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Holiday Tech Guide: Video Games

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Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 4, 2007; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Mike Musgrove, author of the @play column, was online Tuesday, Dec. 4 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the top video game gifts for the holiday season.

Explore the video game database for two years of reviews from the Post's Weekend section.

The transcript follows.

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Vienna, Va.: What is it with Wii shortages? I finally manage to snag a console after searching forever, and now I find that I can't get Guitar Hero 3 for Wii anywhere either! It really shouldn't be this hard, should it?

washingtonpost.com: Seasonal Refrain: Waiting on a Wii (The Post, Dec. 1)

Mike Musgrove: Vienna -- What did you do to get you hands on a Wii? I'm thinking about doing a story about people employing clever schemes to land a Wii this season, but I'm not hearing a lot of success stories. Anybody got a tale to share?

No, it shouldn't be this hard. And you're not the only person having a frustrating time of it.

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Arlington, Va.: Any Wii game suggestions for a family that has four kids, ranging in age from 8 to 16?

Mike Musgrove: I'd say Super Mario Galaxy is the hot, can't-go-too-wrong title. That and the Mario "olympics" game seem to appeal to young people stretching that age range and beyond.

I haven't played the latest "Rayman's Raving Rabbids" for the Wii yet but the last one was pretty good family-friendly stuff.

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Syracuse, N.Y.: Do you think that the Wii's success, along with the mediocre sales of the PS3, will cause this generation of consoles to last longer (consumers will not pay for ever-more-expensive machines)?

Mike Musgrove: It does seem like Sony overestimated the amount people would be willing to pay for a new game system. Not sure if this will cause the current generation to last longer, per se. Even since before the PS3 launched, Sony was defending the price of the PS3 on the grounds that the device has enough horsepower to be "future proof" for a long time to come. Meaning, they always wanted it to have a long lifespan.

But I would doubt that the makers of the next generation of game consoles, years away and whenever it comes, will try to reach for the consumers' pain threshold/budget limits as aggressively as Sony did with the $600-at-launch PS3. You know? Does this make sense, it was a little ramble-y......

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Mike Musgrove: By the way: Hello, and thanks for joining us.

I've played a bunch of this season's big new video games, though there are so many, I haven't gotten to play many in depth.

Main ones I'm playing, at the moment, are: Super Mario Brothers and Rock Band. Both games, you can pick up and get some fun out of within a few minutes' worth of time. which is nice...

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Detroit, Mich.: Anyone who buys a Wii for their kid is in no position to complain about mortgages, sending their children to college, etc.. The Wii has turned into a headache for those of us who would rather give a more affordable and educational gift to our children. (A headache in the sense that the child clamors for one because he or she has a friend with one.)

Mike Musgrove: Just putting this out there.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi. I'm not really a gamer, per se, but I have a Nintendo DS, for which I've mostly built up a collection of old Super Mario games. I also have Nintendogs. (Yes, I'm clearly female.) Any thoughts on other DS games I might enjoy? It's a neat little toy for long plane trips and such.

Mike Musgrove: Well, there are so many old Mario games, you could pretty much spend all your time on that.

Not sure what else to recommend specifically, though I would say one good, inexpensive source for trading and picking up the type of old games you sound interested in - is the site Goozex.com. (They're locally based, I did a story on them a while back.) Check it out...

Oh. And, you might want to get the new Zelda DS game.... that's probably about your speed.

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My Secret Wii Strategy: (I'm Vienna from earlier)

My secret strategy: first, don't tell the wife! Easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Second, sign up for one of the email/cellphone alert systems. I got my Wii from Amazon last week during the 5 minutes Amazon actually had them in stock (Friday right around noon).

I'm still looking for a good way of getting GH3 though...

Mike Musgrove: Good tip... just passing this along.

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Orange County, Calif.: Ha! My husband and I decided in October that our joint Christmas gift would be a Wii. We got it 2 weeks later ... a little early, but better than never. The way we did it was to check the Best Buy ad only early Sunday morning and then show up a few minutes before the opening time. It might be busier now, but there are websites that give techniques.

And now a question: We'd like to buy a fun game for the Wii that we can play together. Right now, we have Wii Play, Sports, and Metroid. Any suggestions? Mario Galaxy looks kinda fun.

Mike Musgrove: Another Wii-purchasing success story.

Mario Galaxy has some "cooperative" play option, meaning you could play together. I haven't tried it out. he Star Wars Lego games have excellent "co-op" play features, though I should say I haven't played it on the Wii system.

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Lenny, Oxon Hills, Md.: Hi Mike, I'm thinking of upgrading my gaming system to take advantage of some of the exciting new releases out today. What system do you like better, the Commodore 64 or the TRS-80?

Mike Musgrove: Thanks Lenny. They both run some version or other of BASIC, right? So I don't see how you can go wrong with either...

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Andy S., Silver Spring: Hi Mike, My shrink says video games are a good way to meet women. Can you recommend any online games that are popular with the ladies?

Mike Musgrove: Andy, you need a new shrink.

I'd recommend Singstar, a PlayStation 2 karaoke game. It's great fun. Both genders get into it. Not an online game, though. Anybody have any suggestions?

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Silver Spring, Md.: For me, finding a Wii was like finding a great girlfriend or something. I just had to stop stressing about it, and then I suddenly lucked into one at Target one day in July. It was the first and only time I'd ever actually seen them on shelves. No need to tear the hair out, and I think kids would be just as happy with a DS as a gift.

And really, this is both an amazing and frustrating time to be a gamer. I can't ever remember when as many great games all came out in such a short period of time. I'm currently loving Mass Effect and Rock Band, but expect to spend the next few months catching up on titles like Super Mario Galaxy and Uncharted. I actually look forward to the game shortage that usually hits in January and February!

Mike Musgrove: Interesting analogy...

I completely agree that there's an overload of good games out right now. Rock Band is huge. Mass Effect is like some gigantic, complex novel that I wish I had time to read, but I kinda don't have enough time to devote to it as I'd want to, to appreciate it most fully.

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Germantown, Md.: Saw your suggestions for Wii games for the poster with kids ranging from 8-16; what about for the younger set - 5-8? Our boys love the sports game that came with the console. I'd love to find something that is similarly easy to play.

Mike Musgrove: Well, my stepson in that younger age range likes to play a Wii game called Barnyard. Came out last year, with the movie, I think. The lad has had a chance to play just about every non-violent Wii game, and that's the main one that stuck. Not sure if he's representative, just passing that along.

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Arlington, Va.: I am a fan of the FPS, preferably one with both a good story and a good online experience. Should I get Bioshock, Call of Duty 4 or something else?

Mike Musgrove: If you're looking for story, I'd recommend Bioshock. But the game doesn't have an online element.

Call of Duty 4 is a blast to play in the same way Call of Duty 2 was (I skipped the third installment, so can't comment there), but the story you can pretty much ignore. On the other hand, if you want to play online, CoD4 would be a good choice.

So I guess you have to choose story or online, if you only have budget for one.

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Fairfax, Va.: OK, the Wii has plenty of great kids games. But I went and bought an Xbox 360, and the wife is saying its not great for the kid. Can you recommend some games that I can play with the kids or that they can play together that will keep their attention for more than a little while?

Mike Musgrove: The Star Wars Lego game... I've spent a large amount of time playing that with the stepson over the last year or so and we both enjoy it. The "Complete Saga" might be worth getting.

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Rockville, Md.: Wii success story - I purchased our Wii through E-Bay. I trolled the auctions for about a week, then jumped in. I paid about $50 over the retail price of $249, but it was worth doing. Did the auction back in July - not sure what they're going for now!

Mike Musgrove: last I looked, people are often asking around $600 for the thing, so I don't think you did too badly.

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Bethesda, Md.: I don't know if you've touted it before, but I would get a copy of Katamari for every "non-gamer gamer" I know, whether they have 360 or a PS2. The game is so goofy and addictive.

Mike Musgrove: Yes, I'd also recommend Loco Roco for the same reason, for anybody who owns a PSP. Unique, great artistic vision. Kinda like Katamari. But different...

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Seattle, had a Wii since release: My son and I lined up to buy one of the first Wii consoles - I would recommend Rayman's Raving Rabbids and Legend of Zelda, plus of course Mario Galaxy.

It's frequently easier to get a Wii at a store like Fred Meyer, Costco, Target, and toy stores than the game shops, IMHO.

I know they ramped up production, but it still feels like it's not enough to meet demand - any rumors of even more production of Wii consoles?

Mike Musgrove: Nintnedo says they ramped up production 3 times this year. They haven't indicated another ramp-up is in the works, but I wouldn't be surprised.

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Virginia: Why on earth didn't Rock Band come out for the Wii? Would you say Harmonix are "completely" clueless, or just "mostly" clueless?

Mike Musgrove: Not sure, there. Rock Band can take up a lot of USB ports. Is it possible they couldn't get it going on a Wii ? Somebody out there might have a better ansswer on this...?

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Potomac, Md.: I bought a Wii two weeks ago with very little trouble. My 11-year-old called all of the EBGames/Gamestops in the area, we found a Wii at their store in Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, we drove there and bought it. The manager said he couldn't have us prepay or hold it, but that there were plenty there that day and to come on over....

Mike Musgrove: Some people just make it look easy.

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Steve, NJ: Hey Mike. Just a quick PS3 question. Would you suggest getting COD 4 right now or waiting for Haze? Thanks

Mike Musgrove: If you know the CoD games, I'd say the latest is more of the same, even though it's set in a more modern era. It's fun. Looks great.

But I have no idea whether Haze is worth waiting for, sorry.

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Coopersburg, Pa.: For the FPS fan looking for both good story and online play, Halo 3 is the answer (and you certainly cant go wrong with Bioshock or COD4).

Mike Musgrove: Good point... good point.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Mike, What's your take on Gamespot's firing of Jeff Gerstmann?

Mike Musgrove: This person is referring to a very recent big stink where a reviewer at a prominent game review site, Gamespot, was allegedly fired for being too negative about a game (Kane & Lynch) and angering the advertisers.

I think this incident undermines the credibility of the site among the type of game geek (like me) who pays attention to and remembers this kind of stuff. I'm not sure what percentage of people like us make up among Gamespot's target demographic, though... anybody out there have thoughts on this ?

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falls church: Hi Mike - Have you played Assasin's Creed? What are your thoughts?

Mike Musgrove: I've spent an hour or so playing it a week back. I was trying to play it yesterday and couldn't quite figure out what I was supposed to do. Since there are so many other great games out right now, I'm going to have to come back to it later down the road at some point. Any other time of year, it would probably be getting a lot more of my attention...

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Richmond, Va.: Hi, Mike, Not to sound terribly old-fashioned, but do you have any recommendations for PC games this season? I'm not a big shoot-em-up fan, and frankly the last games I really enjoyed were Oblivion and Sam&Max. Man, I miss Zork!

Mike Musgrove: The only PC game I've tried lately has been Crysis. It looks great so far, but it's really giving my PC a beating.

Maybe you'd get a kick out of buying the PC version of Orange Box and playing "Portal" ?

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Washington, D.C.: For a while Walmart had a Wii package for sale online. A bit pricey, but it included extra controllers and eight or nine games. Was able to get it that way just before Thanksgiving. Not sure if it is still available

Mike Musgrove: Passing this along...

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Fairlington, Va.: More of a comment, than a question. I received an xbox 360 for my birthday two weeks ago. I was very unsure if I wanted one, initially.

I have to say, I'm impressed. Halo 3 is fantastic and the slate of games that are appealing, Mass Effect and Bioshock included, is long and varied.

Hey, I even found Xbox Live Arcade a blast. The new Pac-Man championship edition? Totally addictive. Scoring achievement points, as you already noted in a recent column, is also addictive.

I can't recommend 360 enough.

washingtonpost.com: @play: The Points of It All

Mike Musgrove: Yeah, I'm impressed with the Xbox 360 overall and spend more time on it than the other consoles.

Try out the Xbox Live video download service, too, it's pretty good. I used it last night to download and watch the

South Park episode based around Guitar Hero. Funny stuff.

Then I played some more Rock Band, of course.... cracked the New Pornographers song in guitar career on "expert." woo hoo...

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I got a wii: Purchased it on ebay.

Brand new in the box with an 2 extra controllers and a free game. Bad news, paid double the list price.

Mike Musgrove: Double the price, eek.

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Paper Mario?: Hi Mike, As a big fan of the N64 version of Paper Mario, how was the Wii version? Once I get my hands on a console, I'm thinking about buying it, but Mario galaxy has gotten such great press too... Is it worth it to get both?

Mike Musgrove: I like Galaxy more than I liked Paper... that's just me. I'd get Galaxy first, maybe rent Paper Mario...

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Wii Hunting: I'm not sure if this is helpful to anyone else, but four of us in my office all were able to find Wiis in the last few weeks. Our local Game Stop told us what day and time they got their weekly shipment. We were each able to buy one shortly after the shipment came in (like within an hour of the shipment).

Mike Musgrove: Another tip to pass along...

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Jon A, Arlington, Va.: Wii = $250, old tech, hard to get. XBOX Arcade + $280, newest tech, easy to find - and offers more upgradeability (hard drive, HD player, network to your PC, etc).

Is the Wii controller that compelling? Seems like the XBOX would be a better choice. Will Wii run out of steam with PS3 sales surpassing Wii in Japan?

Mike Musgrove: Here's one opinion worth putting out there.

Jon, I'd say that the people who see, play and immediately want the Wii are often mainstream folks who don't know or care anything about HD players or whatever. They see the bottons on the Xbox controller and run in the opposite direction.

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Bethesda, Md.: I got a great deal on a killer Nvidia card, and put my PS3 money into that and more memory with cash left over. What PC games will make me not regret skipping the PS3?

Mike Musgrove: Crysis.

I can't think of any other new PC games that will exhaust your new PC quite as much. Gears of War just came out for PC, if you don't own an Xbox...

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Wii: Look for one when you are out of town. My friends in the Midwest are baffled when I tell them that it is still hard to find one here. I bought mine in DC after keeping track on the EB Games/Gamestop website.

Mike Musgrove: Another one. I've heard this too.

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about finding wii and guitar hero: I visited Gamefunsite.com the other day and saw several of each i think mainly bundled together? anyway FWIW

Mike Musgrove: passing this along...

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Fairfax, Va.: Xbox 360 vs. Playstation 3. Which is the better deal for cost, game selection, above average technical features.

Mike Musgrove: Well, I have both in my home and spend more tme on the XBox 360. It's a matter of game selection and preferring the Xbox's online functionality.

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Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend has both a Wii and, um, I think it's a PS3, anyway he's very into conquering the "medium" level of difficulty on the new Guitar Hero game which is great but if I hear "Hit me with your best shot" one more time, I'm going to find Pat Benatar and strangle her. Any gift suggestions that are quiet games?

Mike Musgrove: If it were an Xbox 360, it would be easy enough to scratch that disk... anyway, I'll warn Ms. Benatar.

I've been enjoying the fact that a lot of games (like Mass Effect) allow you to turn on subtitles so you can play late at night with the sound turned down.

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Mike Musgrove: And it's 2 o' clock.

Apologies to the folks who I didn't get to today.

Anybody want to drop me a line with a Wii success or frustration story -- or anything else-- drop me a line at musgrovem (at) washpost (dot) com.

Xbox Live: MikeShotgun.

Cheers,

Mike

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