental benefits to be had, for those looking to recharge and leverage their gray matter.
Now when you’re talking video games, you’ve got a few choices to make. First things first, do you want to buy a dedicated console, or do you want to game on your computer? Both are great options, and both have their ups and downs. It’s worth noting, however, that most games for computers are going to require some pretty powerful hardware, necessitating either a purpose-built machine, or some pretty expensive upgrades. Either way, it’s a pricey option.
Video game consoles are often the cheaper option, and most of those on offer these days double as media centers, allowing you to stream Netflix (and other services) to your TV through your console.
So what’s out there? Well, there’s really only three big contenders in the console market: Xbox, Playstation, and Nintendo. Each of these consoles also has a sizable stack of exclusives; video games only available for that specific system. I’ll be linking to a list of exclusives for each console as we go along, but here’s a link to a handy tool for identifying what’s exclusive to what. Without further ado, the consoles.
Buying Options (Standalone price):
$399.99 – Xbox One
$499.99 – Xbox One X
$60 – Price for one year of Xbox Live Gold Edition (Required to play multiplayer games)
Xbox, Microsoft’s video game brand, currently sells two versions of their primary console: the Xbox One (image above) and the Xbox One X. The Xbox One was first released in November of 2013, while the newly released and upgraded Xbox One X hit shelves earlier this month.
Both versions of the console are characterized by a focus on entertainment, especially when it comes to built in media functionality. The newest version of the Xbox operating system offers a plethora of streaming apps, and the built-in media player can play almost any video stored on your wifi network.
Though it has received much less focus in Xbox marketing lately, the optional Kinect voice and motion control device still retains some noteworthy functionality, allowing users to control the console using voice commands and gestures. However, the Kinect has ultimately amounted to little more than a costly gimmick, and unless the idea of launching Netflix with your voice is worth the $100 price tag, skipping this accessory might be your best bet.
You might be noticing by this point that I’ve yet to really talk about games. That’s because when it comes down to it, the biggest differences between the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 lie in their operating systems, their multiplayer payment plans, and in the exclusives on offer. If you’re trying to pick between either of these options, take a look at the exclusives list and see what catches your eye. Read or watch a few reviews for the titles on offer, and make your choice based on that. The differences between the two consoles in terms of graphics are frankly minimal (though the Playstation 4 boasts slightly better image quality), so that’s what it comes down to.
It’s also worth noting that if you’re looking to play games with your friends online, it’ll cost you $60 a year. You get some additional benefits out of the deal, but it’s something to keep in mind.
Buying Options (Standalone price):
$299 – Playstation 4
$399 – Playstation 4 Pro
$399 – Playstation VR
$60 – Price for one year of Playstation Plus (Required to play multiplayer games)
The Playstation 4, owned by Sony, launched in November of 2013, with a focus on games. This might not seem unusual, given that we’re talking about gaming consoles, but Xbox’s emphasis on entertainment features gave Playstation a leg up. It didn’t hurt that the Playstation boasted slightly better graphics hardware, as well as a line-up of critically acclaimed exclusives.
The Playstation also launched its own brand of virtual reality headset in October of 2016. For the moment, there’s nothing all that impressive available for VR, but it’s something to keep your eye on for the future.
Setting aside games for the moment, the Playstation’s entertainment options are largely the same as those offered by Xbox. Both consoles can function as a DVD player, and both offer apps for the major streaming services.
When it comes down to it, the biggest lure for the Playstation are its exclusives and its price tag. The basic console beats out the Xbox by a full $100, and that’s pretty tough to argue with.
$299 – Nintendo Switch
Last but not least, the Nintendo Switch. This is a weird one, and the only console on this list that does nothing but play games. It’s a bit tough to explain how it works without a visual aid, so here’s a quick video:
Basically, the console has two modes. You can attach it to your TV and use it like any other console on the list. Or, you can slide a screen containing all necessary hardware out of the Switch, attach the two halves of the controller to the sides, and use it like a handheld console. The big draw here is that games run just as well in either mode, and progress is transferred between them.
You can also wirelessly attach up to eight controller halves (known as Joy-Con), allowing a large group to play together on the same console. That’s the Switch’s big draw right now: it’s the only console on the market right now that allows that many people to play games together.
When it comes to the games themselves, the Switch mainly plays host to Nintendo’s core properties: Mario and Zelda. However, the Switch has also attracted more mainstream development as well, and if current trends continue, the console may soon allow players access to the bulk of titles on the market.
The Switch has been billed as the family console, and its specifications and unique approach to design truly set it apart from the Playstation and the Xbox. It’s comparable to the Playstation 4 in price, so if you like what Nintendo has to offer, I’d give this one a go.
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