Xbox, GameCube square off
By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
With video-game revenues rivaling Hollywood box office receipts, you can bet your bitmaps that there's a lot at stake for the upcoming console wars between Nintendo and Microsoft.
Gannett News Service
New game consoles boast about their horsepower, but ultimately it's the actual games that matter.
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That raises big questions for video-game fans who want to upgrade to the latest, greatest console, as well as for families considering their first game system: Which system provides the most bang for the buck with cool games and a reasonable price?
There's no easy answer because each console has pluses and minuses, but here's how they compare on a number of fronts.
The Microsoft Xbox retails for $299.99 (the same price as the PS2), while the Nintendo GameCube sells for $199.95. During these tough economic times, this $100 difference may give Nintendo an advantage with cost-conscious consumers.
The price for game titles is roughly the same on both systems. Expect to pay between $30 and $50 for games.
The Xbox with its 733-megahertz (MHz) Pentium III processor, 233 MHz graphics processor, 64 megabytes of memory and 256 audio channels boasts more power than the GameCube, which uses a 485 MHz custom processor, 162 MHz custom graphics processor, 40 MB of memory and 64 audio channels. Plus, the Xbox includes a hard drive (see "Bells & Whistles" below). But don't get bogged down by the technical differences. In tests with about 10 games on each system, both consoles played and sounded remarkably similar.
The controller, which is sort of like a joystick on steroids, is used to move about, fire weapons and control other game actions. A good one is essential. Unfortunately, the Xbox's controller is an abomination, a view that has been expressed on gaming Web sites by reviewers who have had an opportunity to use Xbox at length. The Xbox controller is so big and cumbersome to hold that many gamers (especially kids with small hands) probably will opt to buy a third-party gamepad instead.
On the other hand, the GameCube controller fits most hands comfortably and its controls are arranged so game operation is intuitive.
Bells and whistles
As with PS2, Xbox will play DVD movies, but Xbox owners must purchase a $30 remote to "unlock" this capability.
Xbox also includes a hard drive to store downloadable demos, game add-ons and custom audio tracks. Apparently, the hard drive also is used to speed up how quickly games load, but advance tests don't show much improvement over competing consoles.
GameCube, on the hand, does not contain any "extras," probably to keep the price down. Gamers can, however, plug in their portable Game Boy Advance units into GameCube, where they can receive bonus content and be used as game controllers with some games.
Neither system will support connections to Internet game services at launch. Microsoft and Nintendo both say they'll announce their online strategies sometime next year.
Finally, it's time to take a look at the games that will be available for both consoles because without great titles, what fun would it be to invest in them?
Despite a few exceptions, the Nintendo GameCube is geared toward younger players, but 20-, 30- and 40-somethings undoubtedly will enjoy some of these games, too.
Exclusive titles such as the action/adventure "Luigi's Mansion," the addictive puzzler "Pikmin" and the space shooter "Star Wars: Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader" prove Nintendo can deliver intriguing and polished games at launch something Sony failed to do last year with its initial PS2 titles.
The Xbox also enjoys a couple of impressive, though mature, titles, including Tecmo's "Dead or Alive 3," a gorgeous and fun fighting game, and Microsoft's own "Halo," a sci-fi action game that drops the player in the middle of an epic battle between humans and aliens on a mysterious ring world.
While the first batch of Xbox games seem merely average in game play, give Microsoft some time because it has the determination and the pocketbook to make Xbox a winner in the long run.
Also keep in mind that many games will appear on both systems, such as Electronic Arts' "Cel Damage" and EA Sports' "SSX Tricky."