Gaming is always hot for the holidays, but with four different ways to play a zillion different games, figuring out which is which and best for whom can be problematic. Here's a look at what the state of the art is offering today, and why you might consider one system over the other.Nintendo Wii
(US$200, C$210; www.wii.com)
The Nintendo Wii remains a sure bet when it comes to interactive entertainment. While not particularly powerful, it is the system that is most familiar and most family friendly. Its games tend to look "safe" in that they're charmingly cartoonish rather than "photo realistic."
Moreover, Nintendo has quietly improved on the Wii-mote controllers as of late and now bundles each system with a Wii Remote Plus making the famous "waggle" interface substantially more accurate.
Along with celebrated utility as a fitness device when coupled with Wii Fit Plus or EA Sports Active, Wii is home to several thousand regular games. Unfortunately, the majority of these games are second rate cash grabs if not downright lousy. As a general rule, you can't go wrong with Wii games made by Nintendo itself - as opposed to hit and miss titles from other Wii game publishers - which most recently includes the immensely popular Wii Sports Resort, Wii Play, Kirby's Epic Yarn, Super Mario Bros. All-Stars and Donkey Kong Country Returns. You also can't go wrong with top-notch third party titles including Activision's Goldeneye 007, Disney's Epic Mickey and THQ's wondrous uDraw bundle.
A limited edition red Wii bundle (pictured) currently offers a rose-colored console plus two games, Wii Sports Resort and Super Mario Bros. Wii for just $200, making it the consummate starter kit.Microsoft Xbox 360
(4GB model, $200; 250GB model, $300, 4GB bundle with Kinect sensor and game, $300; www.xbox.com)
Pound for pound and dollar for dollar, a 4GB Xbox 360 is actually a better deal than the Nintendo Wii. It's library of available games are usually good and often great, with household brands like Halo, Call of Duty, and Need for Speed among the very best, all of them in dazzling high definition.
Bear in mind that you play Xbox 360 games with a conventional, non-motion controller and that you'll have to subscribe to an online service at $60 per year if you want to play any games online. This year, of course, Microsoft introduced Kinect for Xbox 360, a motion capture camera array that allows players to use their entire body as a controller and nothing else. The technology is impressive but clearly in its infancy. You have to buy games specially made for Kinect. While most of them are entertaining and very family oriented, they're not particularly deep at the moment, mostly just body-waggle games that require a lot of open space.
Still, with Kinect and game called Kinect Adventures bundled with a 4GB Xbox 360 costing just $300 (pictured), it's well worth considering, because it is a lot of goofy fun right out of the box. Just know that it'll be a year or two before Kinect games start to live up to the well-publicize potential. Meanwhile, just a 4GB Xbox 360 at $200 is a really good buy.Sony PlayStation3
(160GB Holiday Bundle, $300; 320GB PlayStation Move bundle, $400; www.playstation.com)
While Sony has developed an awkward habit of shooting itself in the foot - repeatedly - there's no denying that the PlayStation3 is a fantastic game system and should be the first choice for households uninterested in motion controlled hoopla.
Previously overwrought with too much tech and not enough, you know, videogames, the latest model of the PS3 is a slimmed down, well focused, properly priced system featuring no-charge online playability and a Blu-ray disc player, making it the only console that will play high definition movie discs.
PlayStation3 also plays host to hardcore game mainstays like Call of Duty and Need for Speed as well as a few exclusive gems in the God of War, Gran Turismo and Uncharted franchises. The PS3's appeal as a family system is often understated, but Sony's Little Big Planet (and its forthcoming sequel) not only offer the same wholesome family adventure fare normally associated with Mario and friends, but it lets users create their own games and characters and share them by the millions. If you wish videogames could stimulate creativity rather than just placate the brain with interactive candy, look no further.
Sony also has a new motion-controller on the market called the PlayStation Move. While an impressive piece of exacting technology that takes Wii-like gesture controls to new and amazingly accurate levels, there aren't a whole lot of games that rely on Move just yet. There are, however, many games being fitted to employ Move optionally, like an afterthought. Besides being an expensive proposition at $100, Move isn't really complete unless you pony up another $30 for the companion controller for the other hand. Again, Sony shoots itself in the over-priced foot. That said, PlayStation Move is selling like hotcakes to people that already own a console, technophiles and early adopters tend to gravitate to PS3 for its technical prowess.
However, for first time buyers, the PlayStation3 Holiday Bundle (pictured), which includes two fantastic games, is a heck of a super console deal at just $300. Maybe pick up Move next year when it's better supported by better games.Acer Windows 7 PCs
($900 - $1800; www.acer.com)
Currently, a Windows PC is more of an essential purchase than an interactive nicety. After all, that's the device you use for productivity, organizing family photos, burning home movies to DVD, emailing, web surfing, video calling, remotely socializing and, oh yeah, playing games.
If Farmville caliber games are your thing, highly recommended is the $900 Acer Apsire AIO (pictured). This all-in-one wonder features an expansive 23" LCD with the actual computer built into its back. Bundled with a sleek wireless keyboard and mouse, this is one elegant piece of machinery with only one power cord sneaking covertly out that back. It's got expansive storage, decent processing power, loads of RAM, built-in web cam, wi-fi, stereo speakers and so on. Best of all, its LCD is actually a touch screen, so you have the option of interfacing with the thing like a giant iPad sitting upright on your desk. Mind you, the Aspire AIO won't quite handle serious games like Call of Duty: Black Ops - not very well, anyway.
But where one used to turn to performance computer shops like Alienware for lavish and lavishly expensive "Gamer PCs," the economies of scale have made such things more or less commonplace. Case in point: Acer's Aspire Predator AG7750 ($1800), a blow-your-mind gaming PC at a reasonable price point. Highly scalable and customizable, it sports a top-of-the-line Intel Core i7-930 Processor, a ludicrous 12 GBs of DDR3 1333 SDRAM and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470 graphics card that runs the likes of Battlefield: Bad Company 2 at maximum resolution without breaking a sweat - or the bank. Acer has just launched a new Predator model that's slightly leaner on specs but much less expensive at $1000.