Home >Technology >News >Can the new PS5 and Xbox help you get back in the game?
Inside a GameStop store a worker takes a Sony PS5 gaming console to the counter to sell in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 12, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (REUTERS)
Inside a GameStop store a worker takes a Sony PS5 gaming console to the counter to sell in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., November 12, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (REUTERS)

Can the new PS5 and Xbox help you get back in the game?

  • The release of two new consoles is helping old-school gamers rediscover a childhood pastime. Which machine is right for you?

For those who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, few thrills could match the feeling of sprinting across an arcade to your favorite machine, slipping a quarter through its slot and being blasted to a state of euphoria by the music that announced the game had begun. Systems like the original Nintendo, launched in 1985, helped us bring that feeling home, but over the decades, Americans who earned their videogame stripes thumping turtles and hopping lava pits have been left behind. As that generation juggled work and family, there was no time to grasp sophisticated gaming mechanics or fattened, ever-more-complex controllers, much less to plod your way through campaigns that took weeks rather than hours to complete.

But 2020 is…different: With less commuting and fewer obligations to eat up a weekend (thanks to canceled everything), many of us have never had more time to rediscover gaming. If you think you’ve been away too long and could never catch up, the new Xbox machine arriving this month is designed to relieve such fears. It’s like a cheat code to that circa-1981 state of childhood euphoria. If you’re more intrepid, the PlayStation 5, also arriving this month, offers a crash course in modern gaming.

On paper the Xbox Series X and PS5 are evenly matched. “Technically speaking, the average Joe won’t notice meaningful differences," noted Carlos Rodriguez, former pro gamer and founder of the competitive videogame team G2 Esports. Each delivers HD graphics and allows you to play alongside friends while you giggle and blow stuff up from your geographically or socially distanced setups. Beyond that, the machines differ dramatically: The Series X is an austere slab while the PS5 is more pop sculpture; and each offers those returning to the videogame fold a unique gaming experience.

For people who want both familiar reference points and new challenges as they dive back in, Microsoft’s strategy with the Series X ($499, xbox.com) revolves around a wide selection of games that will run beautifully. If you grew up popping too many quarters into “Asteroids," you’ll find the “Geometry Wars" series nostalgic despite a light-speed upgrade in graphics. If you prefer classic side-scrolling brawlers like 1987’s “Double Dragon," then “Streets of Rage 4" is your game.

Once you grow comfortable with the controller and mass of extra buttons, you can start in on all the popular titles from previous Xbox generations, including the sci-fi saga “Halo" and intuitive racing games like “Forza Horizon" (long the favorite for road testing a new console’s muscle). For $10 a month, Xbox’s Game Pass service—part Netflix, part Costco—grants access to a digital library of more than 100 titles. “Game Pass is absolutely insane in terms of value." said Mr. Rodriguez, calling it a “must have."

This service helps ameliorate the intimidation factor. If your videogame bona fides date back to “PacMan" and you’re nervous about wasting money on games you’ll never use, Game Pass lets you try before you buy—it’s effectively a rental model for the digital era. Hate a game after five minutes? Delete it and download something else. The selection is smartly curated, with no penalty for test-driving it all. And should a game rotate out, members can still purchase a digital copy of it at a 15-20% discount.

If, rather than waxing nostalgic you want to dive into a cutting-edge gaming experience, choose the PS5 (from $399, playstation.com). It might have a steeper learning curve but boasts buzzy graphic enhancements like ray tracing, which simulates how light reacts as you move through an environment. At least five games are equipped to show off what the newly launched system can do, including “Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales," which uses the PS5’s raw power to flaunt eye-popping, fast-moving 4K graphics and neon colors.

Rusty gamers more familiar with joysticks will feel much of the excitement PS5 offers quite literally through its set of DualSense controllers, which boast a new standard for haptic response. If you grab a critter that squirms, the controller shivers, delivering something eerily close to a writhing sensation in your hands. Tension motors drive the left and right triggers to convey contextual feedback as you play. If your character’s gun jams in the game, the trigger on the controller can physically lock, inhibiting you from firing.

A stereo speaker in each controller plays accent sounds as well, simulating the chatter of a radio comlink or the thhwipp of Spider-Man’s web slingers.

Sony offers only a few free titles that rotate monthly via its PlayStation Network, which for $50 a year also includes access to multiplayer features. It isn’t nearly on the level of Game Pass, but Sony’s edge, says Mr. Rodriguez, is its run of “very strong exclusive" games your kids have played for years—like “The Last of Us," “God of War" and “Uncharted 4." The 18 titles of the PlayStation Plus Collection are included with subscription and available for day one download.

Beyond these two systems, rusty gamers have a few options. The Nintendo Switch Lite ($179, nintendo.com) offers a simplified, two-button experience that lets you revisit titles from gaming’s golden era, such as “Zelda: A Link to The Past" and “Star Fox," as well as shiny favorites like “Mario Kart 8." Its digital storefront features a massive catalog of arcade classics and breezy, pick-up-and-play titles. An annual pass to Nintendo Switch Online, which includes 80-plus Nintendo and Super Nintendo games, is $20.

Meanwhile, if you don’t want to invest in a console, Apple Arcade is likely hiding on your smartphone. A subscription to its library—including more than 100 titles, from quirky genre-bending puzzle games like “Assemble With Care" to more traditional fantasy quests like “Oceanhorn 2"—will run you $5 a month.

Stepping back into games isn’t much different from stepping into an arcade at their peak. The formula remains the same: pure cacophony, candy-red buttons, a riot of light and wild shapes. We aren’t elbow to elbow anymore, but we can laugh and yell and enjoy the games together. Better yet: No lines. No wait. No need to ask mom for a quarter.


The games that obsessed previous generations are still available, some in their native form and others upgraded for modern machines. Here, five you should play right now.

‘Donkey Kong’ (1981)

This battle between the iconic giant gorilla and Mario—aka “Jumpman"—that fueled bitter rivalries is still a perfectly tuned challenge. Jump barrels, climb girders, save the girl. Find it on the NES Classic Edition. $170, amazon.com

‘The Legend of Zelda’ (1986)

The combo of fast action, puzzle-filled dungeons and exploration was a hit. Its score, by turns moody and triumphant, made it legendary. Find it and other 8-bit gems on Nintendo Switch’s Online service. $20/year, nintendo.com

‘Myst’ (1993)

This lush, mind-bending adventure took advantage of the CD-ROM platform, while its soundscapes, breezy exploration and subtle narrative redefined game design. You can still play the influential original—on your iPhone. $5, apple.com

‘Street Fighter II’ (1993)

For those who shouted HADOUKEN! as a kid, “Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection" makes a gorgeous digital exhibit. Every variant of the button-mashing series is here, but the 1993 entry wins the day. $30, store.playstation.com

‘Tony Hawk Pro Skater’ (1999)

This genre-defining freestyle skateboard franchise received a much-deserved, much-acclaimed remake this summer (above). It’s enhanced with countless refinements, but maintains its gameplay and nostalgic soundtrack. $40, xbox.com

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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