Dec. 13, 2012 at 4:35 PM ET
The Christmas holiday is nearly upon us and the gift of gaming is high on many a wish list. But when it comes to buying home gaming hardware for that special someone, making the right choice is more difficult than ever.
Not only are there a variety of home consoles — some older, some newer — to choose from. But right now is a particularly unusual time to be in the market for a game machine.
That is, while Nintendo has launched a brand new machine — The Wii U — some pretty solid rumors suggest that Microsoft and Sony are going to launch their own brand new (and perhaps far more powerful) game machines a mere year from now.
Meanwhile, Sony has just begun selling a smaller, lighter PlayStation 3, Microsoft has cut the price of its current-model Xbox 360 for the holidays and Nintendo has cut the price of its older-model Wii as well, making these aging consoles a still-tempting option.
So how do you select the right game hardware for the right player? Here is a look at the pros and cons of the game machines that are available and some tips on making the right choice.
Price: Wii U Basic Set with 8 GB of storage — $300; Deluxe Set with 32 GB of storage — $350 (more on that here)
Pros: This is the very newest home game machine on the market, and it's the only one to come with a tablet-style controller. And that controller adds some fun and interesting twists to your gaming experience.
Not only does the touch screen on the controller give players a second — sometimes different — view of the game action, it also means one person can watch television on the big screen while you're playing your game right there on the controller's small screen. And an added bonus: The controller can be configured to act like your TV remote as well.
Meanwhile, aside from the unique controller, Nintendo's Wii U is a big step up from its predecessor — the Wii — in terms of power and graphics. In fact, it is the first Nintendo console to support high-def graphics. That said...
Cons: Yes, the Wii U is the newest game machine and yes, it is a big step forward in terms of graphics and power from the Wii, but in many ways it feels like the Wii U is playing catch-up to the older-model Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. For example, the Wii U's launch marks the first time big games like "Mass Effect 3" and "Batman: Arkham City" can be played on a Nintendo machine. Meanwhile, it is widely expected that Microsoft and Sony will offer their own new game machines this time next year — and widely expected that they will be significantly more powerful than the Wii U.
This machine is best for ... the avid Nintendo fans, the gamer who wants the very newest game machine this holiday and for families who want a little bit of something for everyone in the household. (Be sure to check out InGame editor Todd Kenreck's video review above for an in-depth look at the Wii U.)
Price: $130 (packaged with "Wii Sports" and "Wii Sports Resort" on a single disc, Wii Remote Plus and a Nunchuk controller)
Pros: Nintendo may have a new game machine on the market, but its older Wii machine — which introduced the world to motion-controlled gaming — is still available and for a very reasonable price.
Nintendo recently cut the price of this six-year-old machine from $150 to $130. That makes the Wii the cheapest home game console you can buy this holiday (and even cheaper if you buy a refurbished machine). And since it's been around for so long, that also means there is an enormous catalog of games to choose from — most importantly, a large catalog of Nintendo's own top-notch games (i.e. "New Super Mario Bros. Wii," "Super Mario Galaxy 2," "Kirby's Epic Yarn").
Cons: While there is an enormous catalog of games to choose from, many would (rightly) argue that outside of Nintendo's own titles many of the games offered by third-party publishers are not-so-great. And there seems to be an acute lack of really great games for seasoned, adult players looking for more mature fare. And certainly, the Wii is the least powerful and least-graphically-advanced of all the consoles.
This machine is best for... the youngest, new or casual gamer who doesn't need or care about having the latest technology and simply wants some easy-to-jump-into gaming fun.
Price: $200 — $400 (price varies based on storage size and bundle components, see option details here)
Pros: Sure, the Xbox 360 has been around for seven years but this game machine is still going very strong. For starters, its advanced age means there is a very large library of excellent games to choose from. Additionally, the excellent online Xbox Live service gives owners access not only to some robust online gaming but to an enormous range of movie, TV and music programming via an ever-growing library of entertainment apps such as Netflix, Hulu, ESPN, PBS and MTV among them.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has been offering $50 off on some Xbox 360 consoles and bundles, and it's also offering some special holiday bundles (which include Xbox 360 hardware, games as well as one free month of Xbox LIVE Gold, Hulu Plus and EPIX). The bundles and pricing options are outlined here.
Cons: Microsoft has not said a single word about the successor to the Xbox 360, but thanks to the onslaught of leaked information and rumors it seems almost certain that we'll be seeing a brand new version of the Xbox for the 2013 holiday season. So the question is, do you buy an Xbox 360 now when you might want to buy an Xbox 720 (as it's jokingly referred to) a year from now?
This machine is best for ... the pre-teen to adult gamer, and especially those interested in online multiplayer gaming. But it also makes a great gift for someone looking for all-in-one home entertainment center (it plays DVDs too).
Price: $249 to $349 (price varies based on storage size and bundle components, see option details here.)
Pros: The PlayStation 3 has been around for six years. And as is the case with the Xbox 360, this machine's advancing age means it offers owners access to a wide variety of really great games. Meanwhile, Sony recently introduced a new smaller, lighter model of the machine specially packaged with games for the holiday.
Additionally, Sony has done a great job bringing some really artful and ground-breaking independent games to the PlayStation 3 via its online PlayStation Network. From "Papo & Yo" to "Journey" to "The Unfinished Swan" — there's much for the adventurous gamer to find and love here. And as an added bonus, the PlayStation 3 comes with a built-in Blu-ray player, which is very nice indeed for watching those super-high-def movies.
Cons: As with Microsoft, rumor has it that Sony has been working on a new game machine for next year (though the PlayStation 4 rumors seem to be fewer and farther between). But one thing to remember — the PlayStation 2 remained a very viable game machine for many years — and remained a popular choice even after the PlayStation 3 launched.
This machine is best for ... the pre-teen to adult gamer and fans of artful and independent games. This machine is also a great buy if your giftee is a movie fan and would appreciate having a Blu-ray player as well. That's two gifts in one.
Are you buying a game machine this holiday? Which one and why? Click the Discussion button below to tell us how you decided which gadget was worth your money ... and worth putting under the tree.
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for NBC News. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you can follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.