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Which new game console should you buy?


By the editors

(IDG) -- Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony are about to butt their collective heads in the biggest video-game playoff ever. The editors -- Dr. Zombie, Major Mike, Air Hendrix, Dan Elektro, Star Dingo, Four-Eyed Dragon, Brother Buzz, Tokyo Drifter and Bad Hare -- offer their personal picks for the system that will become king of the next-generation gaming consoles.

Dr. Zombie's advice

My answer to anyone who asks which game system to buy -- PS2, Xbox or GameCube -- is always met with a question of my own: "What games do you like to play?" Once they answer that question, then I'm more than willing to make recommendations as to which game system they should purchase.

Just because System A has more graphic powers than System B means absolutely squat when you can't play the games that you want to play. Fortunately, many of the top tier titles are coming out for all game systems (ie. Madden NFL, SSX Tricky, Tony Hawk, etc.) but that's a still a select few.

If you are interested specifically in online gaming, and you want to log on today to play someone across the country, then your best choice (and best bargain) is to buy a Dreamcast system at its super-reduced pricing and low-priced game titles. All the other game systems promises online capability in the future, but that's the key word... the "future." If you want to get online today, there's still only one console choice.

If you're interested in high-quality sports games, then I'd recommend the PlayStation 2, as they have the largest library of sports titles available (including all PlayStation/PS one games). From this large wealth of titles will most certainly be something to satisfy your sports craving. Sure, there's going to be NFL Fever 2002 at launch for the Xbox, but that's about it. What about basketball? Baseball? Soccer? It's all about immediate gratification these days, and what's the point about buying a game system that you can't play games on?

If you're looking for sheer magnitude of games to play, then the PlayStation 2 is the obvious choice. With the current library of PS2 games and the 5-years-plus library of original PlayStation games, you have the largest selection of gaming available for any system in the history of console gaming. So what if the PS2's graphic processor and CPU Mhz doesn't match the GameCube and Xbox? At least you've got the games. Frankly, the difference in graphics and processing speeds are not that discernible unless you are a total techfreak.

If you already have a PS2, then which new system should you purchase? That's the tougher question. Are you willing to take a risk on a brand-new, unproven game system (Xbox) with a large variety of unproven game titles (Amped, Fuzion Frenzy, Halo, etc.) or do you choose the granddaddy of video gaming and buy Nintendo's GameCube which promises a wealth of familiar names and faces (Luigi's Mansion, Wave Race Blue, Rogue Leader, etc.) but not as large an assortment of games? How important is it that you can play DVD's on this new game system since you can already play DVDs on your PS2? Game Cube's $100 price advantage over Xbox equates to 2 more games that you can purchase at launch over the Xbox. Then again, look at the games being offered. If you already have a PS2, you can experience SSX Tricky, Madden NFL 2002, and Tony Hawk on that system, so the Xbox versions would be rather redundant. However, you can't experience Luigi's Mansion, Wave Race Blue, and Rogue Leader anywhere but on the Game Cube. This zombie is in exactly this position already having a PS2 in my crypt, so I'll be wrapping my bony fingers around a Game Cube this holiday before I splurge for the more expensive Xbox. It's all a matter of choice, but after thinking out all the pro's and con's. Don't let hype dictate your spending or your gaming enjoyment. Control your video gaming, don't let the games control you. INFOCENTER
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Major Mike's advice

To me, it all comes down to two things: one, the games, and, two, the short term.

PlayStation 2: It's ready to clean house with "Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty" in November and "Final Fantasy X" in January. Gamers can be an impatient bunch and they often want games now rather than later, and you can't go wrong with the aforementioned heavy-hitters. However, Sony has some lofty promises to meet: Where's the online stuff? Where's the hard drive? Both items have been announced, but so far no firm date has been set for either product to hit the street.

Xbox: Third-party support is starting to forcefully appear, especially from Japanese companies like Konami with "Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams", Capcom's "Genma Onimusha", and, of course, Tecmo's "Dead or Alive 3". The launch has some good stuff lined-up, too, like Halo, Cel Damage and NFL Fever. Yet the controller is still cumbersome and very tough to get accustomed to.

GameCube: Let's face it, the Nintendo 64 thrived on first-party titles, and third-party support was lukewarm at best. However, the GameCube has much stronger third-party support, particularly the sweet acquisition of all future Resident Evil titles. Of course franchises such as Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and F-Zero don't hurt either, and if you're one of the lucky few who can snag a GameCube the day it's released (along with a copy of Luigi's Mansion), you're guaranteed immediate gratification and some sweet days of gaming.

Basically for the short term, the PlayStation 2 will be king, with the GameCube not far behind, and Xbox trailing third. However, with Microsoft's huge war chest, don't be surprised to see some exclusive acquisitions in the months ahead. After all, there was a rumor flying around that the big M was trying to buy Squaresoft for one billion dollars...

Air Hendrix's advice

For the first time, we might actually see three platforms survive. The PS2 has some undeniably great games, a good rep, and a serious foothold in the market. The GameCube seems like a lock because, well, it's Nintendo, and between their unrelenting quality and rabid fanboys, there's not much doubt. The dark horse is certainly the Xbox, and if not for Microsoft's deep pockets, it'd be easy to call it the Dreamcast 2. But outstanding games like Halo make the Xbox a serious contender. If I had pick to the most-likely-to-fail, it'd be the Xbox, but I think it has a real chance, and its fortunes rest on how much gotta-play-it software Microsoft delivers in the next year or so.

Dan Elektro's advice

I can't help but see this like any other consumer product showdown. Coke, Pepsi, and 7up; Ford, Chevy, and Toyota; Nike, Reebok, and Adidas. They all do the same thing really -- quench thirst, get you places, keep shards of broken glass out of your feet -- but it's the style with which they do it that makes you choose one over another. It's the same thing with this year's hardware situation. They all play games, but it's the style with which they do it that's going to make you go for one or another. But at the end of the day, ask yourself this: Do you drink Coke, Pepsi, or 7up because it's what your friends tell you to drink, or because it's what you personally enjoy drinking? Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft all have different approaches, and all three won't always appeal to everybody, but really, nothing matters but what appeals to you personally. When you trust yourself, there is no such thing as a "wrong" choice. In other words, don't believe the hype -- believe your eyes and your hands and your instincts when you play the games, then choose accordingly. Everything else is just noise.

On a more practical tack, the market is still pretty wide open for the long term, but this year is going to be Sony's at retail. That doesn't mean it's the best system, just the most prevalent. By sheer product volume alone, PS2 will probably sell the most this year -- building on the success of the original PlayStation and keeping its name, the PS2 has got the strongest brand identity (because Nintendo didn't call their console the N65), the most software available, and will have the most units physically manufactured. When some people can't find an Xbox or GameCube, they'll buy a PS2. That might not be you, but it is a vast segment of the mass-market consumer who is less concerned with brands and more concerned with just playing some cool games. That will factor in big for Sony, especially now that both of the other consoles have had their ship dates revised amid reports that neither company can make as many as they'd hoped (Xbox) or that retailers want (GameCube). So don't be surprised when Sony toots its own horn after the holiday shopping season -- they pretty much know that their one-year jump-start gives them this edge already.

Also, keep in mind that there won't be one clear "winner" in this situation for a good three years. Traditionally, every video game showdown has whittled down to just two competitors. Maybe this time it'll be different -- maybe the market has grown that much that three can compete and survive. If not, the first of this trio to blink and fall off the lead lap won't do so for at least another 24 months. That's two years at the minimum, during which you'll see exclusive games, several cross-platform ports, surprising alliances, price drop face-offs, and tons of other exciting but confusing events. Be ready for it... just keep an open mind and then make it up yourself.

Star Dingo's advice

What a difference fourteen days makes.

If you'd asked me two weeks ago, I would have said (1) PS2 takes the lead since it's already got a giant pile of must-play games with even more to come. Then I would have gone with (2) GameCube, because Nintendo's got way too many killer launch titles I just have to play. I mean, Star Wars... duh. Plus, they've got a whole stable of characters and games you simply will not ever ever see on any other system. They've got a lock on Zelda (and, by the way, I love the new PaRappa thang he's got goin' on), and games like Pikmin mean Nintendo is daring to be different these days. Then, trailing behind by quite a bit, I would have put (3) the Xbox. The controller stinks. The hardware's just too big. And, most importantly, they just don't have the games.

But that was two weeks ago.

Since then, I have spent more time with the Xbox, and realize that I find myself willing to commit unspeakable acts in order to play more Halo. Yup, Halo now sits at the very top of my MUST PLAY list, dethroning Star Wars and DOA3, which, sweet merciful crap, looks astonishing. Looking beyond the launch lineup, Sega's behind Microsoft more than they're behind Nintendo, and the promise of Shenmue II and -- eventually -- another Panzer Dragoon game (RPG or otherwise) nearly makes my head explode. And suddenly I'm not so sure any more. But ya know what? It's still personal. It's still just about the games I want to play, just like it's always been.

So now, two weeks later, I'd still say PS2 first. It's already got deep, deep roots, and I could not imagine life without playing FFX. I pre-ordered a GameCube the other day, but not an Xbox, but at least now I fully intend on getting an Xbox sometime after Christmas. My advice: If you don't have a PS2, get that. If you're near-sighted and like your satisfaction like your pudding -- instant -- go with the GameCube. Those with long-term sight will see the Xbox built-in hard drive and online support (which, by the way, is why it's so big), meaning games will actually USE those things, and suddenly the Xbox has long, long, legs.

Oh, this is too hard. Just go play outside or paint or something.

Four-Eyed Dragon's advice

This holiday season, we'll be witnessing an extraordinary event in the gaming world: Nintendo and Microsoft will be introducing their new game systems, while Sony preps for an unforgettable game lineup. Who will win? Who will be supreme? It sounds like an episode of the Iron Chef (Sony being the Iron Chef), but with two challengers instead of one -- letting consumers like you and me be judge. But what would be the main ingredient? If history serves us right, winners are usually created by their software and price.

PlayStation 2 will serve some mighty titles to go along with its already strong game library: Metal Gear Solid 2, Jak and Daxter, and NBA Live 2002 to name a few. So what if the PS2 will be the older of the next-gen systems -- the future of gaming can easily be represented on this solid system. Let's hope Sony lowers the price, though. Many people could be scared of Xbox's $299, too. But the Xbox also has a very sharp game lineup. Halo, Project Gotham, and the newest Oddworld look and play extremely well -- and these are just the first gen games for this system! The GameCube, however, is poised to take the crown. It's $199 price will give it the edge it needs, since its games are right on par with the PS2 and Xbox. Luigi's Mansion and Super Monkey Ball are examples of great gameplay and originality. As of now, there is no winner. Each system has, so far, shown it has the dedication to compete against each other without even a hint of giving up.

Brother Buzz's advice

Nintendo... what's happening at Nintendo? The Japanese GameCubes and the Japanese GameCube games so far show that the unit is a solid, well-designed games machine in keeping with the Nintendo tradition. The controller is absolutely cool and amazingly form-fitting to practically any hand.

Nintendo's club tours have also revealed strong third party titles especially Super Monkey Ball, Star Wars Rogue Squadron, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, Madden NFL 2002. Pikmin and Super Smash Bros. Melee show potential for the post-launch December time frame.

But from the small corner of the gaming world occupied by angry old video game editors, it's extremely strange that at this point just weeks before the GameCube's US launch, Nintendo of America has not made any of its games available for review nor have they revealed a plan for reviewing or previewing GameCube games.

Third party game companies are chomping at the bit to have their games reviewed in time for the holiday shopping season. The problem is that Nintendo has still not revealed how game mags are supposed to review them. No debug units (those special Game Cube systems that will play pre-release versions of games) have appeared. In fact, Nintendo hasn't even officially confirmed that debugs are indeed the plan for game reviewers. The impression is that no one this side of the Pacific knows what the plan is.

Thankfully, on-the-ball game developers have graciously allowed reviewers to use their debug units to review their games. However, in most cases, there only seem to be one or two debugs at each company. This lack of hardware for the people most important to system support, game developers, is disturbing. Can manufacturing of the new systems be on such tight inventory scrutiny that they can't spare the assembly line time to produce enough special debug units?

It's also extremely odd that Nintendo of America hasn't bothered to promote its own launch games, Luigi's Mansion and Wave Race, yet. NOA seems to be resolved to the fact that most game pubs have already bought Japanese GameCubes and Japanese versions of Nintendo games to carry them through to the launch.

Every impression is that Nintendo is just content to rest on its royal haunches. After all, if anything is to be learned from history, it's that if Nintendo builds it people will buy it (Virtual Boy excepted). So what do they have to worry about?

How about Microsoft and the Xbox?

The M squad has brought a lot of hype and a lot of excitement into the industry, and the jury's in: the Xbox is a powerful, honking piece of game equipment.

Even so, as everyone knows, this is Microsoft's first safari into video game land, so in a lot of ways they're learning stuff as they go.

They've nailed a lot of things right on, but they're just missing on a few others. For instance, the Xbox has got an 8-gig hard drive, an ethernet port, and an amazing Nvidia graphics processor, but there are some things about the unit that seem little but are consistently annoying. For example, there's no reset button so you have to literally switch the system on and off to reset your games; the controller button layout is too spread out; to some hands the controller feels too big; and you must purchase a special remote control to play DVDs.

Just the same, all's forgiven once you load up the impressive games from the first round of Xbox titles. Halo, Dead or Alive III, Cel Damage, NFL Fever 2002, Munch's Oddyssee, Project Gotham Racing, Madden NFL 2002 are all winners.

At this time, weeks prior to launch, game mag reviewers are enjoying the luxury of excess, courtesy of Microsoft. Unlike Nintendo, they've bent over backwards to help editors hit their deadlines. They've been busy hauling Xboxes all over the country with games loaded onto the hard drives for review.

And even as Microsoft has begun to back away from its blustery pronouncement that there'd be 600,000 to 800,000 units available at launch, it was interesting to note that an article in a recent issue of Wired Magazine about Microsoft's Xbox manufacturing partner, Flextronics, noted that at that time the assembly line was busy churning out debug units for software developers.

In fact, at GamePro recently an entire shipload of Xbox debug units showed up at the doorsteps one day unannounced... even though the Microsoft road crew was due in the next day with their games-loaded Xboxes! First-party software has been flowing into the editorial bullpen regularly but also unannounced and with nary a cover letter. Who knows who's sending this stuff? Who cares? We just hope they keep sending it. In fact, now there are several copies each of outstanding games like Halo and Dead or Alive III for the editorial crew to get to know and love. As far as coverage for Xbox software goes, the game is on!

Sometimes you have to wonder if at Microsoft's Xbox HQ the left hand is aware of what the right hand is doing, but it's all good so far and two hands are better than none.

Sony has been oddly quiet about this upcoming holiday season. Their biggest first party release will be the relatively unknown Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, which has the fact that it is the latest Naughty Dog creation going for it. They seem to be relying on third party hits-to-be like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 and Metal Gear Solid 2 and the sheer depth of their overall game library to carry them through the holidays... but that ain't bad at all.

Of course, everyone and their mothers are wondering if Sony's actually going to lower the pricetag on the PlayStation 2 (even though, for the record, Sony's categorically stated that no price reduction is planned for this holiday season). That could potentially stick it to Nintendo and Microsoft, especially among first-time games machine customers and gamers who've waited until now to purchase a next generation system, by making the PS2 an instant bargain.

Current PS2 can afford to wait out the storm and pick up a second game system any time next year, they should all be too busy playing the aforementioned Tony Hawk 3, Metal Gear Solid 2, and Jak and Daxter and the upcoming Final Fantasy X to worry about it. Who knows, prices could be better, too.

Buzz predicts: The big winner this holiday season will be Sony. Everyone knows you lose money selling hardware and make money selling software -- just ask Sega. This is a no brainer: Sony's got a commanding headstart on their installed base after a year's worth of hawking PlayStation2s to gamers. They're ready to rake in royalties from software sales. Nintendo and Microsoft have a lot of money-losing to do to catch up.

But until the holidays arrive here are a few words of wisdom: NBA 2K2 and Tennis 2K2 are great Dreamcast sports games.

Tokyo Drifter's advice

Seeing as most titles are going to be across all platforms, it comes down to exclusives and this is an area where Nintendo will win in the long run. Still, with so many last minute announcements and secret deals between developers it's hard to say who will have the best line up next Christmas. There's no doubt the PS2 wins for this holiday... if you include January. Final Fantasy X is HUGE and is going to sell systems like nothing before, even Gran Turismo 3. Nintendo and Microsoft have nothing close that can compete with it and so far Square has not hinted that the core franchise (not counting FF XI) will go to any other system.

Drifter's 2001 prediction:
The PS2 will sell in huge quantities after people have bought up the small allocations of GameCube and Xbox. Metal Gear Solid 2, Devil May Cry, Gran Turismo 3, Grand Theft Auto 3, Red Faction, Silent Hill2, Ico and many more make for a wealth of gaming.

Drifter's 2002 prediction:
GameCube keeps selling through the summer while Xbox and PS2 start to slow. Nintendo solidifies the number 2 slot and the software support ramps up big time. The wallet-friendly price and lack of distracting internet add-ons keeps focus on what Nintendo does best and consumers get a clear message. GameCube hits $150 - $100 late 2002 or early 2003 signaling the victory march to number one. It could happen... sort of.

Bad Hare's advice

Get a job, then get 'em all.


• Sony: New hues on PlayStation 2
October 14, 2001
• Microsoft delays Xbox one week
September 25, 2001
• Nintendo unveils Gamecube launch plans
August 24, 2001

• Sony Playstation
• Microsoft XBox
• Nintendo GameCube

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