A Boy's-Eye Look at the Consoles

Thirteen-year-old Matthew has played all three. Here, he lets go of the controllers for a few minutes to tell us what he thinks

GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 are the three most advanced and popular video-game consoles on the market. They have some similarities but also many differences -- including graphics, their controllers, and the games available. Which one is best for you depends on what you like to do with it -- apart from playing games, some consoles can play CDs, DVDs, and/or connect to the Internet for online gaming.

The main thing I like to do is just play games -- sport games, especially skateboarding ones, and a few story games, such as Luigi's Mansion, where the goal is to find a character named Mario by overcoming dozens of obstacles. I only use a system's DVD player now and then -- to play a movie or get video tips for skateboarding. I don't go on the Internet to play against other people online. Competing against the game -- by myself or with a friend -- has been enough for me.

I've owned the Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2) since August and Nintendo's GameCube since it came out in November, 2001. A few days ago, I also got Microsoft's Xbox to try out.


  One of the first things you'll hear when people start talking about a game system (including me) is whether it has good graphics. Some games, such as most new sports games made by Electronic Arts for Xbox, GameCube, and PS2, make characters look like real people. The same high-quality graphics also show up in action games like the highly anticipated Metal Gear Solid 2, released in November for PS2.

The best graphics exhibit lots of detail. An example is Luigi's Mansion for GameCube. When Luigi is cold, you can see his breath, and when he's scared, he sometimes hesitates a few seconds before doing something. You can clearly see just about everything on the screen -- rarely will something be blurrred. All three systems I tried have good graphics. But Xbox and GameCube have the best -- by a hair.

Next, let's talk about something parents are interested in -- price, and what you get for your money. Xbox and PS2 both sell for $300. GameCube is $200. GameCube can only play games, but PS2 and Xbox can do much more than that. PS2 can handle both games for both PS2 and the original PlayStation. It also plays CDs and DVD movies. Xbox can play games and CDs. It can also connect to the Internet. And it plays DVD movies but only if you buy a $30 DVD remote. Its DVD player turns the system into something the whole family can use while your child isn't playing a game.


  One good feature all three have is a self-cooling system. If you or your kids have played video games on older players for a couple of hours straight, you know that the console can get very hot. That won't happen with GameCube, Xbox, or PS2. Their self-cooling system lets anyone who is playing experience hours of enjoyment at a time and should help these systems last a long time.

Memory cards are something every system needs to save your place in a game when you log off. PS2 memory cards cost $35, and GameCube's cost $15. Xbox memory cards also cost $35 -- but those are just for additional memory if the awesome hard drive isn't enough for you. That hard drive is Xbox's biggest advantage. It means that a player like me might never have to buy more memory.

Controllers, the handsets that allow you to navigate a game, are another important thing to check out because their features determine how easy the game is to play and how many people can participate. Xbox, PS2, and GameCube come with one controller. GameCube and Xbox both have four controller slots. PS2 has two, and if you want to plug in more, you must buy a separate hookup, which costs $30 to $40. Additional controllers for Xbox cost $40, while the PS2 and GameCube controllers cost $35.

My favorite controller is the GameCube's, and then PS2's, and last, Xbox'. The Xbox controller is bigger and wider than the other two, so it's hard for me to keep a good grasp. And it has too many buttons that you don't need.


  For anyone who has a Game Boy Advance and a GameCube, there's a bonus. Game Boy Advance is the newest version of Game Boy, a handheld game player. It has great graphics and a bigger screen than earlier Game Boys and sells for $90 to $100. If you buy a special cord for $10 to $15, you can hook up your Game Boy Advance as a GameCube controller. One warning for anyone who plans to do this: Game Boy Advance has fewer buttons than the GameCube controller, so on certain games, such as Luigi's Mansion, Game Boy Advance won't work as a controller.

Everyone wants their system to load games quickly, so when they turn it on they can just start playing. PS2 is the slowest of the three, which isn't surprising, because it's more than a year old, while GameCube and Xbox are only a month old. Just because PS2 is the slowest doesn't mean it's really slow because it's actually pretty fast -- Xbox is just a few seconds faster. The speediest system is GameCube. It almost never brings up a loading screen but usually pops straight to the game so you can start playing quickly.

If you're like me, and you like to take your game system with you sometimes, its size is important. Xbox is about the size of a VCR (and it feels as heavy), and PS2 is just a bit smaller. GameCube, on the other hand, is a small box about 6 inches square, with a handle like a lunch box's. PS2 and Xbox games both use CD-ROM game disks, but GameCube has introduced something new to the game industry -- mini-CDs, which you need for such a small player.


  Games are a big part of any system -- how many are available and especially the quality. Since PS2 followed the popular PlayStation, it's no surprise that it launched with hundreds of games, among them the best ever made. When it comes to the number of available games, PS2 has the most, then Xbox, then GameCube. Xbox and GameCube don't have many games yet, but the quality of those available is very high.

GameCube has Luigi's Mansion and Star Wars Rogue Leader -- Rogue Squadron II. Xbox has Halo and Amped Freestyle Snowboarding. PS2 has many standout games, but my favorites are Metal Gear Solid 2 and Grand Theft Auto III. In my book, PS2 is the winner when it comes to having the most games.

If you're buying a player for a kid, it's important to know which systems are for which ages. PS2 and Xbox are both recommended for ages 10 and up. GameCube is for children six and up. Many of the games for Playstation2 are rated Mature, which means they contain content for people 17 and up. Xbox has some Mature games and a lot of teen games, which are for people 13 and up. GameCube mostly has games for everyone and a few teen games -- but basically no Mature games yet.


  The differences between the three systems are small but important to me. I like the GameCube because it's the smallest, lightest, and fastest, is built just for games, and its controller has the best button placements for me. I like the big hard drive on the Xbox, but its controller is too big for my hands, and it bothers me that you have to pay an extra $30 if you want to use the DVD player. Xbox is probably fine, though, for people with big hands who don't mind lugging around something heavy if they have to.

If you're buying your first game system and plan to use it on the Internet, you might consider the Xbox. But if you already have a PS2, I can't see why you would need Xbox. PS2 is a little slower than the Xbox, but its controller is easier to use, and there are hundreds more games available for it -- and very good ones, too. And those are why you buy a game system in the first place.

By Matthew Adel-Arnold in Teaneck, N.J.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.