How to Choose a Video Game Console

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Though buying a video game console may seem like an expensive purchase at first glance, it’s actually a great long-term entertainment solution for families. It’s an even better choice than ever, thanks to frequent price cuts and sales. But with so many systems to choose from, there are a few things to consider before buying a gaming system. Units currently on the market (e.g. the PlayStation 3, xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo DS/3DS and PlayStation Vita) offer a rich variety of content across multiple genres, including tons of educational and kid-friendly fare. Here’s what else you need to realize to successfully know how to buy a video game console.

There are lots of games for kids, but not everything is kid-friendly – Though video games are sometimes pigeonholed as a pastime for children, not all the software that’s for sale is appropriate for youngsters. Pay attention to the Electronics Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating on each game, and visit the ESRB’s website for detailed breakdowns of the potentially offensive content in each game. 

Most game consoles—including handheld game consoles, like the Nintendo 3DS and the PlayStation Vita—have parental controls that you can use to disallow children from playing games above a certain rating. With some parental control settings, you can also restrict the amount of time that your child is allowed to play. 

Some consoles sell add-on accessories that are ideal for family play—Microsoft’s Xbox 360 has a separate attachment called Kinect that allows you to play certain games using the motion of your whole body. It was engineered with families in mind, and there are lots of fun, kid-friendly games that utilize the accessory. You can buy the Kinect separately, though Microsoft also sells it as part of a bundle (a common industry practice which can provide cost savings when determining how to buy a video game console). 

The Wii is your cheapest console option, but has limited features – Nintendo found enormous success with its Wii console, thanks in no small part to the fact that the system is priced considerably lower than its direct competitors, the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 (approximately $100 to $150 cheaper, depending on where you shop). That’s definitely something to keep in mind if you’re on a budget, though there are certain departments where the Wii is a little lacking. Its online features aren’t as robust as its competitors’, it doesn’t support HD graphic displays, and third-party support for the system isn’t very strong (“third parties” refer to game developers that aren’t Nintendo itself). The Wii might not be the best choice for a savvy game player who craves gameplay variety and/or a strong online presence, but the system still has wonderful games in many of Nintendo’s best-known franchises, including Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Kirby, Donkey Kong, and Metroid. Tablet-powered successor the Wii U will also be out by year-end (it’s backwards compatible with Wii games), which may affect your purchasing decision as well.

Game purchases don’t stop at retail, and some consoles have stronger online markets than others – Buying a video game no longer means trudging through the elements to reach a game store—not exclusively, anyway. Modern game consoles also offer a plethora of downloadable games, including brand new titles and some previously-released retro fare for anyone who’s nostalgic for the “good ol’ days” of gaming. The Wii has the Wii Shop Channel; the PlayStation 3 has the PlayStation Network (PSN); and the Xbox 360 has Xbox Live Arcade (XBLA). Again, each online market has its strengths and weaknesses. XBLA and PSN are great for downloading original games, but if you want to play all those awesome NES, SNES, and Nintendo 64 games that were released in the past, you’ll have to go on the Wii Shop channel! 

Don’t forget, mobile phones and tablets have a lot of cheap, fun games – Finally, if you have a mobile phone, particularly an iPhone, at your disposal, you already have access to a huge library of cheap (and free!) games. Tablets like the iPad are also striving to compete directly with consoles, and a short search through online stores like the App Store will yield a selection of decently-priced, high-quality games. You may even find some reasons to skip the console race entirely.

For more advice on buying a game console, visit:

So Many Game Consoles: Which to Buy? at PC World

Parents, Take Control of Your Game Console at Tucson Citizen  

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About author

Nadia Oxford

Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com's Guide to the Nintendo DS.

View all posts by Nadia Oxford

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