Buyer’s Guide for Console Gaming Hardware

We’ll it’s the Holiday season again, and with the Holidays comes gift giving.  TheGameReviews has recommended the best gear for each of the consoles, highlighting strengths and weaknesses of the various peripherals in order to help prospective buyers satisfy that special gamer in their lives.

 

 

For the purposes of this guide, we are limiting our focus on only the gear made by Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft because generally 3rd party peripherals tend to be of inferior build quality and often feel a little clunky.  The recipient of your gift will certainly be glad you spent the extra money for the real McCoy.  Remember: nobody ever asked for a generic Mad Katz peripheral for Christmas.  Now, onto the recommendations!

Wii

The Wii may still be hard to find, but Holiday shoppers should have little trouble locating 1st party Wii peripherals. And although rechargeable batteries are prudent gifts for any Wii gamer currently relying on the disposable variety, the fact of the matter is that batteries make lousy gifts on their own. Still, some rechargeable batteries would make a nice accompaniment to another, more entertaining gift.

The Classic Controller – $20
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Although the Classic Controller was marketed primarily towards fans of classic downloadable games available on Nintendo’s Virtual Console, recently several high profile Wii games ( e.g. Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Soul Caliber Legends) basically require this peripheral in order to play with any degree of accuracy. The Classic Controller, which you just plug into the back of a Wimote, is similar to the old school Super Nintendo controller and offers a more traditional layout of buttons for games that don’t rely on motion-sensitive controls.

+ Well built and comfortable, this peripheral is practically required in order to play some of the big name precision-oriented Wii games

- Has to be tethered to a Wiimote, diminishing the appeal of the wireless experience slightly

Conclusion: Whether used to play 8-bit classics on the Virtual Console or trading blows in Super Smash Brothers Brawl, this peripheral is sure to see plenty of use in any Wii household

Wii Zapper – $20

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The Wii Zapper is essentially just a way of making your Wiimote feel more like a gun. It secures the controller and nunchuck in a plastic frame that lets you pull a trigger instead of hitting the Wiimote’s ’B’ button. Although it comes with a simple Zelda-themed target practice mini game, it will only work with a handful of Wiii titles like Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles since using this apparatus limits the nunchuck’s range of motion.

+ A novel prop to accompany some of the Wii shooting games

- Doesn’t work with all the games you would like it to, and really doesn’t add any new features to the limited list of compatible games

Conclusion: It’s not a bad peripheral, but the Zapper is by no means an essential piece of equipment. Still, pretending the innocuous Wiimote is a machine gun will no doubt entertain first-person-shooter enthusiasts. Currently, the Zapper is compatible with: Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles, Medal of Honor 2, and Ghost Squad.

Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 certainly has a wide variety of peripherals out on the market, but some of them offer better value than others. For example, while the HD-DVD Player may initially appear to be a solid buy for any HD TV owner with a 360, there are some important caveats that keep it out of this list of recommended gear: 1) at $180 it’s quite pricey, 2) The current library of HD-DVD titles is limited, 3) The playback quality is lower than standalone HD-DVD players, and 4) the HD content users want most ( e.g. 300 and Transformers) are already available to rent over Xbox LIVE Marketplace without having to buy an expensive peripherals or discs. Another seemingly nifty peripheral, the Xbox Vision Camera, hasn’t been supported very well by Microsoft, and as a result, simply isn’t worth the money at this point.

Xbox 360 Messenger Kit – $30
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Since the Xbox 360 now features Instant Messaging support, Microsoft recently released its Messenger Kit to allow users to enter quickly enter text without requiring a bulky USB keyboard. Since the Chat Pad covers the slot needed to attach a traditional wired headset, the Messenger Kit also comes bundled with a new headset designed to connect to the base of the Pad, but in my experiences, this new headset only works sporadically. Still, its great peripheral since it streamlines all text-based communication without being intrusive. Many games also require a fair bit of text entry, allowing the Chat Pad to supplament your entertainment experiences as well.

+ Lights up for use in the dark, feels great when attached to the controller, and greatly simplifies all text input.

- Chat Pad is difficult to attach to the controller, and the included headset isn’t as reliable as the original model.

Conclusion: The Wireless Messenger kit works great, and greatly simplifies inputting text on your 360. Weather naming an alchemical potion in Oblivion or having a quick IM session in-between gaming sessions, the Messenger Kit works great and feels good in your hands.

Wireless Headset – $60
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The Wireless Headset is solidly built, easy to setup and use, and offers better sound quality than the wired alternative. It’s certainly pricey, but considering the amount of online activities available on the system, the Wireless Headset is one peripheral that is sure to see plenty of use. It’s nice not being tethered to your controller, but since the range is about half that of the controller, if you wander to the kitchen to grab a snack while talking to someone, the controller will stay active while the headset will cut out. Of course, you can just walk back into the room with your 360, and the headset will beep to let you know you’re connected again, but it is a bit obnoxious when you are in mid conversation to suddenly hear your friend’s voice coming out of the TV asking what happened. Despite the range issue, the peripheral is a great addition to any online gamer’s collection. At the very least, it’s nice to not look like Judy from the Time Life Books commercial.

+ Great fidelity, reliability, and ease of use

- High price and somewhat limited range, but unless you plan to be making frequent trips to the kitchen while chatting, it’s not that big of a deal

Conclusion: Given the 360s online emphasis, the wireless headset is a great peripheral that is both convenient and ergonomic.

PlayStation 3

One thing to keep in mind when buying a gift for your favorite PS3 gamer: don’t buy them a new Sixaxis controller unless specifically instructed to do so. Sony is releasing a new version (called the Dualshock 3) in early 2008 that will offer force feedback which means many PS3 gamers are going to want to replace their current controllers with the newer, rumbling models in a matter of months. Overseas online vendors like PlayAsia.com are already selling the already-released Japanese version, but rumble support for US titles is sketchy, and you’ll end up spending around $70 with shipping for something that probably won’t arrive in time for the Holidays.

PlayStation Eye – $40
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Sony’s new camera is a big improvement over the popular Eye Toy: it has relatively high resolution, features 4 microphones which allow you to communicate in online games without a headset, is supported by awesome (not to mention free!) video editing software called Eye Create, and is designed to work well in a wide variety of environmental conditions. What’s more, Sony is supporting the Eye with a variety of inexpensive software available via PlayStation Network, making this one of the coolest gifts you can give any PlayStation gamer this year.

+ Easy to use, feature rich, and supported by a wealth of software

- Audio and video quality when chatting aren’t as crisp as you would hope, but is a big improvement over the Eye Toy

Conclusion: Sony’s new camera peripheral has something cool to offer most any PS3 owner.

Blu-Ray Remote Control – $25
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Since Sony went with Blue-Tooth controls, universal remotes are sadly not an option for PS3 owners who watch movies on their PS3. Considering how cumbersome the standard Sixaxis controls are when watching a film, the Remote Control is a great gift for anyone who is interested in taking advantage of their console’s numerous entertainment applications. Although the layout of the remote isn’t as intuitive as some would have liked, it’s still an important addition to a PS3 owner’s home entertainment system.

+ Superior alternative to the standard controller when watching movies or browsing media

- A little bit more difficult to use than the average remote due shared buttons between the remote and the Sixaxis controller

Conclusion: PS3 owners who enjoy taking advantage of their console’s multimedia features will appreciate this peripheral, which gets the job done despite a few confusing design choices.

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