Third Generation (8-bit era)
Nintendo's first push into the American market, the NES ushered in the begining of the video game console phenomenon. Introducing games such as Super Mario Bros, Excitebike, Duck Hunt, and the very first Zelda game, this system is regarded as a timeless classic if you can find one that still works. The NES utilized a simple, eight button control pad to allow for the simple commands necessary for the wide variety of games it featured. Having only two controller ports, the NES was not as capable of multiplayer, but still featured a good number of two player simaltanious games. A working NES will cost you due to the fact that there are so few remaining in good condition.
Sega Master System
The earliest and most popular handheld system, the Game Boy is the predecessor to every one of Nintendo's handheld boxes. The original Game Boy was big, ugly, took lots of batteries, and had a strange green-tinted screen. These can be found in numerous places, and can only play games for the Game Boy, or Game Boy pocket.
Sega Game Gear
Fourth Generation (16-bit era)
The Genesis came to get a piece of Mario's action and was host to the ever popular Sonic the Hedgehog series. This console featured an entirely different line up of games, focused noticeably more on sports games, fighting games, and less on the cutesy style of Nintendo's consistent offerings. Nevertheless, the Genesis had a long life, was redesigned three times total, and could be used with Sega-CD peripheral, which broadened the variety of the consoles gaming and technilogical advances.
The SNES was released shortly after the Genesis, and although it featured continuations of earlier popular NES titles and plenty of new and original games the SNES was NOT backwards compatible with Nintendo's earlier consoles, and in part due to it's higher price never gained the popularity of the Genesis. The SNES was connectable to the Satelliview peripheral, a modem that allowed users to download gaming news etc. broadcast from a japanese satellite, and was one of the first attempts at online console gaming, though unsuccesful, these signals were broadcast up to the year 2000. The SNES has stood the test of time and still has a very impressive game library. The Super Game Boy peripheral allowed all Game Boy and Game Boy pocket games to be played using the console and on a larger TV. An original SNES will not be as hard to find as a NES, but these are still somewhat of a rarity. The SNES suffered from less problems than it's previous counterparts, and therefore most consoles and games these days should still work and be in fair condition.
A lighter, smaller, and more advanced version of the Nintendo Game Boy, the Pocket takes 2 AAA batteries which provided about 10 hours of gameplay, had a smaller screen, and like the name implies, could fit in your pocket. The original version had no indicator of battery status, which was added in later makes due to demand.
Fifth Generation (32/64-bit era)
Released in between-generations, the Saturn featured impressive 3D graphics, but the games were lacking and few, and the graphics simply could not hold up to that of what was to come. The Saturn did however give birth to some very appealing games on CD including its top selling 3D fighting game Virtua Fighter and the first installment of the Resedent Evil series. The games were on CD format but the Saturn also had a cartridge port.
Sony PlayStation 1995
The PlayStation paved the way for modern game consoles, and brang the best graphics available (at the time) along with it.The PlayStation ran off of CDs, and was the first console to use the dual-analog control stick layout adopted by all modern controllers. The PlayStation has a huge library of games, including the Twisted Metal series, Metal Gear Solid, the Final Fantasy series, and lots of racing titles. Most games for this console require a Memory Card to save data on. The PlayStation was developed for by many companies for a long time up until the point that Sony released their next generation console, so the PS games had the ability to hit all areas and genres and push the console to the limit. PlayStations still have good games left to be played by many avid gamers, and should be readily available. Many versions of the PlayStation exist, including upgraded and smaller versions of the console some with built in LCD screens to play on.
Although in the same generation as Sony's PlayStation, the N64 differed in many ways. Nintendo continued to use the cartridge design for their games, which generally costed (and still do) more than PlayStation disks. Nintendo's controller had a completely new controller layout, and as always, the system focused on original and fun games. The graphics on the N64 are generally regarded as being very close to those of the PlayStation, varying by game, but generally not quite as good. Another major difference apparent in the two heavy hitters of this generation was the way in which you played them. The PlayStation had only two controller ports, focusing on single-player games and only allowing two players to play at once (without an added peripheral), whereas the N64 featured four controller ports, and had many more multiplayer games. This focus on cooperation and multiplayer has stuck with nintendo ever since.
The Game Boy color is similar to the Pocket, with the exception that the screen was capable of color graphics. However, this edition does not have a backlit screen, and therefore was quite hard to see in many oddly-lit situations. All older Game Boy games are compatible with the Color.
Neo Geo Pocket Color
The Dreamcast was Sega's last push into the market, and came at an odd time. The Dreamcast was released somewhere in the middle of the N64 and PS' lifespan, and featured graphics far ahead of its time. Unfortunetly, the console wasn't adopted well, and it never found its place. A poor selection of games led to this console dieng out early, but did allow it to be sold at a very low price. At the $50 price range and performance comparable to that of the next-gen consoles that hadn't even come out yet, the Dreamcast held appeal to some. The capabilty of the system showed through in a few star games such as Soul Calibur and Resedent Evil: Code Veronica, but these games simply couldn't compete with the heavy hitters of its generation. The console was left in the dust when the following three systems were introduced, and never had enough time to gain momentum.
Sony's succsesor to the PlayStation, the apply named PlayStation 2, opened the floodgate to modern console gaming. The PS2 began using architechture much more similar to a PC than consoles ever had before. The PS2 doubled as a CD and DVD player, featured internet connectivity through Sony's online service PlayStation Online, and is host to what is considered one of the biggest and most diverse game libraries to date. PlayStation 2 developers continually publish titles from around the world, using the PS2 hardware to the best of it's ability. Many games for all ages are available for the system, and new ones are still coming. The PlayStation 2 also boasts a large line up of licensed games (based off of movies, books, etc.) to add to it's game library. Though this console can be considered "old", a newer slim version has been released, and ports of next-gen games are still currently being published for the PS2. The console is backwards compatible with PS1 games.
The larger original PS2 with Slim version on top, along with the Eye Toy.
The Gamecube, though lacking in raw processing power compared to Sony and Microsoft's 6th generation systems, stays true to Nintendo's strive for good quality gaming. The gamecube has a signifigantly smaller list of titles available, but still holds its own. All of Nintendo's favorites are back, including Mario and Super Smash Bros, along with new games like the addicting Animal Farm and Pikmin which happily provide entertainment for gamers of every age. The Gamecube is characterised as a kid-oriented purple box with a narrower selection of games, but this in no way is a bad thing. The best is still all here, and Nintendo succeeds at what they aim to accomplish.
Microsoft finnaly had to get a piece of the gaming action, and they went all-in. The chunky 8.5 lb system takes the cake in terms of sheer power, and therefor has considerably the best graphics. The Xbox is a popular system for many reasons, including some very popular titles, such as Halo and its sequal, Halo 2. Xbox games shares many of it's games with the PS2, but has a few of it's own. Another addition to this console is Xbox Live, the acclaimed online service which not only allows for online competitive play, but also access to an entire community, and a very polished media system. The Xbox's controller at launch was considered way to big for Japanese gamers, so the smaller controller type S was designed, and has caught on in the US as well. The Xbox has a good number of party games, four controller inputs, and can be connected via a link cable to another Xbox for twice the number of players on select games.
The Advance truely took a leap foreward in the previous line of Game Boys. The design was all new, the screen was bigger and brighter, and the games changed to a more compact cartridge. The processing power of the advance also increased, and games started to feature better graphics and sound. The Advance is compatible with all previous Game Boy titles, though older cartridges stick out of the system uncharacteristically.
The SP is nothing more than a redisigned Game Boy Advance. Much more compact and foldable, with the addition of a backlit screen able to be turned on and off. Color graphics look much nicer on the SP as compared to the original Advance, though it plays all the exact same games. The SP also uses a lithium ion battery, and therfore must be recharged with an AC adapter, no replaceably batteries. A 2nd version of the SP was also released, featuring a "brighter backlit screen".
The Game Boy Micro, weighing in at 80 grams and having only a slightly smaller screen, this Game Boy is truely tiny. Unlike the GBA and SP, the Micro CAN NOT play games from the original Game Boy and Game Boy Color. This handheld has been criticized for its lack of backwards compatibility in both games and hardware, and the fact that it's price is close to that of Nintendo's next-gen handheld, the DS.
The first contender into the ring of "next-generation" gaming came from Microsoft, and their Xbox 360. Launched way earlier than it's main rival the PlayStation 3, many feared Microsoft may have come too soon, but a reasonable price, lots of good software, and many superb features allowed the 360 to keep it's ground, and get started far ahead of the competition. All Xbox 360 titles are required to support high-definition graphics. This means that every 360 game will look crisp and correctly scaled on almost any HDTV, while original 4:3 TV's are also fully supported. The Xbox 360 is also home for the acclaimed Xbox Live service, bigger and more popular than ever, and very nicely integrated with the gaming console itself. Though a fee is required for the ability to play games online, the basic service is free and allows users to chat, download numerous arcade games, pictures, themes, and free game demos and trailers. This is a great addition for anyone with a broadband connection accesible. The Xbox 360 was released in two packages. The first, more expensive package at $399 is the "premium". This featured the console, a 20 Gigabyte harddrive, wireless controller, Hi-Def cables, network cable, and headset for the integrated chat feature. The scaled down $299 "core" system included the console, basic cables, and a wired controller. Without the hardrive, users must also purchase it seperately, or buy a memory card to put saved games or to store other info. For the gamer who isn't planning on online play, or doesn't plan on getting an HDTV, the core system gets the job done, but for the true next-gen experience, the premium package is the way to go. With an add-on player, the 360 will also be able to play HDDVDs in the near future.
Sony's play into the handheld market, the much anticipated PlayStation Portable looks really cool. It also has really cool graphics and a pretty nice screen, but the PSP is expensive, the games are limited, and the extra capabilities such as playing music are better left to some other gadget. Keep in mind, that although the name implies it, this handheld is not necessarily a portable PlayStation, as it does not play PlayStation games, but relies on the tiny-disk UMD format. The PSP also plays movies using this format, along with displaying photos, etc.
Nintendo's latest handheld, the DS, once again brings a whole new style of play to gamers. The DS, which stands for Dual Screen, folds out to reveal... two screens!. One of which is touch sensitive. Using a stylus in combination with the classic pad and buttons allows for many unique games utilizing this feature, as well as a convenient PDA style of use. The DS, and it's new made-over "Lite" version, features Wi-Fi, which will allow you to play games online and even surf the internet through a browser. Though the DS uses flash-card type game cartridges, a seperate port is on the handheld to allow for full backwards compatibility of previous Game Boy games.