With the Xbox One X now out, the decision on which gaming console to buy this holiday season just got even more difficult. With Christmas, Black friday, cyber monday, kwanzaa, and a whole host of other special days, there’s a lot of gifts that we probably need to get. A console is usually a good choice but there are a ton of different options. Should you buy the most powerful available or the one with a great game library? Should you go for the console with an impressive lineup of first-party games or the console with a strong lineup of indie and niche games? Decisions, decisions.
Not all gaming consoles come with the same brand of entertainment. Each has strengths and weaknesses. In this buying guide, we list down both home and handheld consoles, focusing on the reasons why you should and shouldn’t buy them this holiday season.
The list includes the Xbox One S, Xbox One X, PS4, PS4 Pro, PS Vita, Nintendo Switch, and Nintendo 3DS/2DS. We dropped the Wii U because the Switch has now replaced it in the market.
Xbox One S
BUY IF: You just want to play Xbox One games. You don’t give a crap about graphics. You want a gaming console with a built-in Ultra HD Blu-ray player. You want a home console with backward compatibility.
The Xbox One S is what the original Xbox One should have been when it launched in 2013. It supports HDR and 4K video streaming and comes with a built-in Ultra HD Blu-ray player, making it a better all-around multimedia machine than the PS4. The Xbox One game library is way behind when it comes to console exclusives, though. But on the bright side, the console offers backward compatibility for select Xbox and Xbox 360 games, allowing you to catch up on some of the games you missed.
DON’T BUY IF: You’re looking for a great lineup of console exclusive games. You care about graphics more than anything else.
The lack of console exclusives is a big issue, which becomes even more glaring once you take out Microsoft first-party games from the equation. For multi-platform games, the PS4 is also the better option simply because it comes with better hardware. Of course, with the Xbox One X now out, that is no longer an issue. But only if you’re willing to cough up $500 for a gaming console.
NOTABLE TITLES: Halo 5: Guardians, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Gears of War 4, Forza Horizon 3, Forza Motorsport 7, Cuphead, Sunset Overdrive, Halo Wars 2, and Rise of the Tomb Raider.
Xbox One X
BUY IF: You care about graphics and won’t settle for anything less than true 4K gaming on home consoles. You can afford to spend $500 on a gaming console. You already own a 4K TV or plan to buy one in the near future.
The Xbox One X is a beast, hands down. It’s the most powerful gaming console ever created, easily eclipsing the PS4 Pro when it comes to horsepower. It is fully capable of running games in 4K resolution with 60 fps. And my goodness, games look absolutely stunning on Microsoft’s just-released gaming machine, which serves as a mid-gen upgrade for the Xbox One.
Sure, the $500 price tag is eye-popping. But for half a grand, you get a home console capable of producing graphics on par with a $1500 gaming PC. The Xbox One X also comes with the same features as the Xbox One S, which includes a built-in Ultra HD Blu-ray player and backward compatibility for select Xbox and Xbox 360 games.
DON’T BUY IF: You don’t own a 4K TV and have no plans to get one. You get nauseous at the thought of spending $500 on a gaming console. You don’t care about graphics and 4K console gaming.
The Xbox One X is best paired with a 4K TV. Games still look amazing on a 1080p TV. But if you want to really bring out the full potential of Microsoft’s beastly gaming machine, you need to connect it to a 4K TV. It’s the only way to make spending $500 on a home console worth it. Stick to the Xbox One S if you just want to play Xbox One games.
GAMES BEST PLAYED ON XBOX ONE X: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Call of Duty: WWII, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Middle-earth: Shadow of War, NBA 2K18, Halo 5: Guardians, Forza Motorsport 7, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Gears of War 4.
BUY IF: You want an excellent catalog of must-play console exclusives. You like Sony’s upcoming lineup of first-party games more than Microsoft’s and Nintendo’s.
It’s all about the games for the PS4. Sony won this generation thanks in large part to console exclusives. Check out the lineup for the first half of 2017 alone: Nioh, Nier: Automata, Horizon Zero Dawn, and Persona 5. And Sony isn’t done yet. Sony’s upcoming games list includes Spider-Man, God of War, Final Fantasy VII Remake, Death Stranding, The Last of Us Part II, Days Gone, and Detroit: Become Human. We don’t know about you, but that’s an awfully good-looking list right there.
DON’T BUY IF: You’re not interested in Sony’s lineup of current and upcoming console exclusives. You want a complete multimedia entertainment machine.
It’s hard not to like the PS4’s game library. But we understand that there are those who still prefer Nintendo’s and Microsoft’s first-party games any day of the week. If you belong to that group, then the PS4 isn’t for you. The PS4 is also purely a gaming machine, making it unattractive to those who also want to watch Ultra HD movies on their home consoles.
NOTABLE TITLES: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Bloodborne, Persona 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, Nioh, Gran Turismo Sport, The Last of Us Remastered, Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, Nier: Automata, and Until Dawn.
BUY IF: You find Sony’s lineup of current and upcoming console exclusives drool-worthy. You want to experience 4K gaming on a home console without coughing up $500. You plan to dive into virtual reality gaming with the PlayStation VR in the near future.
Again, it’s all about the games. The PS4 game library is way more impressive than the Xbox One’s, with games like Persona 5, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and Bloodborne in the fold. The PS4 Pro is the more affordable 4K-capable home console ($100 cheaper than the Xbox One X), although results for enhanced games have been a mixed bag. If you also want to experience virtual reality gaming on a home console, then the PS4 Pro is the only one capable of that at the moment.
DON’T BUY IF: You’re all about graphics and want a home console capable of consistently delivering true 4K gaming. You want real backward compatibility for last-gen games. You want a complete entertainment system with a built-in Ultra HD Blu-ray player.
The PS4 Pro is a powerful gaming machine. But the Xbox One X thoroughly outshines it in regard to hardware power. It has mixed results when it comes to true 4K gaming with 60 fps, with many players not noticing any significant changes in patched games. It also lacks real backward compatibility (Sony opted for the PS Now cloud service).
Unlike the Xbox One S and Xbox One X, the PS4 Pro doesn’t have a built-in Ultra HD Blu-ray player, making it less attractive to gamers who want a two-in-one entertainment system capable of running games and 4K movies. But you need a 4K TV to fully utilize Sony’s mid-gen console upgrade. If you own or plan to buy a 4K TV and really care about graphics, the Xbox One X is the better buy.
GAMES BEST PLAYED ON PS4 PRO: Destiny 2, Final Fantasy XV, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Horizon Zero Dawn, Infamous Second Son, and Rez Infinite.
BUY IF: You’re into indie games and JRPGs and want to play them on-the-go. You want to play ports of several PS2 and PS3 games. You care about graphics and want the most powerful pure handheld console available. You own a PS4 and want to play remotely in some games.
It took Sony around 30 seconds to cut off support for the Vita. But the handheld console managed to survive by getting a steady diet of indie games and JRPGs. Since the Switch is primarily marketed as a home console, the Vita is still the most powerful pure handheld console out in the market. It’s also a great companion to the PS4, allowing you to play remotely in select games, similar to how the Switch functions.
DON’T BUY IF: You’re looking for a more futureproof handheld console. You don’t like touchscreen and motion controls while playing games.
The Vita is dead outside of Japan where developers still support it. It’s similar to how the PSP still continued to get support in the Land of the Rising Sun after everyone has moved on. There’s really no reason to buy a Vita unless you’re a big fan of indie games and JRPGs or want to play ports of PS2 and PS3 games.
NOTABLE TITLES: Persona 4 Golden, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, Tales of Hearts R, Muramasa Rebirth, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, Gravity Rush, Spelunky, and Guacamelee!
BUY IF: You want to play games both in a traditional home console setup and while on-the-go using only one gaming console. You want to play fun local multiplayer games with friends and family. You’re a huge fan of Nintendo first-party games.
The Switch turned out to be exactly as advertised. It allows you seamlessly switch from gaming at home to gaming on-the-go and vice versa by simply docking and undocking the tablet-like main unit. And you don’t sacrifice quality when switching to handheld mode: the resolution is still at a respectable 720p, down from 1080p in TV mode, when undocked. The Switch is also great for local multiplayer, thanks to the detachable controllers which function separately.
DON’T BUY IF: You want to wait for the Switch game library to expand. You’re not a fan of Nintendo first-party games. You’re all about graphics when it comes to home console gaming.
The Switch is only less than a year old, so the game library isn’t loaded yet. It can be argued that the Switch is basically just a glorified Zelda and Mario gaming machine right now, hardly worth $300 for those who have no plans to play Nintendo first-party games. We recommend checking back maybe in a year when the Switch game library is no longer filled with ports and has more to offer other than Nintendo games.
NOTABLE TITLES: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Arms, Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Pokken Tournament DX, Fire Emblem Warriors, Stardew Valley, and Golf Story.
BUY IF: You’re looking for a handheld console with an excellent game library. You’re a big fan of Nintendo’s intellectual properties such as Pokemon, Fire Emblem, Mario, and Zelda. You want to play Nintendo DS games you missed.
The 3DS pales in comparison to the PS Vita in terms of hardware power. But when it comes down to games, the 3DS blows Sony’s handheld console out of the water. RPG fans will definitely love the 3DS. Nintendo still continues to support the handheld console, producing a pair of notable first-party games – Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia and Pokemon Ultra Sun/Moon – this year. But perhaps the biggest proof Nintendo has no plans to pull the plug yet is the recently released New 2DS XL.
DON’T BUY IF: You don’t like outdated and low-quality graphics. You don’t like Nintendo first-party games. You’re prone to headaches and migraines.
Hardware-wise, the 3DS isn’t exactly the most impressive, which becomes even more obvious when playing games on the XL series. The 3D feature was supposed to make playing on the 3DS a unique experience. Unfortunately, it caused headaches more than entertainment. The 3DS game library isn’t really for everybody and only caters to a specific audience, so don’t buy it unless you’re interested in playing at least 10 games.
NOTABLE TITLES: Pokemon Sun/Moon, Fire Emblem Fates, Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, New Super Mario Bros. 2, Bravely Default, and Monster Hunter Generations.
Ultimately, the decision on which gaming console to pick up this holiday season depends on your preferences, use the information above to make a strongly informed choice. Happy shopping, everyone!
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