Sunday, December 17, 2006

Looking for alternatives to Xbox, Wii or PS3?

Believe it or not, there are some console videogame alternatives to the big three consoles from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.

The new GameWave system is affordable at as little as $79 from some retailers and includes four remotes. Graphically it's more along the lines of the original PlayStation but offers a change of pace from traditional games.

The unit also plays DVDs.

The console, which includes a plastic case to hold the controllers, is easy to hook up and play. Each remote comes with batteries included. Games like 4 Degrees offer family fun via trivia questions where speed is just as important as accuracy. It's kind of Jeopardy-lite. A new version of 4 Degrees, Vol 2, offers a Pop Culture trivia game that will probably get your teenagers talking to you more.

REWIND 2005 looks back at the biggest news events of the past year and Zap 21 is a pretty-fun-to-play version of Blackjack that you can play without losing your shirt.

Nothing about this system screams hi-tech, but that is not the goal. It's simple family entertainment, where most games are like video multiple choice.

The DVD player works well, so if you're in the market for a basic DVD player, it might be worth it to give this system a try. Don't like it? You still can play DVDs on it.

With games at $24.99, this is a console that might be an alternative for a family looking for something other -- or something cheaper -- than PlayStation3, X-360 or Wii (Grade: B-minus).

Leapster TV: A step beyond the award-winning hand-held videogame, this console system brings the Leapstar to the big screen. Leapster is an excellent series of instructional games aimed at kids.

The purple game console will store six game cartridges and comes with a Dora The Explorer pinata party cartridge that helps teach phonics and letters. If my 2-year-old is any indication, this is memerizing for the little ones.

The joystick is appropriately large for small hands and has a joystick. A touch pad and stylus on the controller helps with writing skills during game play.

There are a variety of games to play with the system. We tried Leapster L-Max, which combines a race game and math skills plus use of time. Your kid is having fun racing and learning time at the same time. And it works.

The Backyardigans features characters from the popular kids show and helps with letters and phonics plus numbers and memorization. Another title, Animal Genius, was my little one's favorite, since he was learning about animals as he played (Combined Grade: A).

The Fly: This is another cool innovation from the people who brought you the Leapster. The Fly is a pen that is really a pretty powerful computer. It's got an optical scanner that "sees" everything you write on special "Fly paper." It's also got a voice.

The pen can help with math problems and help you remember to clean your room. It's a neat gift for anyone, say, 8 to 13. Games like Harry Potter, Interactive Marauder, will test skill by having you use your virtual pen to navigate maps and answer questions correctly.

Playing the popular Sudoku puzzle game with the Fly allows you to play faster (and repeat play really fast). There are more than 200 puzzles to solve, and even big kids -- like me -- will have fun with this one.

My favorite game, though, was Fly Through Algebra, that is basically an algebra tutor available whenever you need it. Designed for grades 6 through 9, the fly computer will actually help you figure out what X equals. Every time. It's a fun way to learn (Overall Grade: A-minus).