PlayStation Versus the WorldJohn C. Dvorak
My children are lucky. They have all the console platforms and most of the games for each one. That said, I get a lot of feedback from them (although little thanks). What has evolved is a semiprofessional reviewing committee that I think holds its own with any gamer magazine (all of which wrongly predicted that Xbox would be the dominant console by now). I do my best to consolidate the information in some way so I can occasionally advise parents as to the one game console they should get if they can get only one. Or at least I try, since I still believe that the Sega Dreamcast was the best one ever designed and one of the cheapest. Sega took it off the market (thank you Microsoft) and went into the software business.
Dvorak Lament 2002
So what we have left is the Sony PlayStation 2, the Nintendo GameCube and the Xbox. The original Sony PlayStation is still around, but hardly state-of-the-art. If I could own only one of these three main machines, it would have to be the PlayStation 2 just because Sony is doggedly controlling the market for hot titles. The best example of this is how Sony has managed to box out Xbox on a number of titles, the most important being Grand Theft Auto 3. I was told by the experts that the Xbox would start its marketing with a minimum of titles but would soon catch on, especially when Microsoft released GTA 3. The Xbox version would kick butt. Then nothing. Sony saw this one title was selling so many consoles that it locked the developer down to an exclusive deal for future releases and cut Xbox out of the GTA III Microsoft was counting on. Microsoft got nothing. Then comes the follow-up title, Vice City, which is the hottest game for teen boys right now. The Xbox will never see this game. PlayStation 2 is killing Microsoft's machine.
Microsoft isn't stupid. Many savvy observers see the company doing an end run around the traditional console folks with its online strategy. A hot ticket is the new so-called Mech games—virtual robot wars. All part of the Xbox Live strategy, these are online interactive games. People rave about these games. The online interactive game is a distinct trend and seeing how that trend develops will be interesting. Microsoft is hardly dead in this arena.
Nintendo for Christmas. The aggressively priced GameCube is the cheapest of the consoles and what I recommend for Christmas if you have young children or if you want to save money. While this system is for everyone, it seriously appeals to the younger set in ways the other two systems do not. It's also more charming in every way. This box has all sorts of weird add-ons—even a wireless controller (highly recommended)—and now has a number of games for this Christmas that are super hits. Metroid Prime is the number one seller, and it's astonishing. What makes Metroid most interesting is the incredible way it uses the Nintendo graphics engines. If you think the other systems have better graphics, you should check this out. Amazing. My youngest likes to play another cool game, Animal Crossing, which my 17-year old describes as SimsVille meets Harvest. I have no idea what he means, but okay. Look for a new version of the hoary Zelda game soon. Everyone is abuzz about it. Meanwhile, each iteration of the Mario series continues to fascinate game players, especially the younger ones.
Also, Nintendo has released a cool I/O medium called the e-card for its GameBoy Advance platform. This is a trading card with an unusual barcode on it that lets you load games into the Gameboy. All those old games that were on cartridges have been coded into these little cards. And the system works. It's amazing actually. Essentially all the original GameBoy games are on cards for trading. These folks are taking old stuff and repurposing it just like Disney does with old feature-length cartoons. Excellent marketing ploy. I'd take a hard look at this as a Christmas gift idea.
Right now the game business is the hottest thing in high-tech. I'd recommend people buy all three systems, but that's impractical. But you can buy a new system every year, and this is the year for the GameCube. Next year, the Xbox. I assume you already have the PlayStation 2. I'm one of the few people who think that all three systems can remain in the market. There doesn't have to be one winner. It's like automobiles. It's just a shame that Sega didn't see it that way.
So this week, I'm asking you what you'd recommend to friends, and why. Sound off!
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Copyright © 2002 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in PC Magazine.