for those who love to spend hours catatonic in front of the TV playing video games, these are great days.In the next few weeks there will be three different video game platforms to blow your money on: the incredibly successful PlayStation 2, Microsoft's much-hyped XBox and Nintendo's return to home gaming, the GameCube.
Whether or not you need three different, incredibly powerful but also very similar video game machines to choose from is immaterial. Some people will be happy to own one. Others, with more cash and less interest in the outside world, will have to own all three.
Beyond Sega's dearly departed Dreamcast, which set the standard for new-generation game platforms but couldn't survive the competition, the PS2 is the obvious must-have here. The forthcoming XBox -- due out later this week -- has to run a close second, if only because of the sheer amount of cash Microsoft is throwing at it.
GameCube, available Sunday (November 18) for $299.95, is a relative unknown. Nintendo's last attempt at home gaming was the disastrous Nintendo 64, a machine that was obsolete almost as soon as it launched.
The shapely Cube, on the other hand, seems like serious business. The machine itself is a tiny box and comes with a handle attached, in case you want to lug it across the street to a friend's. Unlike the N64, the GameCube's games are on DVDs, but mini-sized ones that look like 3-inch audio CDs.
No one cares about the outside of the box, though. It's what's on the screen that counts.
Predictably, the graphics here are as sharp as those on PS2 and Dreamcast. The newly designed controller shakes and vibrates to give you that real-life, arm-aching effect, and onscreen scenes are as close to real life as you can get from the comfort of your couch.
With so many visual similarities between the three machines, what will make or break GameCube are its games.
Nintendo users are sort of like Mac addicts in their loyalty, and the game company has its own series of wildly popular, exclusive games -- Mario Bros., Waverace and Star Wars Rogue Leader, for example -- that will draw back fans.
Whether newcomers flock to GameCube will in a large part be determined by how much they like Nintendo games.
The three I played -- realistic jet ski simulator Waverace BlueStorm, Mario Bros. offshoot Luigi's Mansion and the peculiar Super Monkey Ball -- looked sharp but weren't particularly compelling. The must-have sports games and action thrillers available on PS2 and scheduled for XBox aren't here yet and may not come to GameCube.
Without surefire hits like NHL 2002, Tony Hawk and Metal Gear Solid, will loyalty be enough? It's hard to say just yet. I wasn't blown away, especially considering what PS2 has to offer. Rolling around as a monkey trapped in a ball isn't really my idea a of video game.
For twitchy addicts keen to burn a few more hours in front of the TV, though, there's nothing quite like choice.