A Comprehensive, One-Stop Guide to the GameCube, Xbox, & PS2

A step-by-step guide to the current game consoles

When you first approach console gaming, the most obvious question is which game system to buy. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Nintendo GameCube compared to Sony’s PS2 or Microsoft’s Xbox? While the forums are rife with user opinion, it’s difficult to find a comprehensive approach online that doesn’t break down into foul language and hair pulling by the end of the conversation. If you’re new to the industry, curious about what gaming options are available, or just want to be able to hold your own in an intelligent conversation with gaming nerds like me, this article is for you. It contains information about the ups and downs of each system, and is written to be useful to those who have no previous experience with the industry, games, or of breaking bricks with their head. In fact, in general I’d suggest that hitting your head against things like bricks would make this subject more difficult to grasp, not less.

How to Decide Between Systems:

It’s hard to decide what makes one system better than the others, especially if you don’t know what to look for. When deciding which system you want to purchase, it’s a good idea to start by asking yourself some key questions.

  • Games: Does the system have games that I want to play?
  • Price: How much do I want to spend?
  • Hardware: Can the system do what I want it to do? Does it have good graphics, storage space, good controls, good sound, etc?
  • Online and Networking: Is the system capable of playing online, and do I care?

The goal of this guide is not only to help you figure out which system is strong in each category, but also to help you figure out why it’s important, and how it impacts you as a potential gamer.

The Basics: What Game Consoles are Available and Who Makes Them:

Three companies currently rule the home console industry.

  • Nintendo, makers of the Nintendo GameCube
  • Sony, makers of the Playstation 2
  • Microsoft, makers of the Xbox

Currently, the Playstation 2 holds the greatest market share, which means that more people own PS2s than any other modern system, with the Xbox and the GameCube competing for second place. Each company has a different approach to the current generation of gaming systems. Sony repeatedly claims that they “don’t really care” what Nintendo is doing, while Nintendo, traditionally viewed as the makers of kid friendly games, is trying to shed its kids-only public image. Microsoft, the second largest player in the industry, is almost exclusively about cool, and it shows in which types of games are available. If a company is trying to be cool, you’re not going to find as many games on their system that are cute, cuddly, and well designed for a younger audience. If that’s what you’re interested in, then buying the wrong system could leave you wandering stores looking for games that you’ll enjoy. We’ll talk about this in the Games section of the guide.

Before We Start: Beware the “Definite” Answer:

Several years ago at E3, Sony announced at their press conference that the “console wars are over.” Claiming this when the GameCube and the Xbox were still fresh to the market, Sony backed its claim by comparing the sales figures of the PS1 & PS2 with the sales figures of the other two systems. Since the Playstation 2 had been on the market for nearly a year before the Xbox and GameCube, and since they were including the sales data of past Sony systems, the numbers showing Sony’s dominance were astronomical. In a lot of ways, it looked exactly like Sony claimed; the console wars had been won. Nintendo responded at their press conference later in the day with the combined sales statistics for every console they have ever produced: Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo 64, SuperNES, NES, Gameboy Advance, Gameboy Color, classic Gameboy – nearly ever system they’ve made since the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1983 made it into the tally. Their numbers put Sony’s to shame, and stood as a reminder that not only had Nintendo been around for a great deal of time, but that market information can and will be skewed.

The most important aspect of a game system is the availability of good games. If a system is amazingly fast, has online support and fabulous controls, but no games that you want to play, the system is basically worthless. For example, the Xbox has nearly double the games available for it than the GameCube, but many of those are not very good. Despite have more options on the Xbox, I’ve purchased more games for my GameCube than I have for my Xbox, despite being a fan of both systems. Quantity of games is not necessarily important when compared to quality, and in this case the GameCube has the strongest line-up of exclusive titles of any system.

  • Exclusive Titles: Exclusive titles are simply games that are only available on one system, and not the others.
  • Delayed Release Title: This is a title that is released first on one system, and then released later on another, usually after a number of months. This gives the system that had the title first an advantage.

Each console has its own list of exclusive titles. For the Xbox, its forerunner exclusive titles are Halo and Halo 2, though the Halo franchise is a PC release as well. The PS2 tends to lay claim to a smaller assortment of exclusives, but a greater number of delayed release titles, the obvious being the Grand Theft Auto series. Nintendo, on the other hand, has a long list of big name exclusive franchises that revolve around characters they have developed over the years. These tend to be games based around Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Pikmin, Pokemon, Starfox, Animal Crossing, and Wario. While all systems have their fair share of good exclusive titles, there is no denying that in the last three years, Nintendo exclusives have topped the monthly game sale charts more often than either of the other two, despite having a much smaller population base (less people own GameCubes). Considering the price of a GameCube, and Nintendo’s willingness to take risks in their game line-up, I consider the GameCube an essential part of any serious gamers collection. In my case, Nintendo also has a nostalgic value; Nintendo characters are the ones I grew up with, and participate in many of my fondest memories. Despite Nintendo’s attempts to escape the image, the GameCube is probably one of the safer bets if purchasing a game system for a younger audience.

The other systems have their advantages in this department, too, though. The PS2 is backwards compatible with old PS1 games, and has been on the shelves longer than any other modern system. This makes the PS2’s game catalogue huge compared to either of the other two. For example, according to GameRankings.com, the GameCube has roughly 500 announced titles, the Xbox 800, and the PS2 nearly 1300. If you combine PS1 games with those numbers, the volume of titles that can ultimately be played on the PS2 falls around 2900 games. As far as I’m concerned, the number of titles available on the PS2 is the primary reason, perhaps the only reason, to own the unit. The Xbox, on the other hand, has one substantial advantage: Xbox LIVE.

Online Play:

The discussion of online play basically has to center around Xbox LIVE, which is a truly unique online gaming service for the Xbox that allows users to play many games against and with other Xbox owners. Unlike the GameCube or PS2, the majority of games on the Xbox now ship with some form of online support; Xbox LIVE is a prominent part of Microsoft’s gaming strategy. The only downside is that too many people bought into Microsoft’s initial advertising schemes, promoting “trash talk 101”, and the network is flooded with a high number of gamers that think the voice chat is really just an added way to mock other players. While some PS2 games have online support, they do not typically use a unified network, voice chat, or a slew of other features that Xbox LIVE makes standard in every supporting game. The GameCube’s online capabilities are not really competitive.

If you want to play games over the Internet, the Xbox is by far the most obvious choice. If, on the other hand, what you’re interested in is hanging with your friends on a couch, playing games on the same TV, most of the systems perform equally well, depending on the gameplay experience you’re after. This, again, relates back to what games are available for each system.

Conclusions:

It’s time to revisit that original question, “What system is right for me?” You can go over the information above, decide what’s important to you, and then make a choice on your own, but to make it simpler I’m going to make one or two recommendations, based on a few key facts:

  1. The experience you will get from either the Xbox or the PS2 are virtually interchangeable. While they vary slightly in games, they tend to have the same style of content.
  2. The GameCube is the system with the most consistently unique content. You’ll be able to experience things on the GameCube that you simply won’t be able to on the PS2 or Xbox.
  3. If you’re interested in more kid-friendly, lighter games, the GameCube is the way to go. If you’re interested in darker, adult-oriented games, all the systems have exceptional offerings.
  4. The Xbox has the best online and hardware support.

Based on these four points, I’d say that the Xbox and the GameCube are equally viable options. Arguments could be made for either system, depending on how you approach gaming, and what sort of games you enjoy. Since the Xbox and PS2 offer a similar style of games, but the Xbox has greater online playability and a hard drive, I’d recommend it over the PS2. In other words, in my opinion either the Xbox or the GameCube are the way to go. No one can claim to be experiencing the full breadth of what games have to offer without owning a GameCube, and no one can claim to be experiencing the full breadth of online play without owning an Xbox. Even though it has the greatest market share, the PS2 has a limited indispensability.

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