How To Decide Which Video Game System Is Right for Your Family

Posted by | December 18, 2014 | PlayStation 4, Tips for Parents | No Comments
Xbox controller gamingphoto credit: Marco Arment via photopin cc

If you’re thinking about buying a video game system, what are your best choices this year? It’s hard to say; there are so many good systems! But we’re going to go out on a limb here and say for most family gamers, we think it boils down to eight choices (in alphabetical order): a computer, the Nintendo Wii U, the Nintendo 3DS, the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation 4, the PlayStation Vita, the Xbox 360, and the Xbox One. Many gamers buy more than one system; some gamers buy them all.

One big caveat: these days, most games can be played online. And if you play console games online with people you know in real life, you may need to get the same system they have in order to play with them. Also, some games are exclusive to one system or another, so if you want to play that game, you have to buy that system.

Note: In this article, we’re not covering other devices like phones and tablets, which run tons of mobile games and apps.  However, if you have young children, you should consider the iPad because lots of popular games and apps (and even smart toys) for little ones run on it.

Computer

Made by: Dozens of companies, including Microsoft and Apple
Notable exclusive games: Massively multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft and League of Legends
Type: PC or Mac (mostly) running Windows, OS X, Linux, etc.
What else you need: Nothing
What else you might want: Accessories to connect controllers, headset with microphone
Price range: About $100 – $10,000+

Using your computer to game can be a bargain because you don’t have to buy a separate system and sometimes the games are free or cheap.  If you’re a retro or an arty type, there are tons of old games, casual games, and indie games available for download on Steam, or you can buy used games and get good deals from your local computer store or from online venues. If you’re a fan of online games, especially massively multiplayer online (MMO) games, a computer is sometimes your only choice. For instance, many popular massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft can be played only on computers.  Because computers usually don’t have big screens, they’re not always good for groups of gamers in a room together, but if you have a headset, computers are terrific for playing with people who are next door—or on the other side of the world. Computers aren’t usually so great when it comes to games that involve fancy or quick movements (like platformers), because standard keyboards aren’t set up for controlling those kind of games. But for some games you can buy adaptors that attach controllers to your computer. Then you can move faster and more accurately in-game.

GC Controller Adapter for PC

An accessory for connecting a controller to a computer.

You should know that not all computers are created equal. Some games require powerful processors or graphics cards in order to run properly. Make sure to check the processing requirements of the games you think you might be playing before you invest in a new computer.

Nintento Wii U

Made by: Nintendo
Notable exclusive games: The whole Mario series, the whole Legend of Zelda series
Type: Full-size console
What else you need: A TV with an HDMI port
What else you might want: Extra controllers, headset (for online gaming)
Price range: About $55 (used) – $450+ (when bundled with popular games)

The Nintendo Wii U went on the market a couple of years ago, and it hasn’t been one of the top-selling systems until recently. Why? Nintendo systems are all about Nintendo games. If you aren’t a fan of Mario, Zelda, and their kin, the Wii U is probably not for you. But for most families with kids at home, Nintendo has always been a solid choice because so many of the Nintendo games are rated E or E10+—and they’re about as family friendly as games get. There are lots of versions of the Wii (we made a whole post and chart about that), but the Wii U has a big advantage—its separate peripheral, the gamepad, can be used as a controller or as a handheld console. If you’re playing on the big screen and someone in your family wants to watch TV, you can keep playing your game on the gamepad.

Nintendo 3DS

Made by: Nintendo
Type: Handheld console
Notable exclusive games: Pokémon games and others listed here
What else you need: Nothing
What else you might want: Nothing
Price range: About $140 (used) – $200+ (including games)

The Nintendo 3DS is portable. That means you can take it in the car, to grandma’s house, to restaurants, on hiking trips, on airplanes, to the dentist’s office….did we mention it’s portable? It’s durable, too. And it has Pokémon. The 3DS runs lots of games that kids like. It’s cheaper than the big consoles and doesn’t need a television to function.

PlayStation 3

Made by: Sony
Type: Full-size console
Notable exclusive games: Some of the Gran Tourismo games, several of the Ratchet & Clank games, some of the Dark Souls series, God of War III, some of the Uncharted series, the LittleBigPlanet games, and others listed here
What else you need: A TV
What else you might want: A Move motion camera for motion games, extra controllers, a headset for online games
Price range: About $110 (used) – $500+ (with lots of storage and games included)

The PlayStation 3 is not the newest generation, but it’s still pretty great. Consider a PlayStation 3 if you’re looking for a powerful console system and a bargain. If you don’t need the latest and greatest graphics, PlayStation 3 offers a great choice of popular games, motion-based play as an option, reliability, and the chance to save some money. This console might not have the newest games available, but there are several popular games that are available only on the PlayStation 3 (see above). PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4,  and Vita owners also get access to the PlayStation Network, an online digital media network that enables you to download games and other content and take advantage of options like friends’ lists.

PlayStation 4

Made by: Sony
Type: Full-size console
Notable exclusive games: Infamous: Second Son and others listed here
What else you need: A TV with an HDMI port
What else you might want: A Move motion camera for motion games, extra controllers, a headset for online games
Price range: About $340 (used) – $550+ (special editions); list price for basic system is about $400

The PlayStation 4 is considerably more expensive than earlier consoles. But the graphics are amazing, and it’s more than a console—it’s an entertainment system that allows you to stream video content like Netflix. You can use it with the Move motion-capture camera or without it. Lots of popular games are available on the PlayStation 4. PlayStation 4 games aren’t backwards compatible with older PlayStation games, but PlayStation may offer backwards compatibility—for a price—in the future. PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3,  and Vita owners also get access to the PlayStation Network, an online digital media network that enables you to download games and other content and take advantage of options like friends’ lists.

PlayStation Vita

Made by: Sony
Type: Handheld console
What else you need: Nothing
Notable exclusive games: listed here
What else you might want: Nothing
Price range: About $150 (used) – $289+ (new and bundled with games)

This portable, handheld console is cheaper than its larger PlayStation counterparts, and it doesn’t need a television to function. Parents should note that the Vita doesn’t run many of the most popular kids’ games (like Nintendo does), but you can get a version of Minecraft and a game we love called Tearaway for the Vita. It’s also a great option for tweens and teens who like Japanese RPGs like the Persona series. PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3,  and (Wi-fi-enabled) Vita owners also get access to the PlayStation Network, an online digital media network that enables you to download games and other content and take advantage of options like friends’ lists.

Xbox 360

Made by: Microsoft
Type: Full-size console
Notable exclusive games: Some of the Halo games, some of the Gears of War Games, Dance Central, and others listed here
What else you need: A TV
What else you might want: Extra controllers, a headset for online games, a Kinect motion camera for motion games
Price range: About $100 (used) – $300+ (bundled with games and extra storage)

Like the PlayStation 3, this console is not the latest and greatest. But there are tons of popular games available for it, you can use it with the Kinect motion-capture device, and it’s a solid system that won’t cost as much as the newest system, the Xbox One. This console might not have the newest games available, though. Xbox 360 owners also get access to Xbox Live, an online digital media netork that enables you to download games and other content and take advantage of options like friends’ lists.

Xbox One

Made by: Microsoft
Type: Full-size console
Notable exclusive games: Halo: The Master Chief Collection and others listed here
What else you need: A TV with an HDMI port
What else you might want: Extra controllers, a headset for online games, a Kinect motion camera for motion games
Price range: About $300 (used) – $600+ (special editions with game bundles including the Kinect); list price for basic system without Kinect is $349

Like the PlayStation 4, this console has amazing graphics. And it’s way more than a console—it’s an entertainment system (you can use it to stream videos from Netflix and other services). Early versions of the system included the Kinect motion camera, but now you can buy it without a Kinect. However, it’s still among the most expensive systems. Popular games available only on the Xbox One include Halo: The Master Chief Collection; Sunset Overdrive; Dance Central Spotlight; and Project Spark, a game that allows you to make your own games. Xbox One owners also get access to Xbox Live, an online digital media netork that enables you to download games and other content and take advantage of options like friends’ lists.

A note about Minecraft

You can play Minecraft on just about any platform these days. See the chart below for more information.

Still Wondering? Ask Us.

Email admin@pixelkin.org and tell us how old your kids are, whether they have favorite games, whether you’re looking for something the whole family can play together, and how much you’re looking to spend. We’d be glad give you some recommendations!

Linda Breneman

About Linda Breneman

Linda learned to play video games as a way to connect with her teenaged kids, and then she learned to love video games for their own sake. At Pixelkin she wrangles the business & management side of things, writes posts as often as she can, reaches out on the social media, and does the occasional panel or talk. She lives in Seattle, where she writes, studies, plays video games, spends time with her family, consumes vast quantities of science fiction, and looks after her small cockapoo. She loves to hear from people out there. You can read more about her at her website, Linda Breneman.com or her family foundation's website, ludusproject.org.