Compared to buying a smartphone or tablet, shopping for a brand new video game console is a tricky task. When you buy a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, you know you’re getting access to over a million apps and 1,300 hours of Plants vs. Zombies 2. Buy an Xbox One, however, and you’re stuck with three sports offerings, some mediocre family games, and a deluge of formulaic action titles best summarized as Call of Battlefield: Son of Rome. Don’t kid yourself: nobody’s buying the new Xbox or PS4 for the games available today.
The only useful way to approach the console market, then, is as an investor. You’re betting on future success, not evaluating current capabilities. So buckle up, Warren Buffet, and peer into the future of console gaming.
Why you should buy it:
As reliable as Katy Perry
Just like each year’s Katy Perry album, you can count on Nintendo for 2-3 hits, a few second-tier surprises, and filler content ranging from “intriguing but flawed” to “flagrantly terrible to the point that it will ruin your day.” But the hits are the hits. There’s a reason people are still listening to “I Kissed a Girl,” — Mario’s no different.
Something for everyone
Grab mom, dad, your girlfriend, and that neighborhood kid who keeps showing up at 8pm to play Pikmin 3. They’ll go goombas for Super Mario 3D World, a delightful blend of cooperative fun and passive-aggressive quarreling. Nintendo hits are appropriate—and fun—for just about any age. (Check out Matt’s piece for the full pro-Wii U argument.)
Why you should skip it:
If you regularly pitch tents outside Gamestop to buy hot new releases, pass on the Wii U. The yearly Mario, Zelda, or Metroid might compete for game of the year, but after those, the pickings slim considerably. So-called serious gamers—say, those who buy 12+ games per year—should look elsewhere.
A generation behind
As much as I advise people to ignore spec comparisons on top consoles, the gap between the Wii U and the latest from Sony and Microsoft is just too wide to overlook. It’s not a problem for gorgeous Nintendo titles with an emphasis on art style, but for third-party developers looking to port over the latest Xbox/PS4 shooter? Forget it. The Wii U just isn’t powerful enough.
Why you should buy it:
You still believe in Microsoft
Let’s face it: the last seven years haven’t been kind to Microsoft. Windows market share has plummeted, the company’s mobile strategy has disappointed, and Steve Ballmer’s going away party was more cult-like than an Apple Genius book club. And yet, the Xbox 360 soldiered on, outcompeting its rivals in the U.S. market (at least in the later years), and building an unmatched online gaming experience.
As consumers continue to abandon Windows, the Xbox One represents Microsoft’s best chance to reclaim the average American home. You can bet they’ll give their new box the good ol’ Ballmer try, with top-tier support and new features gliding out faster than fish in Bill Gates’ home aquarium.
You’re tired of switching plugs, inputs, and remote controls
According to legend, humans could once watch a full movie without checking a single email, referencing a sports score, or flipping over to catch the last eight minutes of The Voice. But let’s be honest: it’s 2013, and Microsoft knows it. In a promising* move, the company has embraced our short attention spans, allowing Xbox One owners to bring TV, games, movies, music, and web browsing into a single tile-based, voice-commanded interface. For all the moving parts, setting everything up is surprisingly easy. You’ll be toggling between Dead Rising and The Walking Dead before you can say “Windows 8.”
*Promising from a business perspective. Otherwise, quietly depressing.
Why you should skip it:
Voice commands need work
It’s everyone’s secret fantasy: to reenact the 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie, Smart House. In the film, vaguely attractive cyborg PAT (Katey Sagal) serves as a voice-based maid, performing automated tasks (alarm clock, lights, temperature, etc.) whenever commanded by the Cooper family. In time, however, little Ben Cooper reprograms the house to “act more motherly,” whereupon the domicile takes on a life of her own, trapping the family and driving them crazy.
Such is the problem with the Xbox One. Whether it was a rogue engineer, a spy from Sony, or even little Ben Cooper himself, someone seems to have tampered with the Xbox One’s voice recognition system. The commands work, but not quite consistently enough, making menu navigation a more involved adventure than it should be. Naturally, the voice commands will improve over time, but if we’ve learned anything from Smart House, we’ll have much bigger, more sinister problems by then.
You’re paying for crap you don’t need
At $500 for the base model, the Xbox One is the most expensive console on the market. For all the features you’re getting, it’s a fair price, but how many of those features will you actually end up using? Both the PS4 and Wii U offer more affordable products with a focus squarely on games. If you’re not inspired by TV integration, Microsoft account syncing, and the always-on (read: Eye of Sauron) Kinect motion sensor, skip Microsoft’s latest gaming box.
Why you should buy it:
There’s a certain charm to PlayStation controllers, with their shape-inspired buttons and symmetrical design. A classic Nintendo pad—covered with As and Bs, Xs, and Ys—might bring you back to middle school algebra, but the standard DualShock recalls an even simpler time, complete with building blocks and matchbox cars. It’s your childhood on a gamepad.
Of course, the clever buttons have always been overshadowed by lackluster construction. The PS3’s pad was simply too small, the joysticks too slippery, the gamepad too light. With the PS4, Sony has solved every problem in one redesign, maintaining the old charm, adding a touchpad, and reinventing the overall feel of buttons and sticks. I’m willing to bet three copies of Resogun*: the PS4 controller is the best gamepad on any console.
*Resogun is a free download.
Indie game support
It took a while, but the entertainment industry finally discovered the three—and only three—reliable ways to make money.
1) Write thousands of articles with titles like “# [noun] That Will Make You [smile/laugh/cry/scream].” Collect display ad revenue. Bathe in dollar bills.
2) Produce a summer action movie. Include a jaded male hero who must overcome personal demons and a vaguely disapproving public. If possible, hire Scarlett Johansson.
3) Release a first-person shooter. Add two new guns and something like a jetpack. Don’t be too creative, but then market the hell out of the game as though it’s the most creative thing since the Impressionist movement.
And so it is to Sony’s immense credit that they refuse to ride Call of Duty all the way to the PS5. They’ve actively courted independent developers to design promising new experiences like The Witness and Pavilion. Now that’s “2 Games That Will Make You Smile.”
Why you should skip it:
You’re not a gamer
If you’re just now giving the video game landscape a casual glance, the PS4’s advantages will be lost on you. All those indie games might be clever, but they don’t have the instant appeal of the Wii U’s family-friendly hits. Sorry Knack: you’re no Mario. Meanwhile, the Xbox One still edges the PS4 on living room integration and online experience — less important for gameplay, but critical for the gaming-agnostic bachelor who’s more interested in tripping out his pad with the flashiest tech on the market.
You’re betting against home video game consoles
With PC gaming as solid as ever and mobile phone apps collecting coins faster than Mario, the future of home console gaming is uncertain. The next five to ten years will be critical. So why is this a problem for Sony, specifically? Among the Big 3, Sony’s PS4 represents console gaming in its purest form, a machine built for console gamers by console gamers. Even if you’re skeptical of console gaming’s future, you might snap up an Xbox One for its home entertainment center features, or else grab a $300 Wii U (two games included) for a couple more years of nostalgic (and affordable) family fun. In contrast, the PS4 has tied its destiny to gamers and game developers. It could be brilliant, but it comes with a risk. No matter how noble their intentions, developers will (eventually) follow the money, and gamers will be close behind.
You should buy the Wii U if…
You want content as decent as Tim Tebow
You prefer clever art styles to technical spec profiles
You’re satisfied with two to three must-play games per year
You should buy the Xbox One if…
You’re tired of using five different remotes
You like shouting orders at inanimate boxes
You actually like Windows 8
You should buy the PS4 if…
You fancy yourself a patron of the indie gaming arts
You prefer colored shapes to algebraic notation
You believe that classic console gaming is here to stay
This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.
(MORE: Watch TIME’s behind the scenes coverage of the Xbox One Launch Event)
(MORE: Watch here to see all the games currently available on the Wii U)
(MORE: PlayStation 4 Launch Event: Sony Takes Over NYC)