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Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony have all slashed the prices on their gaming consoles. If you're thinking about buying a Wii, PS3 or Xbox 360 this holiday, here are a few things to consider.
By InGame reporter
NBC News
updated 9/25/2009 8:28:49 AM ET 2009-09-25T12:28:49

Gamers, would-be gamers and those considering buying games for the gamers in their lives — now is the time to dance your happy dance. This holiday is shaping up to be an excellent one for you and you and you. And, most importantly, for your wallets too.

Nintendo on Wednesday announced that it is dropping the price of its best-selling game machine — the Wii — for the first time since it went on sale almost three years ago. Starting Sunday, the Wii will sell for $200 instead of $250.

This news comes mere weeks after both Sony and Microsoft began slashing the prices of their own game machines. Sony started the chopping in mid-August when it introduced the newer, svelter PlayStation 3 Slim console for $300 — $100 less than any PS3 had ever been sold for. Microsoft then dropped its Xbox 360 Elite price from $400 to $300. (Msnbc.com is a Microsoft-NBC Universal joint venture.)

Yes, with the all-important holiday season quickly approaching and video games sales sagging, the gaming giants are each trying especially hard this year to woo you.

“For the consumer, you’re getting a lot of choice now for under $300,” says Michael Pachter, games analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities.

According to market researcher NPD Group, video game hardware sales in the U.S. are down 17 percent so far this year. Nintendo, for example, which sold 453,000 Wiis in August last year, only sold 277,400 of them in August this year. But analysts believe the price drops will help turn things around in the coming months.

Pachter believes that the PS3 — which many thought was long overpriced — will benefit most from the recent round of price cuts. And he thinks that Nintendo’s price reduction could boost Wii sales in the final months of this year back up to the healthy levels they were at last year.

“I think overall, it’s going to be good for the industry both in hardware and software sales,” says analyst Michael Cai, vice president of video game research at Interpret LLC. “There’s no question that if you drop prices you drive up demand because a lot of the interested buyers who haven’t made a purchase are holding off and waiting for the price to drop.”

Eenie, meenie, miny, moe
So let’s say you’re one of those people who’s been waiting for prices to drop. Let’s say you now have a couple hundred greenbacks in your pocket and you’re looking to spend them on a game machine. What does each machine have to offer? And which one is the right game machine for you?

Certainly each company will tell you that their game machine is the best game machine out there. But honestly, each one has its strengths and its weaknesses. More crucially, it’s important for consumers to think about what they want out of their gaming experience.

All the fancy tech specs or highly promoted games in the world don’t matter if the machine and its games aren’t a good fit for you or for the person you’re buying the device for.

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A few things to consider when deciding which game machine to spend your hard-earned cash on: What kind of games do you like to play most — epic shooting games, quirky party games, etc.? Is playing games online something you plan to spend a lot of time doing? Do you want your gaming machine to multitask? Who else in your household is going to use the console?

With these questions in mind, here’s a look at what each machine has to offer.

WII
Price: $200

Tech Specs: Comes with one motion-sensing Remote controller and Nunchuk extension and the “Wii Sports” game. It doesn’t have a hard drive but instead has 512 megabytes of internal flash memory and has an SD card slot for external storage. You have to buy the SD card.

Pros: The Wii’s most alluring feature is its unique control mechanism. The motion-sensitive Remote and Nunchuk controllers sense players’ physical movements and translate their actions in the on-screen gameplay. This has made playing games on the Wii an intuitive experience and a more physical one, and it opened up video gaming to people who’ve never played before. The Wii is also the only place you’ll find Nintendo’s famed first-party games. Love Mario and all his pals? Well, you won’t find them on the Xbox 360 or the PS3.

Cons: The Wii is the least powerful of the game machines. It doesn’t produce high-def graphics or stunning visual effects like the Xbox 360 or the PS3. It doesn’t double as a DVD player (Xbox), much less a Blu-ray player (PS3). Many hardcore gamers complain that in reaching out to casual players, the Wii has left them behind .

Image: Wii Fit Plus
Nintendo
If you want a game machine that can help you get into shape, then the Wii is the right console for you. "Wii Fit Plus" makes a game out of working out.

Games you can’t get on other consoles this fall and winter: “MySims Agents” (Sept. 29), “Dead Space: Extraction” (Sept. 29), “Wii Fit Plus” (Oct. 4), “Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games” (Oct. 13), “Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter” (Oct. 27), “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” (Nov. 15)

You should buy this machine if … you’ve got younger, more casual or first-time players in the household, if you value easy-to-jump-into games and party games, and if you heart Mario. It’s also a great machine if you’re looking for some digital assistance with your workout. Workout programs/games like “ Wii Fit ,” “Wii Fit Plus” and “EA Sports Active” have proven very popular reasons for picking up a Wii.

PLAYSTATION 3 SLIM
Price: $300

Tech Specs: Comes with one controller, a 120-gigabyte hard disc drive, a CD/DVD/Blu-ray player and a built-in Wi-Fi adaptor.

Pros: This is one muscular gaming and entertainment machine. Blu-ray is the new standard for playing crystal clear, high-definition videos and games, and the PS3’s built-in Blu-ray player is a huge plus, especially for people who enjoy watching movies with pristine pictures. Meanwhile, unlike the Xbox 360, the PS3 comes with a wireless adapter built in. Another money saving tip: Sony’s online gaming and entertainment network — the PlayStation Network — is free to access. And Sony’s handheld gaming machine — the PlayStation Portable — can be connected to and used in conjunction with the PS3 in many ways.

Cons: When it comes to online gaming and media, the PlayStation Network has a lot to offer but it is not as robust as Microsoft’s more expensive Xbox Live. The network certainly comes up short when it comes to offering downloadable expansion packs for released games.

Image: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Sony
Though many of the biggest games will be launched on both the PS3 and Xbox 360, there are a few key games that you'll find only on each machine. "Uncharted 2: Among Thieves" is a game only PS3 owners can look forward to.

Games you can’t get on other consoles this fall/winter: “Katamari Forever” (released this week), “Demon’s Souls” (Oct. 6), “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” (Oct. 13), “Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time” (Oct. 27), “EyePet” (Nov. 17) and “God of War Collection” (Nov. 17)

You should buy this machine if … you’re a serious gamer and a serious movie lover. The Blu-ray player is a great deal and this is a seriously beefy gaming machine.

Important to note: While supplies last, you can pick up a fat PS3 with a 160-gigabyte hard drive and a copy of “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” for $400. After that, the 160-gig model will be discontinued. And Sony recently announced that PS3 Slims with 250-gig drives are going on sale overseas. Perhaps they’re headed our way soon.

XBOX 360 ELITE
Price: $300

Tech Specs: Comes with one controller, a 120-gigabyte hard disc drive and a CD/DVD player

Pros: Like the PS3, this is a powerful gaming and media machine. The big standout feature is Xbox Live, Microsoft’s robust and well-implemented online gaming and entertainment service, which is well worth the $50 annual fee for a gold membership. The online gaming experience is full of features and options, and Xbox Live has delivered downloadable expansion packs to games such as “Grand Theft Auto IV” and “Fallout 3” exclusively or well ahead of the PlayStation Network. It also delivers Netflix movies streaming straight to your TV.

Cons: If you want to connect your Xbox 360 to your home Wi-Fi network, you have to pay $40 to $80 to add a wireless network adaptor — something the PS3 comes with built-in. Also, full access to Xbox Live will cost you another $50 per year while the PlayStation Network is free.

Image: Halo 3: ODST
Microsoft
The "Halo" games — found only on the Xbox — have helped make Microsoft's machine a hit. The latest in the franchise — "Halo 3: ODST" — just launched to great reviews.

Games you can’t get on other consoles this fall and winter:Halo 3: ODST” (released this week), “Magnacarta 2” (Oct. 6), “Lips: Number 1 Hits” (Oct. 20), “Forza Motorsport 3” (Oct. 27), “Grand Theft Auto IV: The Ballad of Gay Tony/Episodes from Liberty City” (Oct. 29) and “Left 4 Dead 2” (Nov. 17)

You should buy this machine if … you love online gaming and your Netflix account. The perks of Xbox Live are a big selling point for many gamers.

Important to note: For $250, you can buy an Xbox 360 Pro model with a 60-gig hard drive while supplies last. After that, it will be discontinued. For $200, you can buy an Xbox 360 Arcade model, which is a stripped down Xbox without the hard drive — you can pay extra to add items on later. And in November, if you’ve got $400 to spare, you’ll be able to buy an Xbox 360 Elite with a 250-gig hard drive bundled with the game “Modern Warfare 2.”

Winda Benedetti can be found pondering the pros and cons of life, the universe and everything here on Twitter.

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