A generation behind
By James Grahame
My wife just bought me a video game console for Christmas. It'll be the first time since the early 1980s that I've owned a brand new machine, so I'm a tad excited. Don't get me wrong; I've logged many hours thrashing controllers in front of the TV, but not on a shiny new console. All that is about to change, and I'm a tad excited.
So which platform did I pick? Not a Microsoft Xbox 360. Definitely not the unobtainable PlayStation 3, nor a Nintendo Wii. Nope. I made a rather unexpected choice.
I opted for the 'tried and true' and chose a Nintendo Gamecube.
No, I haven't lost my bloody mind, thank you very much.
There were a couple of very good reasons to choose a Cube. The first is that I have a young son who doesn't need to experience first-person shooters during his Thomas the Tank Engine years. But the main factor is that buying a console that's approaching the end of its (marketing) lifespan offers great value for your money, along with a huge and affordable variety of games. There's also very little danger that you'll be unable to find one at your local electronics emporium.
Check out the comparison chart. It comes as no surprise that the Wii is more than twice the price of its older sibling. Take a moment to compare, and you'll notice that the complete Gamecube package costs less than the Wii system alone. Now, don't forget that Gamecube titles can be played on the Wii -- my simple plan is to enjoy the Cube for a year or so until the price of the Wii (and its software) drops to less lofty heights.
Yes, I am painfully aware that the latest consoles offer stunningly realistic graphics and cutting edge processing and networking - but good game play is the essence of the gaming experience, not good looks. A boring but beautiful game will disappoint, whereas a less attractive but addictive game will be revisited time and again.
Sadly, only a few titles released for each platform are truly excellent. This causes headaches for avid fans when new consoles are introduced, because only a handful of titles available at launch are genuinely worth owning (the Wii launched in North America with 21 available games, and I counted a measly 16 titles in the PS3 library). Those initial launch titles will cost you dearly: Best Buy offers most PS3 games for a whopping $59.99, with Wii games retailing at $49.99. That's a lot of coin for toy food.
To compound the disappointment, roll out games are usually much less polished than later titles on the same platform because coders haven't had the opportunity to discover how to squeeze every ounce of performance out of the hardware (partly because early development tools are often less than perfect).
In comparison, games for older platforms are dirt cheap and frequently push hardware to the limits. It's easy to find top quality PS2 and Gamecube titles retailing for $20 to $30, and there's a thriving market for used games that shouldn't be overlooked. Ultimately, I made the choice to pass up the latest whizz-bang graphics and motion controllers in favor of picking and choosing the best titles from the Gamecube's established library. This works well for me because I'm not a hardcore gamer with a serious polygon addiction, although I'm fully aware that twitchy twentysomething addicts might have different priorities.
Electronics pricing is a funny thing; new products often sell at a ridiculous premium only to tail off dramatically later in the adoption cycle (Motorola RAZR, anyone?) My advice is to take advantage of this phenomenon as much as possible. In fact, that's one of the driving forces behind Retro Thing. Both Bohus and I avidly believe that older technology offers unbeatable fun for the money.