We’re about a week away from the launch of Sony’s PlayStation 4 on November 15, and two weeks away from Microsoft’s Xbox One on November 22. Both systems will demand your attention this holiday season. Both will probably be a challenge to obtain in time for Christmas. The PS4 is $100 cheaper ($399 as opposed to the Xbox One’s $499), but we’re still talking about hundreds of dollars.
And while both systems are coming out with an army of games behind them, many of which look quite good, most of the biggest titles are aimed at adults and older teens. The heaviest hitters — the games that are flaunted most often when these systems are shown off — are the likes of Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Assassin’s Creed IV, Killzone: Shadowfall and Dead Rising 3. Every single one of those games is rated M for Mature. For all their talk about wanting to take over the living room, both Microsoft and Sony are definitely trying to attract the attention of the people who have money: the adults.
In fact, if you’re not a parent who enjoys games, and you’re only considering one of the new consoles because your 10-year-old is demanding it, you might do well to hold off. These systems will still be waiting for you in a year when more E for Everyone titles have been released. Remember: Neither new console is compatible with the games you already have. The Xbox One will not play Xbox 360 games, and the PlayStation 4 will not play PlayStation 3 games. So don’t count on being able to play your old favorites on the new systems.
(Psst, in the meantime, Nintendo’s Wii U and 3DS both have pretty awesome holiday lineups with games that are fun for all ages. But don’t tell Sony or Microsoft I said that.)
Not all is lost, however. If you do have your heart set on getting one of these new consoles for the family, there are definitely options. Here’s my advice and suggestions:
The games on both systems
Both the PS4 and Xbox One have a couple of great games that are available on whichever system you choose: Lego Marvel and Skylanders: Swap Force. The catch? Both games are also available on just about everything else, including the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and Wii. In other words, neither is worth spending several hundred dollars on a brand new game system for.
However, if your family is already getting one of the new consoles, these versions of these games are probably great purchases. I can only speak for the PS4 version ofSkylanders, as that’s the only one I’ve played, but it played great and looked fantastic on the more powerful hardware. Having played the Xbox 360 versions of both those games, I personally think they’re two of the best choices for family-friendly games this Christmas regardless of platform.
Both consoles will also launch with Just Dance 2014, but I have to confess that my knowledge of that game — and the differences between the two versions — is next to nothing. I’ve only played Just Dance games on the Wii and Wii U (my wife is a big fan), which uses the Wii Remotes. The Xbox One version uses the new Kinect sensor, which might make it a better game, but I really can’t make that call without playing both versions myself.
While not exactly made with kids in mind, sports games would also be a family-friendly option. Both consoles will launch with Madden 25, NBA Live 14, NBA 2K14 and FIFA 14. You could also include the racing game Need For Speed: Rivals on that list, which is one I’m personally looking forward to.
And because kids just can’t seem to get enough of the game, you should know that both systems will have Minecraft. The exact date for each version seems a bit confusing (it was previously said that the PS4 version might be out the same day as the system, while the Xbox One version is only in the “launch window” time frame), but it should be at or near launch in both cases. Hopefully.
Weirdly, each system has something of a signature, first-party exclusive game that seems tailor-made for families.
For Sony, that game is Knack, a colorful adventure that will attempt to pair Pixar-like animation with character-action gameplay that might feel familiar to experienced gamers. I haven’t seen much from its two-player cooperative mode, but it’s definitely a game I want to play early once I get my hands on the PS4.
Microsoft on the other hand is bringing back Zoo Tycoon, and they seem to be doing it in style. This one may not be the best choice for the youngest of children (at least not without a parent sitting next to them to help out), as it’s as much about managing a zoo as it is about learning animal facts. Still, kids love animals, right? While strategy games like this haven’t always fared well on consoles, I’m hoping things work out for this one.Note: Weirdly, the retail version of Zoo Tycoon will be a Wal-Mart exclusive for a limited time. You can also find it on Microsoft’s digital store to download, however.
If you’re curious as to why the Xbox One is $100 more expensive than its competitor, look no further than the Kinect camera, which will be packaged with every Xbox One console.
While older, “hardcore” gamers tend to make fun of the Kinect that was available for the Xbox 360 (and for good reason), it did become a system that featured a lot of kid-friendly games that forced younger players to be a little active. Games like Kinect Sportsand Kinect Disneyland Adventures, while not exactly masterpieces of game design, were fun for kids and got them to stand up from the couch.
A new Kinect Sports game is coming to the Xbox One soon, but it won’t be available on Day One. Another game worth keeping an eye on is Fantasia: Music Evolved, which is being developed by Harmonix — the company behind the original Kinect’s best game series, Dance Central (as well as the Rock Band series).
The PS4, meanwhile, has its own Kinect-like camera in the form of their new PlayStation Eye. However, as it’s not being bundled in with the PS4 hardware it is a lot less likely that it will see the same amount of developer attention as the Kinect will. Still, this is all speculation at this point.
If your child is old enough to be playing games online, you should know that both Microsoft and Sony will demand a monthly fee for this functionality on their new systems. The Xbox One has Xbox Live, which is generally about $60 a year (though you can find subscription cards for cheaper. I tend to buy them for $40). The PS4 has PlayStation Plus, which sells for $50 a year. Lately, both services have offered free downloadable games for their subscription members, but Sony has so far beenmuch more successful at this, offering several free games every month for their fans.
Both systems also have voice chat functionality (the Xbox One has full HD video chat via Skype), web browsers, support for services like Hulu and Netflix and more. Most of Sony’s online services are free to all, while Microsoft has traditionally been more likely to lock theirs behind the Xbox Live paywall (though an entire family can benefit from one Xbox Live Gold account this time around).
I have to confess that I know very little about the specifics of parental controls for each system, and will need to get my hands on them myself before I can be more help in that department. However, if you do buy one of these consoles for your home, parental controls should definitely be a menu setting you take a look at. They can lock out games above a certain ESRB rating, which alone is a worthwhile feature.
The cost of controllers:
Both systems only come with one controller, and neither system is compatible with the previous system’s controllers. And extras won’t come cheap. Both retail for $59.99 each.
On the plus side, both controllers seem fantastic. I’ve loved holding them both each time I’ve had the opportunity to play each system — holding each for an hour at a time — and they are solid piece of technology. Still, if you want to buy three extra controllers so a family of four can play a game, it’s going to get pricey.
Keep in mind, however, that not all games even support four players at a time. Both Skylanders and Lego Marvel are limited to two people at a time.
At the moment, there is really no clear winner between the two systems as a family-centric machine. Both have a lot of features to like and both have the potential for awesome games that will be fun for all ages. At the moment, though, the best games for kids are also available on systems you probably already have in your house.
I hope to get both the Xbox One and the PS4 into the office ASAP to check out more of this stuff first-hand, but as it stands I would say you can’t go wrong with either system, provided you’re getting one at all. Both have their pros and cons, ranging from everything to price to game selection to basic preference.
If you’re a non-parent adult: I hope to have advice more specifically tailored to you in the future. I will say that I like what I’ve played of Dead Rising 3 on the Xbox One quite a bit, for what that’s worth, but I really need more time with all the games before deciding which system I like more, personally.