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October 24, 2005

Decisions...Decisions... (a.k.a. Which Console Is The Most Kid-Friendly?)

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine. I hadn’t talked to him in a while, and we had a great time catching up. We talked for a while about a buncha stuff, including how each other’s kids were doing, which segued into a discussion about video games.

He said that he was considering buying a video game console for his son, and asked which console I recommended, should he decide to take the polygon plunge.

My friend’s son and mine are the same age, but while my son has been gaming for over a year now, his has yet to sample the delights of the Sony PlayStation 2 or Nintendo GameCube.

What’s that? I left one out? What about the third leg of the console tripod - Microsoft’s Xbox, you say? Nope, no mistake. The Xbox doesn’t belong in a serious discussion of video game consoles for young kids.

Now before the Xbox fanboys (fandads? fanfolks?) out there start foaming at the mouth, here’s why I removed the big hulking horizontal PC (or is it just reclining?) from consideration.

Y’see, the thing is that the Xbox isn’t marketed at young kids for a reason; its strengths (graphics, custom soundtracks, online play, first-person shooters) are geared toward teens and adults, not kids. So repeat after me... The Xbox jes’ ain’t fer the young ‘uns.

EDIT: For those of you who haven't read the comments for this post, Kim reminds me that the Xbox has a parental control feature that lets you "lock certain ESRB rated titles off the box for those without the password." Certainly a handy-dandy feature for those of you who already own an Xbox. FYI.

So back to the main question; Sony or Nintendo?

I've answered this question for many of my friends-with-kids who were beginning to consider gingerly dipping their toes into the console gaming waters. In the last couple of weeks alone, I’ve given different answers to different parents. That’s because they gave different answers to the following questions:

Question #1: Is the console just for your kids, or for you, too?

While the GameCube occasionally releases exclusive gems like Capcom’s stellar survival horror hit Resident Evil 4 (rated M for Mature), or first-person fembot shooter Metroid Prime (rated T for Teen), the PS2 has far more breadth in its available games.

For kids’ games, the two are roughly even (more in a bit), but for every other category (sports, action/adventure, racing, shooters, RPGs, etc.) the PS2 has a far more substantial menu. Of the 3 consoles, the PS2 comes the closest to being all things to all people. Not surprising, given that it’s a Sony product.

For most of those genres, the PS2 simply has more games to offer, but the major sports titles are cross-platform, so as not to deprive any segment of the gaming public of the privilege of plunking down a month’s worth of juice boxes on their game. As a result, I recommended the PS2 to sports-game-playing families for a different reason – the controller.

The PS2’s DualShock 2 controller is the best out there, especially for small hands. My son can’t hold any of the controllers in his hands. He plops it in his lap and manipulates the controls from above. And whether it’s the layout or shape of the controller, buttons, or analog sticks, he’s much more comfortable with the DualShock.

For parents and older kids, the PS2 controller is more precise, and is as good as it gets ergonomically. The GameCube controller, on the other hand, doesn’t have quite the same ‘fit and finish,’ especially with the wiggly-jiggly shoulder buttons. Put it this way; if the controllers were cars, the DualShock is a Lexus, while the GameCube controller is a Hyundai.

And to round out the automotive theme, while the mammoth original Xbox controller was a Yukon/Excursion/Suburban-size monstrosity, the smaller Controller S is still a Hummer H2.

Question #2: The Plumber or The Prince?

Since many games these days are released on both the PS2 and GameCube, the main question you need to ask is which company’s proprietary characters do you like best?

Nintendo brings us the fruits of the mind of uber-mazing game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong, Link and Zelda are but a few of the iconic characters he has created over the years, and all show up in force on the GameCube. Mario is the mustachioed patriarch of a huge family of brand extensions, including Super Mario Sunshine, the Mario Party series, the Paper Mario series, and several Mario sports games, including Mario Superstar Baseball, Mario Power Tennis, Mario Golf Toadstool Tour and Mario Kart Double Dash. And there are still more that I couldn’t shoehorn into this paragraph. Bottom line, your young kids will have a ton of games to play on their 'little purple lunchbox.'

On the Sony side, while they don’t carry the minty-fresh Miyamoto aura, there are many excellent, Sony-exclusive games for the PlayStation 2. Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper, and Jak & Daxter comprise SCEA’s terrific platformer troika, Dog’s Life is a fun way to ‘be’ a dog, and as most of you know by now, Katamari Damacy is a great kids’ game that not only features both the King and Prince of All Cosmos (talk about bang for the buck!), but is widely hailed as one of the most original games to come out in years.

So this question comes down to age and personal preference.

If you have young kids and you don’t plan to play many games of other genres, then buy a GameCube.

If you have older kids, or plan to share the console among an entire family with diverse tastes in games, then the PlayStation 2 has a better chance of satisfying all of your constituents.

There are probably those who say just to wait for one of the next-gen consoles; either the PlayStation 3 or Nintendo Revolution. But unlike the Xbox 360, which launches in less than one month in the U.S. (11/22/05), the PS3 won’t launch until next spring at the earliest, and the Revolution likely won’t hit American shores until next fall. So how does that help you this holiday season?

For a family on a budget, the choice is even easier. As I write this, you can buy a brand new PS2 for $149 (and there have been rumblings of a holiday-season price drop), or a new GameCube for only $99.

While the end of the current generation of consoles is nigh, there is no reason you can’t get several more years out of a PS2 or GameCube you buy today. Once you bring your family’s new best friend home, you can choose from hundreds of games for them to play, many at discounted prices.

Or you could decide to wait up to a year, pay several hundred more dollars, and have a pathetically meager library of games to choose from at launch (though the Revolution will offer Nintendo’s entire gaming catalog via download for a price that has yet to be determined).


For me, it’s a no-brainer. When they get older, your kids will start to care more about being on the bleeding edge of gaming technology. But for now, they don’t care that SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom came out in 2003. They’ll love it because it’s a helluva lotta fun. Remember, if they haven’t played it, it’s new to them! *cue NBC chimes*

So to recap, consider your family’s needs, make your pick with your head held high, then sit back and enjoy the ride. Happy gaming!


  • I agree with most points: but I consider the Gamecube's Wavebird to be one of the finest controllers ever to grace a player's hands.

    In general, the PS/2 actually sees the least amount of use in our house, since many of the PS/2 exclusives don't resonate as strongly with me...and if I have a choice, I'll always choose the X-box or Nintendo version because they are much more likely to support HDTV formats.

    I will say that the X-box, while a terrible choice for a kids console, does have one game my kids really enjoyed: Grabbed by the Ghoulies. They thought that one was a real hoot.

    By Blogger WizarDru, at 6:19 AM  

  • RE: the Wavebird, I was focusing on the orignial controller that's included when you buy the system.

    If we had HDTV, :( I'd take that into consideration, too.

    By Blogger Dan, at 9:22 AM  

  • I have to chime in:

    - based on content alone, today, I'd have to say gamecube. Hands down.

    - While I see your point about the Xbox portfolio, you could have mentioned Xbox's parental controls capabilities (you can lock certain ESRB rated titles off the box for those without the password).

    I do work for MS, but not for the console division. I just wanted to give my 2c.


    By Blogger kim, at 12:44 AM  

  • Hey Kim. Good to hear from you.

    Without question, the Xbox is the most impressive, powerful & nimble console technologically, and the fact that it has parental controls is not to be ignored (D'OH! - thanks for the reminder).

    My point is that once you cancel out the cross-platform kid-friendly games, the Xbox has far fewer exclusive titles for kids than the PS2 & GC, so although you can use parental controls, what's left over after you rule out the stuff for older gamers is more meager than on other consoles.

    As a "grownup" gamer, I have an Xbox also and I love it, but if I had to choose ONLY ONE for the kids, I wouldn't choose the Xbox.

    By Blogger Dan, at 6:07 PM  

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