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At a certain point, you’ve watched everything you want to watch on Netflix, and it’s time for something else to do. As millions and millions of Americans are spending more time at work, video game-based Internet traffic has surged. If you’re looking to get back into video games after a long hiatus — or you’re just ready to upgrade your old console — you'd be joining many others. But not all video game consoles offer the same experience or access. For one, they don't all run the same video games. And, of course, different video game consoles carry different price tags.
Both Sony and Microsoft have already announced their next-generation consoles, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. They’re currently slated to be released in time for the 2020 holiday season, though we don’t yet know if the coronavirus pandemic and its effect on the economy may delay things. Besides, it often takes new consoles time to ramp up. Many folks prefer to stick with previous-generation hardware until the new consoles have a wide selection of games, a price drop or a second edition or refresh (like the PS4 Slim or Xbox One S, which were released later in each platform’s lifecycle). So which video game console is right for you? To help guide you, here are the best video game systems to keep you busy, as well as some of the top games on each gaming console and what you need to know before logging in.
In this article
- Choosing the best video gaming console for you
- Sony PlayStation gaming consoles
- Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles
- Nintendo Switch gaming consoles
Choosing the best video gaming console for you
There are three main platforms in the video gaming console space right now (not including PC):
- The Sony PlayStation
- Microsoft’s Xbox
- Nintendo’s Switch
These aren’t the only platforms around. You can play retro games on Nintendo's NES Classic or SEGA's Genesis Mini, for example. And new subscription streaming platforms like Google Stadia and NVIDIA GeForce Now let you play without a console at all. (Yesterday, Google announced it's offering free access to its Stadia gaming service for anyone with a Gmail address, along with free access to some games and a two-month trial of an elevated tier of the service.) But most game studios focus on the major consoles above when they develop their video games. To determine which one is best for you, you’ll want to first determine your gaming goals — and your gaming console budget, of course. Largely, this means determining which games you want to play.
- Exclusive games are designed with just one platform in mind and typically can’t be played on other platforms.
- Cross-platform games are designed with several — but not necessarily all — consoles in mind.
A massively popular distraction from the world of coronavirus right now, for example, is a Nintendo Switch-exclusive game: Animal Crossing: New Horizons. As Ani Bundel argued in NBC News THINK, the game “has taken a homebound nation by storm, thanks to an accidentally perfectly timed arrival and a soothing all-ages scenario.” And as it turns out, an earlier version of the game was already gaining increasing traction last year, long before we were all forced to stay indoors — notably with older gamers.
While the above Nintendo franchise proves itself worthy of an all-ages audience, you’ll find some platforms lean moreso that way than others. That means you can also focus on what kind of games you want to play — not necessarily choosing a specific one — or what age group you’ll be aiming to game within. Perhaps you’re buying a console as a gift for someone else (or as a means to achieve some respite from your kids’ restlessness during quarantine).
Sony PlayStation gaming consoles
Sony’s current-generation console, the PlayStation 4, is the second best-selling game console of all time, thanks in part to a bevy of exclusive, well-reviewed games like God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn and Spider-Man. It also has its own virtual reality headset, a built-in Blu-ray player (which can play DVDs and music CDs), and apps like Netflix and Hulu, allowing it to act as a do-almost-anything living room entertainment system. There are currently two variants you can buy.
The PS4 Slim is — as the name implies — a slimmer version of the original PS4 (which Sony no longer sells). The internal specs are the same as the original PS4, allowing for affordable gaming at 1080p. You do get a terabyte of storage (doubling the original’s storage), though, so you have plenty of room for your digitally-bought games and apps.
If you have a 4K TV, it’s probably worth spending the extra $100 on the PS4 Pro. It supports all the same games as the regular PS4, but allows for 4K resolution and HDR on some titles, meaning you get sharper, more vibrant graphics. On games that don’t support 4K and HDR, you can turn on “Boost Mode” to use the PS4 Pro’s extra power for better performance on those older titles. Like the PS4 Slim, the PS4 Pro has a Blu-ray player built-in, but it can only play traditional 1080p Blu-rays — not 4K “UHD” discs.
Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles
Microsoft’s Xbox One consoles support most of the same games as the PlayStation 4, minus any exclusive titles Sony has. But while the Xbox One hasn’t sold as well as its main competitor, Microsoft actually makes the more powerful console, which means you may experience better performance in some titles — plus you get features like FreeSync, which eliminates screen tearing on newer TVs that support it. It also has a few games that aren’t on the PS4, like Gears of War and Halo, though some of these titles are also available on PC. Like the PS4, there are two versions to choose from.
Microsoft’s Xbox One S is the most affordable gaming console you can buy today, with their disc-less version running at less than $250. That means you have to buy all your games digitally, and you don’t get any sort of Blu-ray player, but if you just want an affordable console for casual gaming, the Xbox One S is a great choice. (There’s also a version with a 4K-capable disc slot for $300, bundled with a game like Gears 5 or Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.)
If you have a 4K TV, the $300 Xbox One X is probably the best choice for a Microsoft-made console. You get all the same games as the Xbox One S, but with support for 4K and HDR in certain games, as well as a 4K Blu-ray player.
Nintendo Switch gaming consoles
Finally, Nintendo stands on its own in a number of ways. While the Nintendo Switch has some of the same games as Xbox and PlayStation 4, its graphics capabilities aren’t nearly as good. The Switch’s biggest draw is Nintendo franchises like Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda and the aforementioned Animal Crossing. This makes it especially great for younger kids, but it’s definitely not a kids-only console — as any adult who grew up with Nintendo can tell you, those games are loads of fun no matter your age.
Nintendo Switch (limited availability)
The Nintendo Switch is unique in that it’s both a handheld console — like the old-school Game Boy — and a living room console. Play it on-the-go, then come home and slide it into the dock for gaming on the TV (either with the detachable controllers or the more comfortable Switch Pro Controller). Note that while the Switch’s list price is $300, prices are soaring right now, so you may have to pay a bit of a demand tax at the moment.
Nintendo Switch Lite (limited availability)
If you aren’t looking to play on your TV, the Switch Lite is a more affordable, handheld-only version of the Switch. It supports almost all the same games, but has a slightly smaller screen and is designed solely for on-the-go play. (A few games, like Super Mario Party, don’t support handheld mode and thus won’t work on the Switch Lite.) Like the Switch, this usually-$200 device is a bit more expensive right now, depending on the color you buy.
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