Shopping for kids is never easy… even more so when their toys cost $250 or more, and are potentially capable of playing games too graphic for even parents’ consumption. Thankfully, two systems – Microsoft’s online-ready Xbox 360 ($279.99 USD and up) and Nintendo’s motion-sensing Wii ($249.99 USD) – are rapidly emerging as welcome contenders for children’s wish lists this year.
Can’t decide who’s really playing with power? Here’s what you need to know to make an informed decision. Figuring out how to actually find one in stock (hint: order online, which may require purchasing premium bundles, or look to unexpected retailers such as Sears/Kmart located in remote or rural areas) well… We can only play Santa’s little helper, not pull miracles out of his sack.
Situation: Price is An Issue
Choose: The Wii – games cost $20-$50 USD, or $10 less on average than Xbox 360-specific rivals. The system’s 360 degree gesture-tracking capabilities also lend themselves more naturally to social gaming experiences, with titles like Wii Play, Mario Party 8 and Cranium Kabookii offering hours of repeat play. You can even download NES, SNES, Genesis and TurboGrafx-16 classics on demand, starting at just $5. Besides, the Xbox 360 Arcade Pack, while a decent deal at just $30 more, lacks vital features like a hard drive, high-definition video cable and backwards compatibility with original Xbox titles. You’ll pay $400+ USD for a fully decked-out system and accessories, including $50/year for multiplayer connectivity alone.
Situation: Variety’s the Spice of Virtual Life
Choose: The Xbox 360 – for both casual and hardcore enthusiasts, the size of the console’s software library simply can’t be beat. Never mind the sheer variety of game samplers, independently-released offerings or even HD-quality movies and TV shows downloadable via broadband networking services Xbox Live Marketplace and Arcade. From head-banging hits (Rock Band) to sprout-friendly fare (Bee Movie) and high-speed hijinks (Project Gotham Racing 4), you won’t find more choice when it comes to pure thumb-blistering escapades. The only downside: Buy one for tots or teens, and you may find yourself jockeying with them for time behind the controller.
Situation: You’re a Diehard Gamer Yourself
Choose: The Xbox 360 – despite popular misconceptions, games aren’t strictly for children anymore: Adults consume more electronic amusements than anyone, so there’s no shame copping a system featuring plenty of titles for you too. True, family-friendly exclusives like buzzer-powered trivia outing Scene It: Lights, Camera, Action won’t wow compared with Nintendo’s signature smashes, e.g. the must-play Super Mario Galaxy. But unlike the Wii, the Xbox 360’s capable of 1080p (read: eye-popping) high-definition graphics; offers unrivaled on-demand shopping and Internet connectivity; and features more adult-oriented blockbuster home theater showpieces including Halo 3, Call of Duty 4 and Mass Effect. Hey, even big kids need their toys too…
Situation: The Tots Are Too Hyperactive As Is
Choose: The Wii – using its gesture-tracking controllers to enjoy a little boxing via Wii Sports or reel in catches in Fishing Master is guaranteed to help burn off any excess energy that sprouts have got. Fire up the scene-stealing system and, even when not actively geeking out, they’re all but certain to be glued to the TV as well. (Considering how much physical movement’s involved, just watching others get their game on is a fascinating activity unto itself.) Whether simulating a round of bowling, stomping their way through favorite tunes in Dance Dance Revolution: Hottest Party or knocking homers out of the park by swinging the remote, just thinking about the possibilities will leave them pooped.
Situation: You Worry What Your Kids Are Playing Choose: Tie – both feature robust parental controls that let you block titles with inappropriate age ratings and manage players’ ability to communicate with strangers or access the Internet, period. What’s more, both also feature tons of guilt-free exclusives like the Wii’s Big Brain Academy and Xbox 360’s Viva Pinata: Party Animals, plus third-party favorites including Cars: Mater-National and LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga. Sites such as CommonSenseMedia.org or WhatTheyLike.com offer in-depth content recaps that can help you make informed shopping decisions. But the best way to avoid issues here? Buy either, and spend some quality time playing alongside your kids to understand what sort of games, and playing habits, they prefer.
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