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Joystiq Holidaze: The $500 budget


Derived from the French word, "budgette," the term "budget" rose out of the stale and hardened bread loaves used to beat errant children over the head whenever they begged for money to spend at the candy store. Indeed, the adherence to a budget often feels like a sudden blow when surrounded by the objects of your desire, and it is this article's duty to keep you in check when finances are less than fortuitous. When it comes to purchasing a new console, let us hover the bread over your head.

In other, less interesting words, this is how we think you should spend your precious $500 (pre-tax for simplicity's sake) on the trio of current consoles. You know, the ones that are still expensive. In conjunction with our Black Friday deal round-up, you might just be left with some change.

Sony Playstation 3

  • Console: 40GB model, includes Spider-Man 3 Blu-ray -- $400
With a more palatable price and a handful of worthwhile exclusives, the PlayStation 3 need no longer include a straitjacket with every purchase. Of course, the supply of stylish insanity garments has since been diverted to the department that okayed the removal of PlayStation 2 backwards compatibility, but the system's solid modern library and its robust set of media capabilities still make it a good fit for hardcore gamers. Major publishers like Ubisoft and Activision are now delivering their multiplatform games on time (though a few stragglers remain) and without glaring technical discrepancies between PS3 and Xbox 360 versions.

Don't let detractors downplay the system's superb media functionalities either. Regardless of what prompts you to buy a PS3 in the first place, know that all of its features are there for you to use. If you enjoy movies, go ahead and pick up some Blu-ray films (you get five films free through this offer!). Don't let a silly format war between massive corporations stop you from enjoying yourself today -- your discs aren't going to spontaneously evaporate when you aren't looking.
  • Thingamabob: HDMI Cable -- $20
Yes, we know. How does a system that's branded up the wazoo with "High Definition" fail to include any HD-capable cables? Display extraordinary wisdom by picking up an HDMI cable of a decent length and with good connectors. Don't let retail monsters swallow up your cash with fancy tri-dimensional, dilithium-infused $100 cables either. The signal passing through the wire is digital -- either the 1s and 0s make it to the other side or they don't. Don't worry, your 1080p placebos will look just fine on a cheaper cable.
Naughty Dog's archaeological romp through the jungle is the very embodiment of what Sony hopes to deliver with the PlayStation 3. Uncharted's exceptional production values and cinematic flair certainly make a strong case for Sony's technology push, but the meshing of several genres and the likable nature of leading man Drake, root it in the realm of superb games.

Sign up to the PlayStation Network (it's free!) and download this omni-directional shooter from Jonathan Mak. We could tell you about the Game Developer's Choice awards it's won, but a more effective description goes like this: If REZ was a top-down shooter, it would be this game.

Another dual-analog shooter, but one not nearly as musically inclined or relaxed as Everyday Shooter. Super Stardust HD revels in chaos and glitz, tasking you with blasting apart killer asteroids. Oh, and how magnificently they break into bits and pieces before your eyes!

Total: $493

Got some spare change? Save it for:
  • Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction
  • Assassin's Creed
  • Call of Duty 4
  • Heavenly Sword

Microsoft Xbox 360

Serious gamers likely don't need much justification for purchasing Microsoft's sphere-branded system, but here it is anyway: Seamless integration of online play into all the games that support it, a platform-wide achievement system that challenges you to play games in different ways, and a considerable number of excellent third-party games and exclusives. With the latest models featuring the improved Falcon chipsets, the appalling failure rate of the Xbox 360 should theoretically be a thing of the past. And theoretically, there's no difference between theory and practice... but in practice there usually is. So, umm, just hope for the best and hold on to that 3-year warranty, yeah?

Go Pro to get all the goods you need, including a 20GB hard drive, a headset, ethernet cable, wireless controller and a month of Xbox Live Gold. The package also includes free copies of racing sim Forza 2 and super-heroic clobberfest, Marvel Ultimate Alliance.
BioWare's space opera excels in cinematic storytelling, dipping into the 360's innards like an ink pot sustaining thousands of pages of sci-fi scribbles. Mass Effect may not be at its most elegant during the shooty bits (think Gears of WaRPG), but we're big proponents of technology being used to craft immersive worlds and believable characters. Get lost in it.

Drowning in atmosphere and swimming in... wait, you can't be drowning and swimming at the same time, can you? The beautifully realized (but ultimately sinister) underwater city of BioShock is messing with our ability to construct proper sentences. Perhaps we're better off by just saying it's a phenomenal and deeply engaging first-person shooter, filled with great moments and particularly intriguing villains.

There honestly hasn't been a truly great title on Xbox Live Arcade in a while, but Puzzle Quest comes recommended if you haven't had a chance to succumb to its polite puzzle wiles on other platforms. For a game that has you traipsing across the kingdom to battle all sorts of beasts, it's surprisingly cerebral and laid back.

If dashing about suspiciously narrow mazes and hurling bombs at you friends doesn't suit your interests, we have startling information to share with you: You are not human.

Yeah, this one's a joke. Go ahead and download Toyota's abysmal advergame for a laugh, watching it hit every single pothole on the road to good game design before driving off a cliff, Thelma & Louise style. At the very least, it'll answer that burning question you've always had: "What would happen if somebody replaced Sonic with a Toyota in the Sonic the Hedgehog 2 special stages?"

Total: $495

Got some spare change? Save it for:
  • Assassin's Creed
  • Call of Duty 4
  • Halo 3
  • The Orange Box
  • An Xbox Live Gold Membership

Nintendo Wii

  • Console: Wii, includes Wii Sports -- $250
As you're currently reading and not (don't bother, that link doesn't work... yet), don't expect us to ensnare you lot with the Wiimote's casual gamer lasso -- casual gamers don't read us. We know you like good games though, and the Wii most definitely has them. It took developers almost a year to ditch their minigame meh-stravaganzas and embrace more subtle motion controls, but the Wii's price and first-party library are compelling reasons to shake hands with Mr. Waggle. And hey, playing Tennis with your grandma is a nice bonus (just make sure she's still alive before you serve).
  • Thingamabob: Component cables -- $30
The letters "H" & "D" may not be part of the Wii's alphabet, but that doesn't mean you have to put up with the sub-par visuals spat out by the included composite cables. If the image transmitted between the Wii and your television was a slab of meat, think of composite cables as a trip through the meat grinder and into a bucket, the contents of which end up splattered randomly across a white wall. Say "No!" to color bleeding and fuzziness and get component cables -- it'll make a difference even on your standard TV set (provided it has the right inputs).
  • Thingamabob + Game: Wii Play (includes Wii Remote) -- $50
For $10 less than a Wiimote and Nunchuck combo, you get a collection of vaguely amusing minigames. Certainly not a terrible deal, especially considering that the only two-player game in this list that requires a nunchuck is Wii Boxing -- consider it technically knocked out.

Oh please, like this one needs an elaborate, self-indulgent paragraph!

If our words could somehow transform into hands flying out of your monitor, we'd write things like, "We'll keep throttling you until you purchase this delightful game!" As charming and inventive and clever as Capcom's pirate puzzler is, it's obviously destined to become buried in this holiday's crushing glut of games. It might as well be transparent, standing on a street corner while it (and fans of the game) claw at passersby, asking for just a morsel of attention. Don't you dare ignore it, or we'll get serious about inventing that text-to-strangulation technology.
Metroid Prime's moody exploration returns for the third time, this time wrapped in a more immediate story and dipped in pure adrenaline. It still boasts the wonderfully detailed worlds the series is loved for, but the intuitive and responsive controls allow for some action-packed showdowns with long-time villains and those duplicitous doppelgangers Samus is always having trouble with. MP3 is music to our ears one of the best first-person shooters (yes, this one's definitely a shooter) you'll play this year... and that's saying something in the year 2007.
  • Retro Game: Super Mario Bros. 3 -- $5
It could just be that we're getting lazy on this end of the article, but seriously. We have to explain why one of the greatest games ever is worth revisiting on Nintendo's Virtual Console service? We thought not.

Total: $475

Got some spare change? Save it for:
  • Resident Evil 4: Wii Edition
  • Trauma Center: New Blood
  • Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles
  • A Classic Controller

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