Console gaming has never been better. From Blu-ray drives to motion sensitive controls, current generation systems offer never-before-seen gaming hardware features. Better still, the diversity of games on store shelves, which range from brain trainers and music simulators to innovative action/adventures and incredibly realistic shooters, makes the libraries of previous consoles seem like one-trick ponies.
But nothing is perfect. Even as I marvel at the wonders of modern living room gaming I find myself constantly running into exasperating issues. Here are three peeves for each of the major consoles that make geysers of steam erupt from my ears.
- No internal wi-fi. Even the $279 Wii, which hardly even has any online games, comes with internal wireless. Adding insult to injury is the ridiculous price of Microsoft's wireless network adapter: $100. I refuse to buy one on principle.
- The price of Xbox Live. It's far and away the best online service yet created for a console, providing a great community, stable gaming, and fun features like Gamer Achievements, and I understand the costs involved in the maintenance of such a robust system. However, now that Xbox Live has more than 10 million members (and is raking in more than half a billion bucks annually, based on Xbox Live's $70 yearly subscription fee) it's time for Microsoft to dial down the price and prove to its user base that it has the scruples not to milk them like a massive herd of cash cows.
- The deafening cooling fan. Fully revved, it sounds like a fighter plane in a steep dive. The 360 fan completely overpowers softer sound effects and voices-especially in environments that don't permit players to crank the volume. I suffer through it for games, but I never use my 360 to watch movies or listen to music-which bodes badly for Microsoft's dream of making its console an all-purpose living room entertainment machine.
- That people still think the Wii is cheap. Unlike the other consoles, many of the most popular games on Nintendo's system-like Wii Sports and Super Smash Bros. Brawl-are best enjoyed with a group of friends playing simultaneously in the same room, which means you'll need to buy three more remotes ($45 each) and three more nunchuks ($25 each). Add to that the cost of a 4 GB flash memory card to augment the system's piddly 512 MB of onboard storage (this a must for avid downloaders and game save packrats) and you're looking at adding around $250 to the cost of the system, bringing your total Wii hardware investment to $500-on par with an Xbox 360 Elite with a second controller.
- No trial versions of Virtual Console games. Sony and Microsoft's online services allow players to play demos of downloadable games before purchasing them, so why doesn't the Wii's Virtual Console? Perhaps Nintendo knows that our memories of old titles like Powerball often age better than the actual game, and that we wouldn't be as inclined to drop $10 on them if we had access to a free five-minute sampling.
- Friend codes. Exchanging these devilish strings of characters with pals is the only way you can hook up with them online, but the Wii provides no mechanism for swapping friend codes, which means you need to jot down your code and deliver it personally to the people you want to play with (and get your buddies to do the same). This bizarrely antiquated and convoluted process tends to keep all but the most dedicated Wii gamers from connecting with their friends online. Yes, it helps keep kids from getting involved with the hooligans who tend to populate the servers of many online games, but it also constitutes a major bummer for mature players who have no need for such restrictive management. Ever heard of parental controls, Nintendo?
- System updates. The Wii and Xbox 360 require frequent system updates, but they are quick and painless compared to the rigmarole that Sony makes us go through to update the PlayStation 3. Some games simply can't be played without first updating the console's firmware. What's more, undertaking one of these updates is a lengthy, hands-on task that requires multiple steps and plenty of thumb twiddling. I've actually put off playing new PS3 games simply because I couldn't be bothered to update the firmware.
- Mandatory download and install procedures. I understand and appreciate the chief benefit of installing a game on a system's hard drive: Lightning quick load times. But I am nonetheless miffed at waiting as long as twenty minutes to play a brand new game as it downloads and installs on my PlayStation 3. Nor do I like the fact that my hard drive is quickly approaching capacity thanks to these often-large installation files, which can be several gigabytes in size per game.
- The PlayStation Store. This one might be revoked when Sony unveils its revamped online store later this month (which, unfortunately, will necessitate another of those irritating firmware updates mentioned above), but I feel I have a right to complain about the lameness of the current store, which we've all had to endure for the past year. It features unacceptable page load times, has an unintuitive design that appears to have been created for a mouse and keyboard rather than a controller, and the lengthy descriptions of items for sale are written in a tiny, headache inducing font. On the bright side, apart from the occasional downloadable game or Rock Band song, there's currently little reason to visit the PlayStation Store.