Weekend Hot Topic, part 2: Best ever video game console
GameCentral readers discuss their favourite video game consoles, from the Sega Saturn to the current gen PlayStation 4 and Switch.
The subject for this week’s Hot Topic was suggested by reader Simon and inspired by the imminent start of the next generation of consoles.
We must’ve had almost every console ever released mentioned by someone, although we were surprised that the Mega Drive didn’t get more nods than it did, given it’s usually considered the most popular retro console in the UK.
I’d probably go for the Xbox 360 as my favourite console. It did a lot of things really well across the board, with the best controller, Xbox Live offering a solid online option for the first time, and better performance for multiplatform games, many of which were excellent. The Red Ring of Death was an undoubted black spot, but as I had mine fixed for free the one time it went wrong, and I got a free game for my troubles, I can’t complain too much even there.
Its main influence is probably the Xbox Live service, which really set a template for things for a long while. And while many of the earlier generations games were still struggling to get by with 3D the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360 generation was settled, and this – along with the relatively small jump in power to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – meant that many of the games on that format still hold up well today.
What makes a good console? It’s a combination of factors; games obviously (to some extent exclusives but also the opposite, where games are available on other platforms but not this one), performance, online, price, accessories/peripherals, and reliability.
I think Microsoft is very keen to avoid the obvious mistakes of the Xbox One launch, focusing more on games and ensuring the power level of the console is sufficient. Generally old mistakes are avoided, at least in the near future, but there are always new mistakes to be made!
Matt (he_who_runs_away – PSN ID)
I can’t really choose a favourite console. As someone said, it is a bit like choosing a favourite DVD player. I’d rather choose favourite games but I have liked Sega and Nintendo consoles over the years, having grown up with those systems even though I did not own both but played at friends’ for SNES and NES.
I am a fan of the Amiga computer, where I played a lot of games but I can’t mention that as this topic is about consoles. I have liked various handhelds, specifically PSP, PS Vita, Game Boy Advance/SP, and New 3DS XL.
I thought the PSP and PS Vita were great bits of kit and I hope Sony will make another handheld,
although I realise that is highly unlikely.
My favourite ever console is always tough – the SNES, original PlayStation, and the Saturn are all incredible to me.
If you’d asked me in 2000, I’d probably have said the PlayStation without much thought, as if you judge them by the games we got at the time in the UK the PSX was head and shoulders above the others. Breath Of Fire 3 remains my favourite Japanese role-playing game ever, Street Fighter Alpha 3 one of my favourite fighting games, and so on.
However, with the internet it became a lot easier to import games without paying absurd mark-up as I’d had to in the 90s, and I started getting more of the easier to play import games for the SNES and the Saturn – including a better version of Street Fighter Alpha 3 on the Saturn! And people also started releasing translation patches for games that were harder to play without understanding Japanese, such as Dragon Quest 5 on the SNES and Shining Force 3 Scenario 2 and 3 on the Saturn. I got some for the PlayStation too, but the PlayStation was much better for localisations, so there weren’t as many strong games only available in Japan compared to the SNES or Saturn.
So as time passed, the SNES and Saturn libraries became stronger and stronger to me. One of the questions in the Hot Topic was whether nostalgia plays a part, and while there’s certainly an element – I’ll never recapture that feeling of playing Zelda: A Link To The Past or Resident Evil for the first time – given I’ve played so many of these for the first time well after the heyday of those consoles, those are not affected by nostalgia.
As these are all 90s consoles, there’s not much in the way of hardware or peripherals influencing my choice – I guess the snap of the SNES power button was satisfying! And all three (eventually) had fantastic joypads (the Saturn MK1 pad was garbage though).
Overall, I’d have to say the Saturn was my favourite. The massive amount of arcade games – especially the shoot ’em-ups – was superb, thanks to its very strong 2D capabilities and RAM expansion options, and role-playing games like Shining Force 3 and Panzer Dragoon Saga still hold up today. The appeal is probably lower now though, as a lot of the arcade games only available (or best) on Saturn at the time have since been ported again to other platforms, and having to look around for translation patches is never going to be something that has broad appeal. The MK2 joypad was super comfortable too, and I still use a USB version of it on my PC.
As for what makes a good console? Great games that can only be played – or played best – on that platform. Sony and Nintendo seem to understand this, but Microsoft do not, they wiped out most of their studios at the beginning of the Xbox One era, then made a big noise about setting up new ones a few years ago… but somehow still have no games ready for their launch. Ironically much like the Saturn back in the day in America!
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Best ever favourite
When it comes to consoles, I think ‘favourite’ and ‘best’ are key distinctions and can be equally fluid depending on my mood.
My favourite in terms of hardware has to be the Switch. It seems wrong because it’s the youngest contender and it still has a way to go. But before it came out, I could count on one hand the number of games developed specifically for portable/handheld machines that really grabbed me and, after the Wii U, I felt that aside from a couple of exceptions, the long-accepted Nintendo hardware/software synergy was no longer that beneficial to gamers and little would be truly lost if they went third party.
I’m very glad that was never on the cards, though, as the Switch has completely opened up how I engage with full, relatively uncompromised home console games. I play 99% of Switch games off-TV and even though almost all of it still happens at home, it feels like the console has answered the question of how gaming should fit into my life while the rest of the industry constantly begs the question of how my life should fit into gaming.
Being able to play games like Zelda: Breath Of The Wild, XCOM 2, and Dark Souls in bed or while lying on the living room couch as my wife watches TV makes the idea of cutting myself off from the rest of the household to settle into a long session in another room almost unappealing and inconvenient.
On the software front, it’s already supported by some of the best games ever made and it’s probably only half way through its life. In crucial contrast with its predecessor, any big gaps in the first party schedule are nicely filled with good value high quality downloadable titles, as well as ports which give new life to games that had been stuck on traditional consoles. With 2020 almost functioning as an inadvertent first party gap year, I think it’ll only get better as well.
The SNES, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 4 would all be close competition for the ‘favourite’ trophy when it comes to games, though. In terms of ‘best ever’, that title is almost definitely still held by the SNES because of the unbelievable number of classics it has, and the fact it’s fully run its course so we can see the full picture.
The Switch still edges it as favourite for me, though, because of the game-changing functionality. As a bonus, it also hosts many of the best SNES games anyway.
Ultimately, I’ve always regarded it as Nintendo finally being in a good place, nailing critical and commercial success simultaneously in a way they’ve never managed to this extent and pooling all development resources onto a single platform, which I still hope will tangibly pay off in the coming years. With that in mind, the fact it still has a substantial future is one of best things about it.
40 years, man and boy
As a 40+ year old gamer, I would’ve been as surprised as anyone seven years ago if you were to tell me then that this generation’s PlayStation (the PlayStation 4) would be my favourite console of all time. I’ve owned most non-Nintendo and Microsoft consoles over the years (N64, Xbox 360, Wii, and Switch) but started with the old 8-bit computers.
I originally had a ZX Spectrum 48K at the age of four before getting a Commodore 64 at around 10. I liked both but my mind was completely melted at around 12 when I got my first games console, a Mega Drive. From 12 to 17 I was what I would consider a hardcore gamer by the standards of yesteryear… and while I did feel a little envious over some of the SNES games available I was fully satisfied for the most part.
From 17 onwards, while I would still buy the latest consoles (Sega Saturn, PlayStation, N64, Dreamcast, PS2, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii etc.) I didn’t really commit much time and would merely dip in and out depending on whether there was a new game out that I fancied. I was quite narrow-minded and would generally only play something if it were made by Rockstar, Bethesda or Bioware during my 20’s and 30’s.
Then the PlayStation 4 came out around the same time I was able to alter my working pattern from five days a week to four. So all of a sudden I had a day to myself each week (the weekends are always taken up by family commitments) and nothing in particular to do with it. Until I started widening my horizons a little in terms of my gaming. I played all of the FromSoftware games (I had played Demon’s Souls back in the day while waiting for Skyrim to release but I hadn’t really appreciated its magnificence).
Then I started playing some of the Sony first party and second party exclusives. So I had a run there of Dark Souls, Dark Souls 2: Scholar Of The First Sin, Dark Souls 3, Bloodborne, The Last Of Us Remastered, Nioh, Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, NieR Automata, Spider-Man, Days Gone (loved it regardless of the hate), Death Stranding (loved it regardless of the hate), and Nioh 2.
For me, gaming entertainment has never got anywhere near the consistent high level of quality that I experienced during that run… and I’ve still got The Last Of Us Part 2 and Ghost Of Tsushima in the backlog. I never had a backlog before PlayStation 4. It’s well over 100 games long and I’m enjoying trying to whittle it down before the PlayStation 5 releases. Trouble is for every game I beat, I’ve normally bought a further four or five… so when I say whittling it down, I’m being deliberately misleading.
A difficult question for me as I like to get all consoles if I can (they and their games can be picked up for virtually nothing once the next generation comes out) but I have to admit I have a great fondness for the PlayStation 2.
That was when Sony was so dominant that the other companies basically didn’t exist, which you’d think would lead to complacency but they knocked it out of the park with so many great games in so many genres. If it hadn’t been for the Switch they would’ve done the same thing this generation.
I watched the Console Wars documentary recently, which is being currently shown on Sky Documentaries, and I must admit, I really was just too young or just not in the right place, or had the means unlike today, to see or hear the hype for the early consoles. The NES seemed to have always existed, and the Master System I heard about after the Mega Drive!
If I was maybe in America and saw more cable network adverts and Walmart in-store demonstrations and advertisements, etc. I’d be more aware. The documentary was definitely American based and the battlegrounds seemed to have been fought out more there. The UK I believe had computer wars, with Spectrums and Commodore 64s and Amigas eventually.
Altered Beast, Strider, Revenge Of Shinobi, and eventually Sonic The Hedgehog came over as game changers, in this new world of next generation gaming for me. As I got and read more gaming magazines the world was definitely getting more exciting. Coupled with Dominik Diamond’s GamesMaster excitement and hype could commence.
The Super Nintendo would eventually be the first console to enter my house as my own, as previously it was my mate’s Mega Drive being bought over by him on his visits to my home. Super Mario World, Zelda: A Link To The Past, and Donkey Kong Country would be my initial favourites, with many after also being the best gaming experiences of all time.
Nostalgia, memories, nurturing gaming skills, immersive gameplay with graphical and musical delights, brings it all home to me when indie gaming continues to advance the formula of the 16-bit years. To play these now and to rekindle past bygone years, is what made the SNES my all-time favourite console. It launched me on a new journey and basically raised me to what I am like now, in the new console gaming world. Forever grateful.
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