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How to Buy The Best Video Game System for Kids

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Tips for buying the best video game system for your kids. Learn about the Nintendo Switch, Xbox 1, or the Playstation 4. Pretty much everything you need to know, plus a lot of stuff you don’t.

How to buy a Nintendo Switch

This post may contain affiliate links. Using these links helps support my blog as I get a small commission from sales. I hope the links (for Amazon) are convenient for making purchases. Thank you! 

I started playing video games when the original Nintendo came out in the 1980’s, but I wasn’t really into gaming until high school when I discovered role playing games. What’s a role playing games? These are just games with a story line (vs. shooters or sports games). I love reading so the stories appealed to me. They also frequently had beautiful animation in between game play. My favorite games were the Final Fantasy series and Xenogears. I also got into computer gaming via a text based multi player role playing game called Gemstone. There were no pictures- you just read the text that popped up on screen.

Whenever someone argues against video games for kids, I chuckle a bit because gaming gave me a lot of skills. I learned a lot about computers and playing Gemstone taught me to type extremely fast. I think I was typing 100 WPM in high school when most people were still typing with two fingers. It’s come in useful for blogging because my typing speed is on target for my train of thoughts.

When I upgraded to MMORPGs with visual like Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot and World of Warcraft, I needed more graphics power and I needed to keep what was a pretty old computer working so I learned about replacing graphics cards and different tricks to fix my computer. Not bad skills to have… at all. I also ended up in the geek crowd and took a lot of programming courses as a result.

So don’t feel guilty about letting your kids game- there are some useful things that come from it. Just keep an eye on what they play and how they play it. I had a pretty safe gaming community of extreme geeks on Gemstone and the console games (more about that later) were single player. By the time I was online with some nasty folks, I was pretty capable of standing up for myself.

My perfect job came along in high school when I applied at the gaming store. There were two gaming stores in our small mall. I walked into one to ask for an application, the assistant manager looked me up and down (not in a nice way), and sleazily said, “yeaaahh we can get you an application.” Then I never got a phone call. Being a girl in the gaming world has probably gotten slightly better in the past 10 years, but there are definitely a lot of socially challenged and sleazy guys who don’t know how to act. You learn to manage them pretty well.

So I went to the other store in the mall, got hired by a really nice guy who knew how to act, and promptly began KILLING IT with sales. The other store eventually came down to try to recruit me because we were taking all the monies… bahahaha.  Sweet sweet revenge.

Whoops… got side tracked…

Back to video games and purchasing the right systems for your kid. One of the reasons I did so well with sales is because around the holiday season, there are so many moms coming in to buy systems for their kids and they don’t want some jerk talking down to them. This post is for those moms- and dads- who just have absolutely no clue what they’re shopping for. 

What is a video game console?

A console is a gaming system that isn’t on your computer. Technically a console has the properties to be considered a computer (nowadays it has memory/a hard drive, for example), but you can only play the games made for that system on it.
Nintendo Switch: What to buy when you're buying it as a gift.
There are handheld systems with their own screens and then the regular home console systems that attach to a screen/television. The Switch is both.
Here are the main manufacturers of console systems and their respective systems (systems are listed from most recent to least recent). Going to stick with U.S. systems only. The bold one is the one you should probably buy this year, unless your child wants an older system for a particular reason (more on why after):
  • Nintendo Home Consoles
    • Switch (MSRP $299.99)
    • WiiU
    • Wii
    • GameCube
    • Nintendo 64
    • Super Nintendo (SNES)
    • Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
  • Nintendo Handheld:
    • Switch (this is technically a home console and a handheld)
    • WiiU (also technically a home console and a handheld but not as portable as the Switch)
    • Nintendo 3DS
    • Nintendo DS
    • Gameboy Advance
    • Gameboy Color
    • Gameboy
  • Microsoft
    • XBox One: There are several bundles and versions.
    • XBox 360
    • XBox
  • Sony Home Consoles
    • Playstation 4 Pro and the Playstation 4: The Pro is more powerful and supports 4K (higher resolution) televisions, therefore you get better graphics. This system also has bundles with games.
    • Playstation 3
    • Playstation 2
    • Playstation
  • Sony Handheld
    • PSP
    • Vita
  • Sega
    • You won’t see much by Sega. Their last system was the Dreamcast which flopped despite decent games and graphics. Sony, MS, and Nintendo were pretty much dominating the market at that point. They also had begun to offer their exclusive games on other systems, I believe, which may have led to their downfall. Older systems included the Sega Saturn, Sega Pico, Sega CD, Gamegear, Sega Genesis, and a couple of older ones.
Something to keep in mind is that there are often several versions of the same system. The newer versions have more features, better graphics support (for newer TVs), or bigger hard drives, etc.
I recommend buying the MOST RECENT gaming system. Why? Because once the company makes a new system, the game manufacturers will start making games for the new system and focus less and less on the old systems. Eventually it’s hard to find games for the old system. Now, this does take a few years and there are always lots of used games to play. But for the avid gamer, the newer system will provide more content. That said, a really brand new system won’t have many games yet. But the life of the system is longer. If your child just wants a system, any system, and price is an issue, then the older system will allow you to save money and get a lot of used games for them. So there’s that.
One of the things you’ll notice is that consoles sometimes have exclusive rights to certain games. For example, Nintendo makes anything Mario. So when you see someone who owns several gaming systems, it’s often because they had some games they liked that just didn’t come on their other system. And they’re big gamers.

Pricing for Video Game Systems

You want to check out the MSRP for each system in the country you live in. You’ll sometimes see the prices of systems jacked up around the holidays because of low supply. But the systems have a price that they expect retailers to sell their systems for.To my understanding, those systems are sold at around cost so you aren’t likely to see huge deal on them. You will, however, see deals on bundles. The bundles include items like controllers and other accessories, as well as games. Those are the items that get higher marker (particularly the accessories) so they have a higher profit margin- this means they’re able to be marked down more on sale than other items.

You can get some good deals on older systems, particularly used ones. They often have good bundles and there are more used games available for older systems

Accessories to Buy with a Video Game System

Your child has likely told you what system they want. If they haven’t, however, you’re really looking at what games you want to play. Find the system that offers the games you and your kids enjoy.  The Nintendo is definitely geared towards more kid friendly games, particularly if you have really young kids. It’s also nice to have the same system as friends for game lending and/or online multiplayer.
Whichever system you choose, you’ll want to buy accessories for the system. These are very important. If you don’t buy an extra controller, for example, and you have more than one child, there will be arguing on Christmas. Make sure you have a couple of controllers so the family can play.
PS4 accessories.
Accessories for the Playstation 4
The only current generation console that can play games from the previous gen (that you might already own), is the XBox One. Don’t expect the PS4 to play PS3 games. I’m not sure if the XBox One plays all XBox 360 games.

Accessories you’ll need by console. I’m only including the most recent consoles. Make sure to read the box that you’re buying because some packages include different accessories:

Nintendo Switch:
I’ll admit that I choked a little when I saw some of the prices on the accessories.
XBox One:
  • Games: Often the systems don’t come with games unless you buy a bundle. Modern systems allow you to buy electronic versions of the game, however, so worse case you can buy a game on Christmas day from the online store.
  • Some type of protection plan: Optional, but these are nice IF the system breaks.
  • Media Remote (for tv shows and such, but you can use a controller too)
  • Vertical Stand (make sure you get one that fits the model of XBox you have)
  • Elite Wireless Controller
  • Stereo Headset: My personal preference as a parent is to hear the games so I can make sure the game is appropriate and the people my kids are playing with are appropriate. But my husband likes having a headset (and he’s allowed).
Playstation 4: 
  • Games: Often the systems don’t come with games unless you buy a bundle. Modern systems allow you to buy electronic versions of the game, however, so worse case you can buy a game on Christmas day from the online store.
  • Dual Shock Wireless Controllers: Ours came with one so you’ll probably want to pick up a second controller. Just check your box to see what’s included because bundles may have two).
  • Wireless Stereo Headset
  • Vertical stand
  • Some type of protection plan: Optional, but these are nice IF the system breaks.
  • Playstation Camera: Required for Virtual Reality. Great for The Gameroom (which my kids LOVE- and is kid friendly) and the Just Dance games (neither of which are VR).
  • VR Headset (there’s a bundle too that comes with camera as well).

Just a quick note on Virtual Reality (VR). We have an Oculus Rift VR headset for our computers that is amazing and top of the line. It’s really neat. It also makes me extremely motion sick to play and even my husband, who doesn’t normally get motion sick, gets sick if he plays it too long. My 6 yr old has played it, but I am concerned about how safe it is for kids, just because I’m not sure (and neither is the interweb from what I can tell when I searched on the safety) as to what it can do to a developing brain. The recommendation seems to be a minimum age of 13 years old for these type of headsets, but there isn’t much science to backup any of it. Whatever age you decide is okay for your kids to play this, I’d suggest limiting play time to short periods (15 min or so) and obviously checking what games the kiddo is playing. It is reallllllly realistic… in my head, I can’t help but think games such as shooting games will desensitize kids to violence way more than a regular video game will. But there are games for everything on virtual reality- one of my favorite games is a rock climbing game. Just rock climbing. I like that I’m not actually rock climbing, ha. But falling y’all… enough to make your stomach drop.

Okay back to regular system stuff… if you’re buying an older or used system, make sure to check with the sales associate about the items you’ll need. Some of these accessories are pretty standard.
I’d recommend using a wired internet connection instead of wireless once you get the system home. It will provide better online multiplayer or streaming performance, especially if you live in an apartment or other area with a lot of WiFi traffic.

Protection Plans for Video Game Systems: Are they worth it?

I am torn with these. If you don’t need them, they’re a waste of money. But they are really nice to have if it breaks! The ones at GameStop cover accidents too apparently so if we were to get another system, I’d probably get the plan. If something breaks… like a controller… they replace it. My kids have destroyed two PS4 controllers so…
I’m not sure how plans through other companies work, although I think the one on Amazon might be decent… I’ve bought it for a camera and a couple other items, but haven’t really needed to use it much.

Manufacturer vs. Third Party Products

The main thing we’re talking about with third party products is the accessories. I go back and forth about if it’s worth saving the money by buying them. To my understanding, you will void warranty on the systems if you use third party accessories. I’m not sure how true that is or how they even know, but I tend to err on the side of manufacturer made products because I’ve had more issues with third party items. So it’s something to think about. If you buy a third party item, make sure to read the reviews carefully beforehand.Any 3rd party item that plugs into the system- controllers, cords, etc.- may be an issue. But things like cases, screen protectors, and such are fair game in my opinion.

Streaming Hulu, Netflix, and Prime on Video Game Consoles

The Playstation 4 and the XBox One both allow streaming for third party services like Hulu, Netflix, and Prime. The Nintendo Switch originally did not offer any streaming services, but they just added Hulu. More to come? We’ll see.
While it’s nice to have that feature so you have a machine that does it all, you can deal with the lack of streaming services by picking up a streaming device that plugs into the HDMI (or USB) port on your television. These devices include the Chromecast, Roku, and the Amazon Firestick. They’re fairly affordable so it’s not a deal breaker, in my opinion, that the Nintendo systems don’t have streaming.

Online Fees

The systems sometimes have online fees. We have the Playstation Plus on our Playstation 4 which is optional, but it allows you to get more out of your system. We get free games each month from that and we can do online multiplayer. The price depends on how many months you buy at a time (ie. the year plan vs. month to month). My husband says the Xbox One also has a similar program.
It looks like the Nintendo Switch will have an online service that will have a fee, starting in 2018. I didn’t see a price listed yet, however, or what the price includes.
The WiiU does not require any online payment, but there’s also no free games.

Re-Released Nintendo Systems

The NES and SNES have recently been released by Nintendo, preloaded with games. You can’t add additional games onto these. These systems also have been pretty hard to find, but also affordable if you can find them to purchase at MSRP. The NES sold out almost immediately last holiday season. This holiday season looks like it will be more of the same.
But for many of us 1980s and 1990s gamers, these systems are a hot product because we get to play some of our favorite old games and introduce our kids to them… without buying an old system that is unlikely to work well anymore.
Make sure you get the NEW SYSTEM… a lot of people are trying to off load their 1980s NES systems… these may work, don’t get me wrong, and they have collector value to some folks. But remember how you used to have to blow in the cartridges to get the game to work? These are those same systems, haha. So…  the newer ones are going to cause a lot less frustration (although you can ONLY play the games that are preloaded on them).
There’s a Sega system that was re-released too but I got it for my husband and kids last year and it was not great.

Choosing Appropriate Games for Your Video Game System

First, keep in mind that different games support different number of players in the game. Some games allow 4 players, others allow 2, and some are single player. The games will say it on the front or back, depending on the system. The Switch games appear to have it on the back.
How to choose games for your kids based on the number of players and ratings.
It will also give a rating. M is mature. E is everyone. As you can see, the top left of the box gives the system that game belongs to. Some games will be on more than one system (like Just Dance) and others will be exclusive to the system (like Mario).
Ratings for the Nintendo Switch are shown in the bottom left of each game.

Fun Games for Kids for the Nintendo Switch

MSRP for newer Switch games will be around $60 each. Older games may be less, usually around $40. I’m linking to the games on Amazon and I thought some the prices were lower than I expected (at the moment, but that can change closer to the holidays). Generally, if they’re over $60, then the price has been inflated by the seller UNLESS there’s an accessory that comes with it.

You can buy these digitally, but I think for Christmas the physical version is nice so you have something to wrap. And it looks like Amazon has the prices for the physical versions cheaper than the digital on some games… which seems odd, but whatever works.

For the number of players, some of the games will allow multiplayer online only vs. in person. I can say that I’ve played 4 player Just Dance and MarioKart on other systems without being online.

Just a quick note on the ratings… for the E 10+, you may find that younger kids have a harder time playing it, but I think it’s probably appropriate for younger kids to see or watch. And they may be able to figure it out. Just to give some examples, Zelda is going to have a lot of text that you need to read. Just Dance is E 10+ but it’s just a bunch of songs to dance to (unless it’s changed from prior versions) so the rating may be based on the skill level required to truly play the game. That said, my kids “play” Just Dance… they just are terrible at it. So am I. It works. I would worry more about the appropriateness of T (teen) or M (mature) ratings as those are likely to have the violence, blood, swearing, etc.

1 Player Games:
2 Player Games:
4+ Player Games:

Fun Games for the Playstation 4 and XBox One

So I’m not going to get into as much detail about the Playstation 4 games or the XBox One games because these systems have been out for a while and there are a lot of games. I’ll just mention a few of our favorites. The PS4 and the XBox One both cater to an older audience so I’m going to mention some games for the teen and mature audience as well.
PS4: Horizon, Zero Dawn (T) may be one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen. It has an extremely engaging story line with wonderful character development. It’s a single player, action role playing game. It is an award winning game and is the second best selling game ever for the Playstation 4. My husband played this and I made him wait to play it when I was around because I wanted to watch.
For PC, XBox One, and PS4: Destiny (T) and Destiny 2 (T) are huge.
PS4, XBox One, and PC: Overwatch (T). I’ve only played the PC edition, but I really enjoy this game. I play online with my husband in multiplayer mode with other people… per usual, you get some idiots talking in chat, but the game is fast paced enough that you aren’t doing a lot of text chatting. I don’t like using the mic to talk to people I don’t know in the game so I can’t say how rude folks get in there. I imagine they get rude. I actually play this in practice mode with my 6 year old (since he was 5) and computer gen characters… he’s not old enough to play it well, but he does well on easy mode and we hook up voice chat so I can talk to him.
PS4, XBox One: Lego Dimensions … for these, you need to buy the starter pack for the system you own. Then you can get add ons to the game by buying the individual packs… those aren’t system specific. They have individual packs for Ghostbusters, Lego Batman, Goonies, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, and more. I get so geeked out over the options. But I also find this and Disney Infinity sort of irritating because you need to keep buying those extra packs to add onto your games and eh… it just gets pricey. The packs come with little Lego pieces and the game requires you to build the Legos per the game’s instructions in different stages of the game. Buy the Harry Potter pack, you get Harry Potter content. And so on.
PS4, PS3, XBox One, XBox 360, WiiU: Disney Infinity 3.0. Similar to Lego Dimensions, you need the starter pack for your system of choice, then you can buy all of the individual packs to add on content. The individual packs revolve around Disney movies though like Star Wars, Marvel, Inside Out, Frozen, etc. This is the third series of Disney Infinity games… I believe the older series pieces fit into the newer starter pack, but they aren’t as good as the newer ones (apparently). I keep finding brand new ones from 1.0 and 2.0 at the thrift store.
I looked through this list of Kids & Family games for the PS4 (ignored the sponsored ones at the top) and most of them seem to be rated E 10+. I see there’s some sports games rated for E. For E 10+, there’s some Lego games, Crash Bandicoot, Minecraft, and others. My kids played Broken Age which is super weird and creepy in my opinion… but that’s rated E 10+. My husband gets the subscription through PS4 though and downloads the free games as they come out so we’ve got quite a few the kids like off there. I LOVE playing Tricky Towers (E) with the kids… it’s like Tetris but prettier and with different types of levels. You need to keep your tower below a certain height in one level (playing against another person), build your tower up fastest in another, deal with wind or ice on certain levels, etc. I like to think it’s good for thinking about physics and spatial intelligence, but maybe I’m exaggerating the educational value of the game. My 4 year old can play it though so it’s a win.
For XBox One, it’s the same deal as with the PS4. Sports games. There’s some Lego games. Final Fantasy is on that system (I love that,  series), Tomb Raider, Borderlands…. not all kid friendly. The system had the exclusive on one of the Assassin Creed games (M) which irritated my husband because he’s been playing the series for a while on other systems. We do not own an XBox One so I can’t comment on the system or games too much.
Ah yes, and Just Dance 2018 is on PS4 and XBox One as well. I like the games that physically wear my kids out.

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How to buy the best video game system for your kids. Tips for what accessories and games to buy, and how to get a good deal.
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Thanks for Reading! -DIYDanielle
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