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Saturday, March 6, 2010

deciding which console to buy

I see a lot of message board postings where people ask if they should buy a particular gaming console, be it PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, DS, PSP-- whatever.

It should be obvious that a potential console buyer needs to ask themselves what games do they want from that console's catalogue: make a list of must-haves games and see if that list is large enough to justify your purchase of that console. Like people asking if they should buy a PSPgo: what they need to ask themselves is, "are there enough PSP games available on PSN to make it worth buying the console?"

This is not rocket science here. Like come on, have a little common sense.

(besides having an Atari 2600 I had as a kid!) I bought my first console, an Xbox in 2004. I didn't know anything about gaming consoles, but I had my sights set on a few games: It came with Fable & Crimson Skies-- 2 games that got good reviews. I knew I was going to get Halo 2. And I loved playing Star Wars: Battlefront. That's only 4 games I knew of at the time of purchase, but shortly after I got my Xbox console I learned of MechAssault & MechAssault 2:Lone Wolf, both of which quickly became some of my favourite games.... and in my opinion, Star Wars: Battlefront alone made the Xbox worth the purchase. I have a lot more Xbox games than those, and a few of them I really enjoyed.

I did my research and had some idea what I was getting into before buying an Xbox. But it's not always that simple.

In 2006, I was in desperate need of an MP3 player. But I wanted one that played video. In fact I had a specific list of feature sets that I needed: Flash memory, at least 4GB, dedicated volume controls, USB drag & drop (no software like iTunes needed), about credit-card sized... I was almost certain that I was going to get the Sandisk E200 series MP3 player.

Then I heard about the PSP.

I knew only a little about it, but researched it a lot. I learned what video codecs it could play... hell I even downloaded & installed PSP Video 9 before buying a PSP to see how well it worked. I researched the hardware to see if it fit my criteria like dedicated volume buttons... the only thing that completely blindsided me was the dead pixel issue: I only found out about it after having it happen to me (twice)

The PSP is clearly a gaming console: not exactly what I was looking for (and much bigger than the credit-card size I was aiming for) but by 2006 I knew videogames better, and Sony had such a good rep with its PS2. I looked at what PSP games I would be interested in if I bought a PSP: Twisted Metal: Head On looked great. Me & My Katamari was intriguing. Wipeout: Pure. I didn't have a big list, but the media functionality and the PlayStation brand had me hopeful that there'd be a big catalogue of games that some would surely interest me. After all, the PS2 had like 10 times the number of games in its catalogue than the Xbox.

So my decision to buy a PSP wasn't entirely based on a huge number of hit games right off the bat, but partly the media functionality and the promise of good games.

I later bought a Game Boy Micro, mostly because it was cheap. Again, I had little knowledge of the GBA catalogue, but I knew it was large so I hoped there'd be enough hits to make it worthwhile. But the console was cheap, so it was worth the gamble to me.

And when I bought a DS Lite, it came with one game that I was most interested in: Brain Age 2. But I also knew there was a MechAssault game, and a Star Trek game. Those 3 were my killer-apps, and again I knew the DS was popular so I assumed the games library was deep enough to sustain my purchase.

When I bought a Wii, Wii Sports was the killer-app for the system: that game alone was why I bought it. But I also assumed/hoped that the future would bring some innovative gaming... however I had little-to-no idea what those games might be.

And the PSPgo had the flimsiest of promises of all: SCEA implying that they'd be seriously beefing up the PSP PSN library. Of course those promises turned out to be largely untrue... I should know Sony better by now. But I did somewhat expect that, so it's not like I have anyone else to blame, or that I even regret buying it. I don't.

But it goes to show that since the Xbox, each of my following console purchases became shakier & shakier when it came to guaranteed, I-can-count-the-killer-apps-by-hand, games.

It's impossible to really know the hit library of a console I don't yet own. There's always going to be some guesswork & hoping that a future killer-app will come out for it. It just seems so much harder to see the hit games for a system nowadays, I'm not sure why.

Like the iPod Touch; I'm really getting interested in it as a media player and a game player. A lot of people crap on it for games, but some people really like it for gaming. And it has a HUGE library of games-- sure a lot of them may be junk but with so many games and growing, there must be some gems in there. But I can't know for sure.

So yeah, to wannabe console/handheld owners I'd always suggest making a list of games they want from that system and deciding that way. But there are other factors like media playback and unfamiliarity with a system I don't own that make it not that easy to really decide. Maybe I should be more strict and just pass up all consoles that don't have a solid "these are all the killer-apps for it" list. Maybe gaming overall isn't as good as it used to be. Maybe my expectations are too high. I don't know. It should be about the games, but it isn't always. Not for me.


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