Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mainstream Power vs. Good Clean Fun: Which System to Buy?

Recently, my girlfriend and I collectively decided to take a step forward (sideways?) into the 21st century and buy a next-gen (current-gen?) system. Seeing as both of us are Apple users, and neither of us are fans of our hardware exploding or spontaneously turning red, we've narrowed down our choices to the Wii and the PlayStation 3. Obviously, like any sensible American consumer, we have our likes and dislikes and concerns for each choice, and we're currently deadlocked. So I thought maybe airing my thoughts in a public place might shed some light on the process, while also summarizing a popular debate in the gaming culture.

First, a little background, which I'm sure most everyone reading this already knows, but which I will include anyway, because I like hearing myself type:

The PlayStation 3 (PS3) was developed by Sony Computer Entertainment (SCEI), a wholly owned subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Sony Corporation. The system made its debut in 2006, and is the third incarnation of the company's popular console: PlayStation (1994) and PlayStation 2 (2000).

The Wii (Wii), Nintendo's latest console, came out the same year as the PS3 (2006 for those of you with bad short-term memories), and is currently outselling all its next-gen competitors. The fifth major console released by the former playing card manufacturer (following the NES, Super-NES, N64, GameCube), the Wii utilizes a motion-sensor/accelerometer in the controller for a revolutionary gaming mechanic.

Also, the sky is blue, a day is 24 hours long, and the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. Just some more background for people who are interested.

The first practical thing I want to look at when considering a new console is the available content. Because of the PS3's superior processing speed and the Wii's unique brand, we're talking about two distinct game selections. Without going too much in-depth, here are a few of the exclusive games for each system, ranked from least exciting (for me) to most exciting.

For the PS3:

- Grand Theft Auto IV: I actually played this game before, on a previous roommate's PS3, which is the only reason it's not ranked higher. I have gone through the two PS2 GTA's (Vice City & San Andreas) multiple times, so I would definitely consider picking up GTA IV to replay.
- Little Big Planet: Again, I've played this one in the same situation as GTA IV (so has my girlfriend), but it's so cute and fun. And customizable levels! That's not really my thing, but I'd probably learn if I had the game.
- Fallout/Elder Scrolls: I like games with RPG structure, progressing by leveling, and Liam Neeson, so these types of games are perfect for my sensibilities.
- MLB '10 The Show/MLB 2K10: I bought the PS2 version of "The Show,"and it's going to basically serve me as a 2010 MLB roster database. In terms of gameplay, (processor) size really does matter. Neither of these franchises are my favorite, but I can't go on playing MVP '05 for the rest of my gaming days.
- Batman: Arkham Asylum: I actually already own a PS3 copy of this game, but that's my sunk cost. I've completed it on friends' systems, but if I had the time, I would play this game through every week until the new one comes out.

For the Wii:

- Smash Bros. Brawl: One of my favorite games to play in a group, but I can't see myself spending much time on it on my own. Which means, seeing as all my friends already own it, I don't see any real reason to buy it for myself.
- Mario Kart Wii: See above: this is essentially a group game. Don't get me wrong, I like to race, and I like the old Mario Karts... but call me when there's an F-Zero Wii, and we'll get serious.
- Wii Fit: Gaming meets personal responsibility. If you're like me - interested in trying some rudimentary Yoga, but not at all interested in hanging out with other people who do rudimentary Yoga - then Wii Fit is the game to buy.
- New Super Mario Bros. Wii: I'm sensing a theme here: group oriented games. Note: if I end up purchasing this game and system, it will be the first ever Mario console game I've owned. And now you see why I don't refer to myself as a gamer...
- Legend of Zelda: Tentative Title: Ocarina was a masterpiece, Twilight Princess was ultimately engaging. WHAT'S NEXT!? I want to find out.

Merits and limitations to each. As far as replay value for past games, it's basically moot: I hear the new PS3's won't be able to play any of my old PS2 games, and I won't be able to jam any of my N64 cartridges into the Wii's disc slot... at least not in any functional way. So it looks like either way we'll live and die by new releases and downloadable content.

The second concern about a new system is financial. The PS3 ranges from $250 to $350, depending on the hard drive. Wireless controllers go for $55. There's currently a Wii bundle including a system, Wiimote, nunchuck, and both Wii Sports games for $200. $40 for an additional wiimote, $20 for a nunchuck.

They both stream Netflix online, but only the PS3 plays Blu-Ray discs. Not that we own any Blu-Rays. Or a TV on which the upgraded quality would make a difference (but that purchase is forthcoming as well). Because the technologies are tied together, it's not inconceivable that the decision whether or not to purchase a PS3 could be the deciding factor on whether to begin the transfer of our digital disc-related media. I guess that's what happens when Sony has a corner on the next wave of home video.

Come to think of it, the PS3 is the only system out of the two that plays DVDs. So with the Wii, we'd need another device to play DVDs - I'm thinking my old PS2...? Since the PS3 isn't backwards compatible anymore, I'll need to keep it around anyway to play LEGO Batman, the old Prince of Persia trilogy, and MVP Baseball '05. So that's not really an issue.

At the risk of undermining the entire debate, let me acknowledge the suggestion that we just buy both systems. Well, that's all well and good if you've got a steady job and have enough spare time while not working to play enough video games to merit such a commitment. I barely have enough time as it is to go to work, spend time with my friends and family, follow baseball, and write for my blogs, so there just doesn't seem like there's room in my life for TWO SYSTEMS. But if we every hit the big time, it's always an option.

So I guess the choice comes down to whether we want access to the newest, highest-tech gaming/viewing material out there or whether we want to invite our friends over and flail our arms about like lunatics. These are two great American pastimes, and I don't anticipate it being an easy decision to choose between the two.

As always, comments, questions, and feedback are welcome in the comments section.