Just in time for holiday shopping, here are answers to four questions I hear most about video games.
A. Which system should I buy?
The Nintendo Wii ($200) IF: You want an easy, simple and interactive system for a child. You're older and want to try games for the first time. You plan to play games very only now and then, or rarely, or at parties.
The PS 3 ($300) IF: You're a serious gamer. Most games now come out at the same time for both the PS 3 and Xbox 360. PS 3 plays games up to 1080p high-definition. It plays Blu-ray and DVD movies. You can surf the web for free if you've got broadband. And you can store videos, photos and music on its humongo hard drive, turning it into a massive jukebox. Plus, online gaming is free. This is what I'd want.
The Xbox 360 ($300) IF: You crave the most popular system among serious gamers. It's almost as powerful as the PS 3 and supports 1080p high-def. It plays DVDs. You can't surf online. Big advantage: If you game online, more gamers use Xbox 360 than PS 3, so you get bigger talent pools to compete against. Make sure your Xbox 360 comes with a hard drive or else it'll drive you nuts.
B. I'm on a recession budget. What do I do?
Go to Game Stop or EB Games and buy a "refurbished," used PlayStation 3 ($230), Xbox 360 ($200) or Wii ($150). Used games fetch $5 to $40, much less than shrink-wrapped new games going for $30 to $60.
C. Do Rock Band instruments work with Guitar Hero instruments, and vice versa?
Man, the answer is the most complicated thing in all of gaming. Usually, yes. Sometimes, no. Thankfully, there is one handy chart online that lays out all 286 (286!) answers.
D. What are the most popular and best new games to buy?
Before you buy games for others, make sure they don't already own them. If they already own the games below, buy them a gift card for Game Stop or EB Games, or a subscription to Netflix-esque GameFly ($23 a month or $220 a year). That said:
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (war shooting), especially if you play games online. Left 4 Dead 2 (fast zombie killing, solo or cooperative online). The New Super Mario Bros (side-scrolling platform-jumper, appealing for kids and party gamers). Brutal Legend (satirical killing and driving vehicles on a metal-music fantasy planet).
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (another Zelda for Wii, a deep adventure of killing, solving puzzles and fishing). Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Lara Croft-type adventure, but better). God of War Collection (God of War and God of War II killing now "ported" to the PlayStation 3).
(Tarantino-inspired exploitation killing). Borderlands (solo and online-cooperative shooting on a desert planet). Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10. NBA 2K10. FIFA Soccer 10. And the racing of Forza Motorsport 3 and Dirt 2.