Next-gen gaming is here in full force with the long-awaited releases of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X in late 2020. After a year with these beautiful new boxes, we can more reasonably assess a burning question now that the butterflies have settled in our collective stomachs: Which 9th-gen console is the best?
As 9th generation consoles are still a pain to purchase with nasty bots and chip shortages, you also may still be in the market for a new system and are considering which is right for you.
I’m here to help. I’ll break down which consoles has:
Of course each will speak to different gamers, but with the ever-raging console wars that began with the Sega Genesis and SNES in the 90’s, I’ll be looking to see which console is the best, based on objective metrics and rating systems such as Metacritic.
To make things complicated, Nintendo broke away from the pack by releasing the 8th generation of consoles early with the Wii U. Microsoft and Sony followed suit later by releasing the PS4 and Xbox One consoles.
This makes the NIntendo Switch, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X all 9th generation consoles. Again, Nintendo had a bit of a head start releasing three years prior to Microsoft and Sony, making any lines of comparison inherently blurry.
Perhaps most importantly, the new guard of 9th generation consoles brings potential for shiny new games. New hardware, better processing and better graphics pushes the innovation and creativity of developers to take their games to another level.
Each gaming console emphasizes their values in the exclusive games they offer. Sony leans towards AAA narrative experiences, Xbox has epic shooters and Nintendo has charming family-friendly games. Of course, you have diverse games to cater to any fan on each console. However, the quality and offering of exclusive games is one of the leading factors when deciding which next-gen console to align with.
*listed below are each console's current exclusive games along with their Metacritic score. Some games are also on PC, however are exclusive to said console at the time of this writing.
Xbox Series S/X:
Even with a disparaging range of quality, it’s hard to argue with the home runs Nintendo has hit with Zelda BotW and Mario Odyssey. Given time, I think both Microsoft and Sony will ramp up the competition, but it’s an easy Nintendo win…at least for now.
A key feature in 9th generation consoles has been the embrace of streaming. Gaming platforms are trending toward services like Netflix, HBO Max and Disney + by offering rotating libraries of games. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all have greatly varying approaches to this with equally disparate levels of quality.
PlayStation: ps now, ps+, ps+ collection
Sony’s PlayStation Plus service has been solid for years. While it is necessary for playing online with friends, Sony delivers a pleasing handful of free games to users every month. These include PS4, PS5 and even PSVR titles that range from indie to AAA caliber games that increase the value of the service. PlayStation Plus was further boosted by the PlayStation Plus Collection, which was released with the PlayStation 5. This expansion made a star caliber catalogue of games from the PS4 era available to PS+ subscribers.
PlayStation Now feels like GamePass’s forgotten younger sibling, despite it being around for longer. While players gain access to a nice back-catalogue of classic PlayStation games and some current AAA titles, the service feels barren compared to the competition. Which is fair, it’s less than half the price for a year subscription. You won’t find Horizon: New World or God of War: Ragnarok here day 1, but there’s a lot of fun to be had here.
Nintendo: Nintendo online NES, SNES, Sega, N64
Nintendo offers a back catalogue of beloved classic Nintendo games from the NES, SNES consoles–and more recently the Sega Genesis and Nintendo 64. The games available are a drop in the bucket compared to Sony and Microsoft, and arguably have some issues when streaming. However, it’s hard to argue with the timeless quality of Super Mario World, Zelda: A Link to the Past and OG Mario Kart.
image credit-- nintendo.com
At $19.99 for an individual membership (34.99 for a family plan), it’s by far the cheapest service. Unfortunately, this means playing online with friends feels like a cheap experience compared to Sony and Microsoft. There is no group chat support, and joining up with friends online can be a hassle.
What feels expensive is the hefty $50 a year you’ll pay for the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion which includes the limited N64 and Sega Genesis libraries. $30 extra dollars a year seems like a stretch to play some extra retro games. The expansion does include access to expansions like Animal Crossing’s Happy Home Designer, but it remains to be seen how Nintendo will serve other fan bases.
Oh yeah… and Nintendo’s Switch Online retro libraries can only be played through streaming… further limiting it’s appeal in a head scratching manner.
Xbox: GamePass, Games with Gold
Xbox has arguably revolutionized video games as service with it’s induction of GamePass.
Not only does Xbox Games with Gold go toe-to-toe with PlayStation Plus in terms of its stellar Online support and free monthly games, Xbox has adopted a Netflix-style strategy in offering a substantial rotating library of games to play for $15 a month.
image credit-- xbox.com
Xbox GamePass offers an impressively diverse range of games. Microsoft somehow manages to consistently include it’s AAA exclusive games day 1 on the service.
Winner: Xbox Series S/X
GamePass likely will be remembered as a pivotal moment in gaming history. The quality and value of the service are mind blowing. And, especially with many Xbox first-party exclusives available day 1 on the service, Microsoft is drawing a heavy-handed line in the sand for its competitors.
For years, gaming consoles have attempted to be the swiss army knife of entertainment centers. Long gone are the days where your Super Nintendo Entertainment System was solely used for gaming. Today, all 9th generation consoles offer something in the way of entertainment– streaming, blue-ray, music, YouTube, Twitch, etc. etc.
Not every console is trying to be a Roku or a high end blu-ray player, so the quality and variety of supported features fluctuate across gaming consoles to accommodate their unique consumer bases.
A little convoluted at first, the PS5 allows users to quickly access important features. The home button no longer forces you to leave your current game, but instead pulls up a menu with helpful features like gameplay advice, trophy hints, along with a menu to close a game or start something else.
The UI puts a heavy emphasis on playing with friends. The PS5 seamlessly allows you to join a friends party with a click of the home button, and screenshare can now be used as a pullscreen in the corner of your TV.
The PlayStation 5 also conveniently separates Game and Media features, allowing for better organization. Games can also be left running while switching over to a streaming platform and vice versa. This way you can easily leave a game to catch up on a show, able to return on a whim in the exact place you left it.
The PlayStation Store also sets a high bar in visibility. Sweet sales are immediately accessible (maybe that’s how they always get me…) and the tabs will highlight a good mix of current, upcoming and under-the-radar games. I can typically find something I’m looking for and often stumble upon something new in the process.
Xbox Series S/X:
Microsoft has equipped its 9th generation console to be a juggernaut of an entertainment system.
By far the most powerful of the three, the Xbox Series X in particular punches in a totally different weight class compared to it’s contemporary peers. At 12 Teraflops of GPU (the sexy video game stat that seems to carry the most weight when talking consoles), the Xbox Series X is by far the leader in pure graphical power.
The Xbox also seems to have an easier time hitting 120 fps which makes gaming look incredibly smooth. However, with games like Hellblade 2 and Starfield still on the horizon, I don’t think these graphical and computing capabilities have nearly been able to fully flex on it’s competitors.
The Xbox UI sticks to simplicity for better or worse. There is nothing drastically new compared to the PS5 and Nintendo Switch.
The Xbox Series X has 1TB of storage and can easily integrate external storage, making it the easiest console to cram all of your games you swear you’ll finish one day into one place.
The Switch is a head scratcher. While Hulu and Youtube are fully supported for streaming, there is little else available, despite the outrageous popularity of apps like Netflix and Disney+. While Netflix isn’t technically supported, you can download it, but it’s far more convoluted than it should be.
It’s a nice convenience to watch shows in handheld mode somewhere cozy or on the go, but there is a definite drop off in streaming quality as a consequence–even in docked mode.
Nintendo also still remains the only console that has never supported DVD or Blu-ray physical discs. So if you’re still hoarding a physical collection of movies and shows, you’ll have to invest in another device.
Nintendo is comfortable with it’s identity, and it is by no means trying to replace your Amazon Fire Sticks or Blu-ray players anytime soon.
Winner: PlayStation 5
While I think this category is much closer between Sony and Microsoft, it’s surprising to see the PS5 stay so competitive. While they were a little slow at first adopting services like YouTube TV, they have supported the entertainment side of their platform which was the bread and butter of the Xbox One in the previous console generation.
Controllers are a vital and ever-evolving component in new console iterations. Gamers spend a hell of a lot of time holding a controller, so comfortability, functionality and style all play an important role in your enjoyment. 9th generation consoles all have differing goals in entertainment that constitute controller design.
The PS5 Dualsense controller is a huge step up from it’s PS4 DualShock predecessor. The controller feels better in the hands and has a nice weight to it. An argument could be made about the parallel sticks as opposed to the Xbox’s staggered sticks.
One of Sony’s biggest changes in 9th generation console gaming is it’s innovations in controller haptic feedback and HD rumble technology. The controller pushes the envelope in immersion by creating nuanced vibration textures and trigger resistance to mimic pulling a bowstring, walking through the rain or through crunching snow. To me, this is the hardest aspect of the PS5 to explain through writing. Trust me, you just gotta get this controller in your hands. Even playing the robust tech demo Astro’s Playroom is a blazing sign for a bright future ahead.
The one bummer is customization. Besides difficult, expensive and risky controller modding, you can currently buy only three different official controller colors. Nearly a year after launch, PlayStation announced 3 more new colors (pink, light blue and purple), but is still far behind the options of their competitors.
Xbox Series S/X:
Again, Xbox opted to continue with a good thing, making small improvements to an already arguably perfect gaming controller.
Xbox’s design has classically been a crowd pleaser, marrying sleek with sturdy into a functional controller that doesn’t try to go too “out there”. The controller feels better than ever and with the Xbox Elite 2 controller, you’d be hard pressed to find a better option for competitive gaming.
Microsoft also offers a staggering amount of color and style variations, as well and near limitless customization options in the Xbox Design Lab. I almost bought a third controller I certainly don’t need just so I could have a slick custom piece that no one but myself would see.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Xbox’s work in controller accessibility. The Xbox Adaptive Controller works wonders for gamers with limited mobility and accepts tons of additional accessories for unique needs.
Nintendo Joy Cons:
By far the most unique controller design, the Joy Con ditches function for novelty.
To be fair, Nintendo introduced HD rumble before anyone else on consoles, even though it is easily forgettable and Switch 1-2 didn’t have quite the same reception as Wii Sports or even Wii Resort (which I will firmly stand by as a great game).
The nice thing is that with one switch and two Joy Con controllers, two or even more friends can have an honest-to-god fun time playing a simple game like Mario Kart 9 Deluxe or Mario Party anywhere. This ease of use and seamless design into the Switch console make it extremely family friendly. However…
If you have big hands like myself, you can forget about precision gaming without immediate carpal tunnel syndrome. Which is a shame, because I found indie games like Hades to be best on the portable console, but I paid for it in brutal finger cramps.
Nintendo offers some fun custom controllers, but many come from 3rd party manufacturers. As was the case with previous generations, anything not strictly Nintendo made, just doesn’t feel as good. The pro controller is nice, but I’ve had far more problems with buttons sticking and wear and tear with these than Nintendo’s edgier siblings.
And finally, Joy Con drift–which is akin to Xbox’s Red Ring of Death for Switch owners except you’re doomed to keep playing your games but you’re constantly fighting to keep your characters from wandering off. Nintendo offers to fix this issue, but there is no denying that this is a huge pain. It’s also fairly common. So far, I’ve had this happen to three of my four controllers.
Winner: PlayStation 5
I think this category is the most subjective. However, with intriguing innovations and functional design, the Dual Sense 5 just edges out Xbox as the best controller. My gaming preferences lean toward this controller, but I would completely understand folks crowning the Xbox Elite 2 as the best controller.
The Joy Con though? Absolutely not.
I’m not trying to be vain, but aesthetics are absolutely important when choosing a gaming console that will likely be front and center in your living room or gaming center. And, it’s easier to downplay your console's shortcomings when you can tease the opposition right?
Note: I said I would be talking about mostly objective metrics in this article, but this is the one category that is obviously subjective. These thoughts are based on my personal aesthetic taste.
The PlayStation 5 dwarfs my Xbox Series S in comparison.
There is no getting around it, the PS5, and for better or worse has the most divisive design. Sony opted to go the creative route in console aesthetics, garnering praise and a whole lot of laughter from fans. Regardless of how you feel, it’s hard to look away from this imposing gaming center from the moment you pull it out of the box.
With a haphazard design and pure girth, the PS5 is by far the least travel friendly of the 3 main 9th generation consoles.
Xbox Series S/X:
image credit-- xbox.com
Both the Xbox Series S/X designs seem more like speakers than gaming consoles.
The Series S in particular looks like something out of RadioShack (RIP) with it’s circular cooling vent contrasting a fresh white box. It’s compact and simple design has just enough flair to make it stand out on your entertainment center. It feels sturdy, yet can easily be packed into a backpack or suitcase for convenient next-gen gaming while travelling.
The Series X is less offensive in design than it’s PS5 powerhouse competitor, yet is just about as sizable. It takes up significant space, but looks right at home with your subsequent entertainment tech with an all matte black design that looks more akin to a subwoofer than the most powerful gaming console. The unique top-vent breaks up the monotonous obelisk nature of the box in a nice way that keeps things just edgy enough.
Nintendo nailed their design so much that their logo is immediately recognizable as their opposing Joy Cons. The switch is sleek, and especially with the bright red/blue controllers contrasting with the black screen frame, it’s hard to resist the appeal.
In a pleasing way, the Switch looks very much like it was made by a toy company (which Nintendo leans towards). It may not wow the mohawk donning teens from the infamous “SEGA!” commercials in the 90’s, but the design is approachable and just gimmicky enough to be memorable.
The downside seems to be that in order to use the dock under a tv, you need a very specific space to be able to slide the Switch upwards out of the dock (so not in an entertainment shelf) and that it is much wider that it is deep on the shelf. And, looks weird when placed sideways. This may sound like a strange complaint, but I have always had a head scratching time figuring out where to plug in my Switch alongside my other consoles on limited shelf space.
Winner: Xbox Series S/X
I don’t mind the PS5 design and I love the Switch, but it’s hard for me to deny the appeal of Microsofts new consoles. I personally love the Series S out of all of these, but the attention to detail and classically modern designs make these the best aesthetically.
Xbox Series S/X
The data doesn’t lie. The Xbox Series S/X is the best of the three 9th generation consoles. I can assert my objectiveness in this decision as I am a loud and proud PlayStation fanboy and am a Nintendo kid for life– so I’m heavily biased in those directions.
Microsoft has won me over in this generation. In particular, the business decisions they have made that put gamers first (GamePass, Smart Delivery, backwards compatibility, accessibility and raw computing power) make the Xbox Series S/X hard to deny as the very best in next-gen gaming.
All Xbox is currently missing is more exclusive games to make it an easy win against the competition. However, with games like Starfield on the way and dozens of unannounced Microsoft Studios projects and acquisitions, much remains to be seen on how the Xbox Series S/X will compete in this space.
In any case, it’s obvious that no matter what kind of gamer you are, there is a wealth of fun to be had regardless of which console speaks to you.
The best part is, it’s only beginning.