Parents Video Game Buying Guide: The Consoles


Note: A great place to start is our Parents Guide to Video Games which can be found HERE.  It covers our philosophy on kids and games and will hopefully give you a new perspective on approaching the medium.  You can also read our guide to portable video game hardware HERE.

If you are going to invest in a video games console then it is likely to be the center piece gift of the holiday.   There is going to be a mad rush for the latest hardware and if video games are not your thing it can difficult to understand your options.

First, a bit of terminology:

Last Generation

Last generation devices have been around for a bit. A console generation generally lasts for about five to seven years with some minor exceptions.  Technically we have just started the eighth generation.  The seventh generation consisted of consoles like the Nintendo Wii, the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3.There is still plenty of fun to be had with this generation of consoles and buying the last model gives you some nifty advantages.

  • Stores are clearing out their inventory, games and hardware will be cheap.
  • By the end of the generation they will have worked most of the hardware bugs out.
  • All the games have been reviewed and you only need to purchase the best of breed for your system.
  • The best games will be in complete editions including all the downloadable content and any extras that were originally sold separately.  Many times this means hours and hours of additional play time per game.

This Generation

We are in the opening months of the new eighth generation of video game hardware. Benefits of new are better graphics, faster processors, integration with media services like Netflix and Hulu and an emphasis on social connections.  The cons here are that the brand new systems just don’t have that many games and most of the time they will be close to full retail price.  If you are into shiny and having the newest and the best then this is it.  You are going to have to hunt for them though, new consoles tend to be scarce during their first holiday season out.

Last Generation Details:

Nintendo Wii


The Wii is often disregarded by gamers and teenage boys.  Fact is though that it helped boost the video game industry with accessible gameplay the gee-whiz factor of its working motion controls (No one has done this better, even now) and classic first party games that are still loads of fun to play. (Super Mario, Zelda, Metroid, etc.) If you are just introducing your family to video games then this is still a great buy.  Less relevant now is that the console can still play sixth generation Nintendo Gamecube games if you have the right controllers.  Supplies are fairly plentiful and you will be able to find bundles with a free game for about $200.

Wii Mini


If you were thinking about buying a Wii take a look at this guy.  This is Nintendo’s cheaper paired down version.  The only thing you will lose over the traditional Wii is Gamecube compatibility which personally doesn’t matter a whole lot to me.  The bundles that I have seen come with Mario Kart, which is good for hours and hours of fun.

Honestly, look at this thing, it is adorable and it is very tiny.  I don’t expect these to last long, so if you are thinking about grabbing one for the holiday, best to do it now.  They can be found for around $100.

Sony Playstation 3


Last generation’s PS3 took forever to get going.  It was large, kind of ugly and difficult for developers to program for.  As a result the software publishers flocked to the Microsoft offerings instead.  Now though at the end of the consoles life there are tons of great games available, especially for those that love non-Nintendo Japanese offerings and some of the games are recognized masterpieces even the HD remakes of older titles like Kingdom Hearts, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.  What you see above is a refreshed slim model that should run cooler and be a good bit smaller than the original.  It can be found for around $200.

Xbox 360


Overall the 360 was arguably the strongest console of its generation.  It has a wide variety of high quality games and after the initial disaster of poor quality control (see Red Ring of Death) it became a very reliable and attractive console.

As is the same for the rest of the last generation you will be able to find lots of the best game for the console at reasonable prices. Gamestop, eBay and Craigslist are going to be great places to find games and check on review sites to find the highly rated ones.  The current Xbox bundle can be found for $250 with two excellent (but mature) games Tomb Raider and Halo 4.

Each of the consoles above are going to have exclusive franchises that are unique to the console like Super Mario and Zelda for the Wii, Little Big Planet and God of War for the PS3 or Halo and Gears of War for the Xbox.  These exclusives should probably not drive your decision about which console family to start with, but worth considering.

This Generation Details:

Wii U


The Wii U was the first of the eighth generation consoles and it hasn’t received its due.  If you enjoyed the Wii, then the Wii U is an excellent upgrade.  The hardware while less powerful than the Xbox One and Playstation 4 performs excellently.  The large “second screen” controller is a joy with certain games and it is the only console that is currently backwards compatible with the previous generation.  The Wii U will upscale all of your old Wii games to 1080p so they will look fancy on your giant television.

The one thing the Wii U is suffering from is a lack of games.  Publishers seemed to have abandoned the console a bit and first party titles are not in large supply yet.  Nintendo probably can turn this situation around, but I am not completely sure what there plans are yet.  Some of the released titles are excellent (especially the ones from Nintendo directly) and exclusives like ZombiU highlight how great this console really can be.

The Wii U can be found by itself and in bundles from $300 to $350.

Sony Playstation 4


So far the PS4 has proven to be excellent hardware.  It has only been a couple of weeks since release and they have had a couple of hiccups with the online services, but the few games that are available are beautiful.  In the short time we have played with it expectations are that it will be a fantastic platform to build upon, I am eager to see what software publishers create for it.

The Playstation 4 is available for around $400.

Xbox One


Judging the Xbox One has been difficult.  After the lackluster performance and the Electronics Entertainment Expo earlier this year Microsoft has fallen down over and over again with their media campaign.  Early reports about the games have been that they haven’t performed as well as their Playstation counterparts. My personal expectation is that they will shortly work out any bugs and performance problems and you will be able to judge the console by its software library and quality of games available.

The Xbox One is available for about $500.

The trouble with the Xbox One and Playstation 4 is that you will be spending a lot of money on early hardware, no backwards compatibility and a very light library of games.  I wholeheartedly expect that this will change as we enter next year.  Until then, you will be hoping that things get better.  Still for early adopters and hardware junkies these will be fun to play with.

Regardless of the console you buy consider things you may need like memory cards (Mainly the case for Nintendo consoles), extra controllers so the whole family can play and any other accessories like places to charge your wireless controllers.

If you have any questions pop on over to our Facebook page and either I or one of our community members will try and answer your question in a timely manner.

Video games can be a great experience for the whole family, but it does take a little education and willingness to dive into some new things.  Hopefully this guide will make your experience a wee bit easier.

Photo: The lovable BMO from Adventure Time, the greatest fictional video game console.  Some rights reserved by JD Hancock