Remember the Sega Master System? The Super Nintendo? The original Gameboy? The gaming world isn’t as clear-cut or as simple as it used to be (though whether this world has ever been “simple” is another question entirely). New games are released weekly, gaming consoles are challenged by phone and tablet devices for supremacy, and the media is increasingly shrill about the possible impact of video games upon the impressionable minds of children.
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Ditching any agenda (other than marvelling at the miraculous consoles of today), here we look at a few of the most popular gaming consoles gracing the market at the moment. All offer different experiences, especially for kids, and bring many more features with them than one might initially anticipate.
When discussing the finest gaming consoles on the market today, it is difficult to look far past the Xbox 360. This piece of wizardry from Microsoft, a remarkable improvement on the original Xbox, combines jaw-dropping graphics with incredibly fast processing speed and an impressive consistency in performance. The number of games available on the Xbox 360 soars beyond 500, with the console using HD DVDs as opposed to Blu-ray discs or regular DVDs, providing a high-quality and immersive visual experience for gamers.
Of course, it is not simply gaming which will occupy the user of the Xbox 360. Fully functional as a web browser, as well as a CD and DVD player, the console encourages broader browsing and entertainment opportunities than a regular game console. The 360 is also compatible with iTunes and Zune, and allows you to customise your gaming experience through control of the audio track while you play. The addition of the Kinect to the Xbox 360 arsenal in recent times also bolsters its credentials as an all-round excellent piece of gaming equipment, with its motion sensing capabilities removing the need for a controller, and bringing the console into direct competition with other motion sensing devices, such as the Nintendo Wii.
The Xbox 360, with its wide array of games catered to children, and its sophistication as an entertainment system, makes it a frontrunner when it comes to deciding on which console to choose for your kids. The online play of Xbox Live unravels a vibrant online gaming community and a fully interactive experience for players, both young and old. The status quo isn’t wrong on this one: the Xbox 360 rocks.
Originally imagined in the public domain as being a mere facelift of the original Nintendo Wii, the unveiling of the Wii U revealed a console of striking uniqueness and potential. Fully supporting 1080 HD graphics and leaving the confusion of Friend Codes behind in favour of the more robust and user-friendly Nintendo Network online hub, the U rectifies many of the underwhelming features of the Wii. The most intriguing and game-changing of its features, though, is the GamePad controller, a tablet device which can supplement, compliment, and dramatically broaden the limits of gameplay. When playing some games, you can transfer the playfield on your HDTV to the GamePad screen, allowing you to continue your game while the rest of the family watches a movie. Alternatively, some games will house in-menu options on the tablet, removing the need to pause or navigate out of the game to access these extras. It also facilitates more intense multiplayer experiences, with the perspective of the GamePad player being different to that of the player using the TV, allowing for constantly shifting perspectives within the playing arena.
When it comes to graphics, the Wii U is certainly less advanced than some of its competitors. However, its constant pushing of the boundaries of gameplay is impressive and highly absorbing, making for a unique and refreshing experience. The experimental nature of the Wii U will fascinate kids, with the traditionally interactive games of the original Wii made more complex and engaging with the addition of the GamePad. The U experience is not a slothful one, to say the least. It is not a perfect console, but is a pioneer all the same.
The PS3 brings advanced online capabilities, Blu-ray compatibility and frankly excellent gaming features to the table, distinguishing it as a console which will not only please kids, but serve as a proud centrepiece to the entertainment system of the home. Crisp and elaborately detailed imagery will wow the kids during gameplay, before its HD and multimedia capabilities engross the family for the rest of the evening. The console utilises IEEE 802.11 wireless and Bluetooth technologies, coupled with expanded memory and storage, as well as more rapid CPU and GPU capabilities. This makes for a smooth, fast-paced gaming experience, as well as greater freedoms in web browsing and downloading.
Sony’s handheld companion console, the PSP, is also compatible with the PS3, allowing the smaller device to be used as an additional controller. The PS3 is able to download and transfer original PlayStation games onto the PSP, bringing a touch of nostalgia to proceeding as old meets new in the PS universe. This console is also accessory-heavy, yet all of its extras validate themselves through their significant contribution to the PS3 experience (of course, it remains a fine gaming console with or without accessories). Wireless headsets, USB and Bluetooth keyboards, and the distinctive web-camera capabilities of the PlayStation Eye all contribute to the PS3’s status as an epicentre of entertainment for people of all ages. If it’s a device that brings something everybody will love, is there any question the kids won’t be taken by it? The PS3’s wealth of available games (notching close to 2000, including original PlayStation and PS2 games) is a major booster, as its library of engaging, often highly educational children’s games is extensive.
Rob Johnson is a media graduate and freelance writer who still remembers bringing his first Gameboy on a school holiday camp. The camp was excellent, particularly when he completed Pokémon Blue in the middle of the night, wrapped up in his sleeping bag. The memories!