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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions: Picking the Right Console, Titles


Giving video and computer games as gifts can be dicey business. Unless you're working off a list made by the recipient, the odds are high of making a big, non-returnable mistake.

This year, goofs can be even more costly as hundreds of thousands of families mull which console to buy--or whether to bother.

The newest set-top consoles range from $200 to $300, but that's just for the base system. Most buyers spend an additional $100 or so on games and extra controllers.

And it's not just the Big Three boxes--Microsoft's Xbox, Nintendo's GameCube and Sony's PlayStation 2--that buyers have to contend with this year. There's also Nintendo's Game Boy Advance, Sega's outgoing Dreamcast and Sony's redesigned PS One.

Plus, families content with the machine they already own have to figure out which games to add to their libraries.

There is one no-brainer: Game Boy Advance, the $100 successor to Nintendo's wildly popular Game Boy and Game Boy Color. This rugged 32-bit portable system delivers great games on the go.

After that, it gets considerably more difficult.

Families grappling with which console to buy should understand what they want out of the box.

Microsoft's $300 Xbox is the most PC-like, with an 8-gigabyte hard drive, network port and the ability to play DVD movies and audio CDs. Nintendo's $200 GameCube only plays games. And Sony's PlayStation 2 falls in between, although Sony is introducing a hard drive and modem peripherals that make it more like the Xbox.

Generally, Xbox games skew toward teens and young adults. GameCube titles appeal more to kids and families. And PlayStation2 covers the gamut. "

Although most of the recent media coverage has gone to those three consoles, Sony's PS One probably will outsell them all. Redesigned as a cute, little white box, the $100 32-bit system can be attached to a $130 portable liquid crystal display and plugged into a car cigarette lighter.

And Sega's 128-bit Dreamcast, which hosts some of the most imaginative games of the last decade, has dropped in price to just $50. Games can be picked up for as little as $10.

Here are some of the best on various platforms:

Microsoft Xbox

"Dead or Alive 3": Perhaps one of the most exquisite fighting games ever, "Dead or Alive 3" is a delight to behold. The graphics are incredible, but the array of move combinations makes the game more than just another pretty face. Rating: Teen by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

"Halo": A first-person shooter that expands the boundaries of the genre, "Halo" lets players fly and drive various space-age vehicles across a beautiful planet teeming with alien hordes. The combat is some of the most intense around. Rating: Mature.

"Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee": "Munch's Oddysee" is a game with a moral. Players control two endearing creatures--Abe the Mudokkon and Munch the Gabbit--to help them free their comrades from the clutches of greedy conglomerates. Rating: Everyone.

Nintendo 64

"Madden 2002": Football fans can ask for no greater franchise than "Madden." In addition to regular play, the game includes the ability to play in old-school mode dating from 1993. Rosters are pretty complete to reflect most changes in the 2001 fall season. Rating: Everyone.

"Perfect Dark": The problem with consoles on their way to pasture is that even though they are cheap--a Nintendo 64 can be had for $70 with a game--the flow of titles has slowed to a trickle. "Perfect Dark" was released last year, but it remains a premier non-Pokemon title for Nintendo 64. A first-person shooter, the game has a lovely multi-player mode. Rating: Mature.

"Pokemon Stadium 2": Kids obsessed with Pokemon will like "Pokemon Stadium 2," which allows them to use a Transfer Pak to upload monsters collected from their various Game Boy cartridges. The title also features tournaments between Pokemons and a bevy of mini-games. Rating: Everyone.

Nintendo Game Boy Advance

"Doom": A first-person shooter on a hand-held machine? "Doom" showcases the power of Game Boy Advance and gives nostalgic players a sentimental trip back to the game that ignited the genre. It's violent but not nearly as graphic as some modern games. Rating: Teen.

"Mario Kart Advance": Players control go-carts driven by Nintendo characters such as Mario, Luigi and Princess Peach. The tracks are gorgeous and the action is relentless. Rating: Everyone.

"Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2": One of the most popular game franchises, "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater" lets players try new skateboard tricks without the risk of breaking a wrist. Rating: Everyone.

Nintendo Game Boy Color

"Kirby Tilt 'n Tumble": One of the most inventive Nintendo games in a long time, "Kirby Tilt 'n Tumble" features sensors in the cartridge that allow players to physically tilt their Game Boys in order to make the pink puff ball Kirby roll through mazes and obstacle courses. Rating: Everyone.

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