Making sense of the new game consoles: Part 1

Are you on the fence about buying one of the new video game consoles on the market right now? Having a hard time deciding which is right for your family? We’re here to help!

There are three major game consoles on the market right now, each one replacing a similar console from the same company. The Nintendo Wii U replaced that company’s Wii console in late 2012. Sony released the PlayStation 4 system in November 2013 to succeed that firm’s previous PlayStation 3, and Microsoft released the Xbox One a week later, superseding their Xbox 360 console.

There are many factors to consider when deciding which one might be right for you, so I will break it down by the most common things interested buyers care about. Today, let’s compare games, costs, and online game play. Tomorrow I’ll give you the run down on the multimedia capabilities of each and some of the “intangibles”—smaller differences that may or may not be important to you, but could influence your final decision.

Image: Flickr— Jason Dean

Image: Flickr— Jason Dean


It’s a video game machine after all, so the primary concern should be whether it has the games you and your family will enjoy playing.

Wii U
This is an area where the Wii U struggles a little in comparison to its counterparts, at least when it comes to mainstream games. Big-name releases like Madden NFL, Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and other major franchises are not usually developed for the Wii U. Cross-platform games for a younger or family-friendly audience do usually come out for the Wii U, such as Skylanders, Disney Infinity, and the LEGO games. What you will get on the Wii U that you will not find anywhere else is the games in the Nintendo-owned franchises like Super Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and others. If you want to play Super Smash Brothers or Mario Kart, this is your only console of choice.

PlayStation 4
This console, along with the Xbox One, will get most—if not all—of the cross-platform major releases such as the aforementioned Madden NFL, Call of Duty, etc. Sony has some notable platform-exclusives however, such as the Uncharted series, Killzone, Infamous, Driveclub, Gran Turismo (which has been hinted at for the PS4, but no release date has been announced) and one of the best games of the last few years, The Last of Us.

Xbox One
Like the PS4, the Xbox One will get many of the same major cross-platform franchises. Some of the key exclusives on the Xbox One are: The Forza Motorsport franchise, which is recognized by many as the best racing game franchise on any console; the Halo series, one of the better first-person shooters and a favorite of online multiplayer fans; and a new series called Sunset Overdrive. Sunset Overdrive is a zombie apocalypse game, which while not really appropriate for anyone under the age of 17 (it is rated M by the ESRB, the Entertainment Software Ratings Board), is very colorful, humorous, action-packed, and reminds this author very much of playing a teenager’s Red Bull-fueled fever dream.

Occasionally there are promotions for a cross-platform game that might entice you to purchase it for one platform over another, but that’s generally not enough of a consideration to get one console over another, given all other considerations.

I should also mention that all three of these consoles have a very extensive list of old classics and “indie” games that can be purchased and downloaded via their respective online storefronts. Before purchasing any of them I would encourage you to peruse their offerings to see if anything might interest you from these areas.

Image: Flickr—401(K) 2012

Image: Flickr—401(K) 2012


Obviously something on most shoppers’ minds is, “How much does this thing cost, and how much will it cost me going forward?” Let’s take a look:

Wii U
The base console with one of its unique GamePad controllers (more on that in a moment) retails for $299.99, and typically comes with one or more games. Additional GamePad controllers are available, but they are very pricey and also incredibly hard to find. Luckily, you only really need one with each system because each additional player in a multiplayer game can use either the Wii U Pro controller (MSRP $49.99) or you can also use legacy Wii controllers if you happen to still have some. If not, the Wii controllers are still available in most retail outlets. The GamePad and Pro controllers use rechargeable batteries that are included, so there is no additional cost to consider. Games for the Wii U typically retail for $49.99.

PlayStation 4
The PS4 console retails for $399.99 and comes with one controller, the very-well designed DualShock 4. Extra DualShock 4 controllers retail for $59.99. There is a camera/webcam accessory for the PS4 that retails for an additional $59.99, but there is currently not much use for it. Very few games use the camera and and Sony’s implementation of the accessory is half-baked at present. Games for the PS4 typically retail for $59.99. The PS4 can regularly be found with a bundled game or two, and sometimes you can find deals that also include an extra controller, so be sure to shop around. The DualShock 4 controller uses rechargeable batteries, so there is no additional cost to keep the controllers powered.

Xbox One
The Xbox One comes in two flavors: with and without the Kinect camera. The console without the Kinect accessory retails for $399.99, while the model with the Kinect is $499.99. You can buy the Kinect separately from the Xbox One console at a later date if you opt out of it initially, but it retails for $149.99, so if you think you may want the Kinect (more on why you might want it later), you save yourself $50 by buying it with the console. Extra Xbox One controllers are $59.99 each, while games retail for the same amount. As with the PS4, the Xbox One can regularly be found bundled with one or two games, and also occasionally with an extra controller as well. The Xbox One controller uses standard AA batteries, or you can buy rechargeable battery kits of various types, so there is an extra cost to keep the controllers powered either way.


Online Gameplay

Many people these days enjoy playing all types of games online, and all three of these consoles are designed for it out of the box. However, there are some things to consider for each.

Wii U
The Wii U console uses the Nintendo Network to allow players to connect with each other for gameplay (and chatting and messaging), and multimedia streaming of content. There is no additional cost to use the Nintendo Network.

PlayStation 4
The PS4 uses the PlayStation Network for access to all multimedia functionality, purchasing games and add-on content (via the PlayStation Store), and for online gameplay. The online gameplay, however, is different on the PS4 than previous PlayStation systems— you now need to purchase a subscription to their PlayStation Plus service if you want to play online. PS Plus retails for $49.99 per year, but Sony softens the blow by providing subscribers with free games each month, which you can keep and play as much as you like so long as you stay a subscriber. Having the PS Plus subscription also gets you extras such as online game-save backup and other occasional promotions such as early access to a game or beta. As long as one user on the console has a subscription to PS Plus, all users of that console can play online.

One additional feature that some may find enticing about the PS4 is they now have a service included for free with PS Plus called Share Play. Share Play lets a friend on another PS4 actually take over the gameplay (with permission, of course) of the first user’s system for up to an hour at a time, and the second user does not need to own their own copy of the game. While the second player has control, the primary user can still observe the second player and they can chat during the whole session, hence the Share Play name.

Xbox One
Like the other two consoles, access to everything online on the Xbox One is through their proprietary service, in this case called Xbox Live. Messaging, chatting, media content streaming, game and add-on purchasing, and online gameplay all are part of the package, but just as with the PS4, you can only play online if you buy a subscription. In this case, you pay for Xbox Live Gold, which retails for $59.99 (but can regularly be found for significantly less.) Just like Sony, Microsoft sweetens the deal by giving you games each month for free, but also just like Sony you have to maintain your subscription to continue to play them. Similar to the PS4, if the primary user of the Xbox One has an Xbox Live Gold subscription, then all users of the console can also play online.

That’s enough to fill up your brain today. Tomorrow I’ll fill you in on the differences in the multimedia capabilities of these consoles, and some other factors to consider.

About Eric Lohrentz

Eric Lohrentz has been geeking out on all things technology for most of his life, and has worked as a technology professional for over 20 years. When he is not working, he likes to play video games, tinker with new technology, and occasionally get outside to play golf or go for a bike ride with his lovely wife and kids. Eric considers himself an ambassador of technology and is always willing to answer a question regarding new and emerging tech.

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