Released this past month where the next-generation gaming consoles. Hoping to capture a market dominated by Sony's PlayStation 2, Microsoft has earmarked $500 million for its marketing campaign and the hype alone is enough to make a certain people look at this console. A sizable investment at $299 for the Xbox and $199 for the Game Cube, getting past the price tag is only the first hurdle. The second is deciding which to buy. The world's largest software maker followed familiar territory in developing the Xbox using a PC-based design. Powered by a 733-megahertz Intel processor, it's the most powerful console ever created.

It even looks cool with its jet-black with an eerie Aliens inspired slime-green 'X'. A built-in hard drive allows more game information to be saved and players can store their own MP 3 s for playback during games. With DVD-player capacity, which requires a $30 remote the Xbox's price begins to look warranted. An ethernet port allows broadband connectivity and Microsoft plans to introduce subscription-based online games next year. The console is bulky, the size of a VCR. The controller also larger than the Game Cube's, it features a new layout of two analog control sticks and six small buttons.

The Game Cube seems ready for the challenge. The system's small dimensions are notable. The size of a large clock radio, the purple cube features a streamlined design. The Cube's predecessor, the Nintendo 64. Featuring a 485-megahertz IBM Power PC microprocessor, the unit is designed for amazing graphics without wasteful frills. Absent are a DVD capability, games come on 1.

5 gigabyte disks opposed to the Xbox's DVD-based titles, and no hard drive means any storing or playing MP 3 s. The controller parallels the console's sleek design. Unlike the Xbox's, it feels natural in the hands, with two analog control sticks, large buttons and triggers for both index fingers. Target markets for the systems show who these gifts should be intended for. According to industry analysts, the Xbox targets the coveted 16-26 year-old demographic, with more adult-themed games that feature realistic violence and scantily clad female heroes like Lara Croft of PlayStation's Tomb Raider. Nintendo targets younger gamers and loyalists who aren't swayed by technological superiority of one console over the other.

Nintendo delivers affordable innovation and what its loyal fan base expects, new games featuring appealing characters like the Mario Brothers. Nintendo's fans identify with characters like Mario, making superior graphics unnecessary. In this Nintendo is introducing Pikmin, a game invented by legendary game maker and Mario inventor, Shigeru Miyamoto. The strategy game features the kind of characters Miyamoto is famous for and revolves around an alien who must plant seeds that become aliens who harvest flowers and kill there enemies.

Pikmin, like Luigi's Castle, is only found on the Game Cube, and is exemplary of other future exclusives to be release like Sonic Adventure 2 and Super Monkey Ball. That people identify with Nintendo's characters places their games above the traffic jam of Xbox titles. With its own share of adult-themed games, like Capcom's popular Resident Evil slated for exclusive release, and the slate of other adult-themed releases available on all three systems, the Game Cube is not just child's play. Furthermore, whether the Xbox proves that its strength on paper beats the Game Cube or PlayStation 2 remains unclear. Is a DVD and MP 3 playback capability worth the purchase in the end? The answer is debatable. The Game Cube sets itself apart in its simplicity and character, and in doing so will be it beat Microsoft?.