Thinking of buying a games console for Christmas?

Games consoles are often the most requested thing for Christmas for kids from about age 5 upwards. The range of consoles from 3 major manufacturers encompass handheld machines and ones that sit under the telly and can be more than a bit baffling.

So to start with, we’re going to have a look at handheld machines. Nintendo’s effort is called the Dsi and Sony’s is called the PSP.

ndsiThe Nintendo Dsi is the top selling handheld out there. It retails for £149.99, which if you think is steep, is still cheaper by a fair margin than the PSP. The older version, the DS Lite, is still available at £99 and at the moment is pretty much the same as there are very few games available that make use of the extra features in the Dsi. The range of games available is huge and although new releases aren’t cheap, a lot of the games are specifically aimed at kids so there should be a lot to choose from. The console itself has two screens, one of them a touchscreen which is used via a stylus and even though its made of plastic, it is pretty sturdy- it closes like a book to protect the screens when its shoved in a coat pocket or bag.

pspgoSony’s PSP is available in two versions, the new PSPGo (pictured) which retails at £249.99 (currently £199.99 on Amazon) and the older PSP 3000 (snazzy name there Sony!) which is a much more reasonable £140. Things now get confusing as where the Nintendo Dsi and DS Lite share a common game format and can more or less share games, things are different with the PSPgo and the PSP 3000. The PSPgo relies totally on downloads for its games, where the PSP 3000 uses a little minidisk style disc called a UMD. The PSPgo doesn’t have a UMD drive, so all the old second hand games you could pick up from GAME or Blockbusters for a bargain price for the PSP 3000 aren’t worth even looking at on the PSPgo. I’ve owned a PSP for over 5 years now and I have to admit it doesn’t get played as much you would think it would. Technically its miles ahead of Nintendo’s offering, the graphics are better, the screen is lovely, but somehow it just doesn’t quite work. The controller gives anyone of any age hand cramp after about 15 minutes of play and there just aren’t enough games. Given the choice, I’d turn back time and un-buy it but they are definitely popular with youngsters. They also have the typical Sony build quality too.

If you don’t want to buy something that your offspring could lose or smuggle into school and have it confiscated or stolen, you’re best bet is a home console that sits under the telly. There are basically 3 to chose from here, the Nintendo Wii, the Sony Playstation 3 and the Microsoft Xbox 360. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and is probably more suitable for certain age groups. All the 3 consoles have wireless controllers as standard now days, so you can rest assured you wont be tripping over cables.

wiiThe Nintendo Wii is such a small cute console that its hard not to love it from the outset. It’s the only one of the 3 consoles not to be designed specifically for HDTV’s and the games on it certainly don’t look awesome but the one thing it does have is fun games. It also has a unique motion control system. Basically you put a little bar on top of your television and point a controller at the screen and it tracks your movement. That’s not to say you can’t control games in a a conventional manner but it is certainly a different take on it. Although there are some fiendishly difficult games on the Wii, it definitely has the best range of games suited for children on it. It’s also got the rather fab BBC iPlayer too, which is nice. Our two year old likes the odd game of Mario Kart.

xbox_360The Microsoft Xbox 360 is available in several different versions but the only real difference is whether you get a hard drive with it and how big that hard drive is. A hard drive is used to download demos to, to save game progression on and to download films onto, so to my mind is pretty much essential. I’d recommend the 60gig Xbox 360 Premium which you can pick up for around £160. The Xbox 360 will play DVD’s as well as games, and as mentioned will let you download films (for a price). It allows you to easily play games online against your friends (or strangers- so make sure your kids console is located in a communal place) but there is an annual subscription for this service, RRP £40. The range of games is the best of all 3 consoles and if a game comes out on more than one format, it tends to be better on the Xbox 360. There are a lot of games for kids and older teens but there are also a lot of games that are aimed at adults- the average age of a games player in the UK is over 25 you know- so make sure you look at the age ratings on games you’re buying, if it says 18, there’s the likelihood it will contain graphic realistic violence.

ps3The final machine is the Playstation 3 from Sony. It follows on from the astonishingly successful Playstation 2 but watch out, while the Nintendo Wii can play old Nintendo Gamecube games, the Playstation 3 cannot play Playstation 2 games. This means you either have to keep both machines out or pack away all those PS2 games. At £250 it is pretty expensive too. It doesn’t have a range of games as good as the xbox 360 but it does have another trick up its sleeve in the form of a BluRay disc player built in to it. So if you have a high definition television, you can watch BluRay movies on your PS3. Considering that stand alone BluRay players can easily cost more than the PS3, it is definitely worth considering it, especially if your (older) child likes watching films. The PS3 does allow you to play online against your friends for free but the trade off is a system no where near as slick as the xbox’s xbox live system.

So there you go, 5 consoles to chose from, you must choose wisely. And that’s before your 7 year old asks for an iPod Touch for Christmas too, as the daughter of one of my work colleagues did last week.

(Originally posted on Mummy Reviews)