If you're giving a games console, make sure it's the right one, says Steve Boxer
Much as we all love Christmas, it can be a stressful time - especially when we agonise over finding the perfect presents.
Videogame consoles make ideal gifts but, if you're not an expert, deciding which one to opt for can be fearfully tricky, especially since this is the first year that all three next-generation consoles have been available at Christmas, as well as the now?superseded but still temptingly cheap PlayStation 2. Oh, and two handheld consoles.
It's a tough market. The latest figures from VGChartz.com show that, since its release a year ago, more than 14 million Wii consoles have been sold around the world, followed by the Xbox 360 with just over 13 million units sold in two years. The PlayStation 3, which hit the UK in March, has sold just under six million worldwide. But all these figures are dwarfed by Nintendo's big hitter, the handheld DS, which has shifted a staggering 55 million worldwide so far. And Sony's handheld, the PSP, has sold more than 26 million units.
With so many competing options, all with their own merits and downsides, it's no wonder people get confused about which console is right for them. Hopefully, our bluffer's guide will simplify things nicely.
Nintendo's Wii, with its TV remote-style motion-sensitive controller that can be wielded like a tennis racket, baseball bat or bowling ball, has made an enormous splash this year, because it is so intuitive that even non-gamers can enjoy its charms.
The Wii is the ideal console to buy for young children or teenagers who are not yet avid gamers, and games such as Wii Tennis, Mario & Sonic At The Olympic Games and Rockstar's Table Tennis can provide fun for all the family.
Nintendo is very good at aiming its consoles at a young audience, but the recently released Super Mario Galaxy - simply one of the best games ever - and Metroid Prime: Corruption will also thrill keen gamers. Sadly, at the moment, Wiis are in short supply in the shops, but Nintendo hopes to rectify that situation before Christmas.
Ignore so-called bundles, in which a Wii comes with several games, because those games are invariably sub-standard. T
he basic Wii comes with Wii Sports anyway, and you can then buy whichever individual games you want.
Microsoft Xbox 360
If you're buying a console for someone with an existing interest in games, then the Xbox 360 is the state-of-the-art choice.
It has by far the best portfolio of challenging "hardcore" games (racing titles, shoot-'em-ups and the like), and Microsoft is also working hard to generate a better library of more lighthearted games for it.
It is also supported brilliantly by the Xbox Live online service.
But don't be tempted by the cheapest variant, the Xbox 360 Core - it's too basic.
The Xbox 360 Arcade, which costs around £200 and comes with a 256Mb memory card but no hard disk(you can buy hard disks and plug them in later), plus five retro-style arcade games, is better value.
You won't have to do any upgrading if you opt for the £249 Premium edition, so that is also recommended, but the bells-and-whistles Elite version, despite its 120GB built-in hard disk, is a harder purchase to justify.
And bear in mind that all Xbox 360s really need HD-ready TVs in order to fulfil their promise.
Sony PlayStation 3
D The PlayStation 3 isn't an inherently bad machine - it's technologically impressive, nicely finished and can play Blu-ray high-definition movies - but given the way in which Sony dominated the games industry with the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 (the latter has sold a staggering 120 million units worldwide), it is proving to be one of the biggest disappointments in the history of gaming.
For a start, it's fearsomely overpriced; even the new, no-frills 40GB version (which won't play PlayStation 2 games) costs £299.99, and the more desirable 60GB version, which is being phased out, costs a whopping £349.99.
Sony's online gaming service, the PlayStation Network, is also a mess compared with Xbox Live.
But the PS3's biggest flaw is its lack of compelling exclusive games.
A few, notably Metal Gear Solid 4, LittleBigPlanet and Killzone 2, will arrive next year, although probably towards the end of the year. Until then, the PS3 will remain an also-ran.
Sony PlayStation 2
The PlayStation 2 is the console that refuses to die - indeed, it has generally outsold its successor, the PS3, despite being effectively obsolete.
With a fantastic back-catalogue of games, available increasingly cheaply, it might seem tempting if you're on a tight budget.
A trickle of new PS2 games continues to arrive, but to all intents and purposes, it's defunct.
That doesn't make it a bad buy, though.
Nintendo DS Lite
The idea behind the DS Lite is simple - to make a handheld console with two screens, one of which responds to touch input - but in practice it turns out to be a stroke of genius, with the touchscreen allowing all manner of innovative play.
It is hugely popular, has a phenomenal library of excellent games, and will make an ideal Christmas present for young and old alike (games such as Brain Training have particularly found a constituency among so-called "Grey Gamers" from the older generation). You can't go wrong with a DS Lite.
Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP)
The new Slim 'n' Lite PSP, with its superb screen and more manageable proportions, is an even sexier gadget than its predecessor. It's particularly good at playing video, and links well with the PS3.
But its portfolio of games is nowhere near as impressive as that of the DS Lite - in fact, most are warmed-over PS2 titles. More style than substance, unfortunately.
Source: The Telegraph