The Snackbar $750 Challenge

October 13, 2009

What would you do if you had only $750 to spend on gaming this holiday season?  That’s the question we asked our staff writers.  

Here were our ground rules:

-We couldn’t assume ownership of any game equipment.  This means all the systems and accessories had to be included as part of the $750 total.

-To determine cost, we used the current Amazon price if possible.  For downloadable titles, we used standard MSRP for the points and didn’t take into account any temporary sales.  

-For simplicity, we ignored sales tax and shipping costs, since they’d vary by location.

-Prices are accurate as of October 11.

-Games must be released before December 25, 2009, and any games and systems must be for the current generation of consoles (PS3, 360, Wii, DS, PSP) or PC games released in the past five years.

Here were our choices:


Nintendo Wii ($199.99, Amazon)

No system gives more value. Also, includes Wii Sports, but that’s not really important as you’ll see in a bit.

Wii Remote Controller ($34.96 each, Amazon)

Why only 2? Well…

Wii Play with Wii Remote ($44.49, Amazon)

Might as well get a game with the 3rd, right?

Wii Nunchuk Controller x3 ($17.49 each, Amazon)

That’s Nunchuks for everyone.

Wii Classic Controller x2 ($19.49 each, Amazon)

You’ll rarely need 4 of these. 2 should be sufficient for most Virtual Console games. On that note…

Wii 2000 Points Card x2 ($19.49 each, Amazon)

May I recommend Mega Man 9 and World of Goo? What you do with the rest is up to you.

Wii Wireless Charging Power Base Quad ($34.99, Amazon)

Looked like a great deal for keeping 4 Remotes charged up.

Okay, other than Wii Play, Wii Sports, and a bunch of VC titles, what are we actually going to play on this thing?

Super Smash Bros. Brawl ($40.49, Amazon)

Metroid Prime Trilogy Collector’s Edition ($46.99, Amazon)

Limited-Edition Wii Sports Resort Bundle with Two Wii MotionPlus ($56.99, Amazon)

That should keep you busy for a while, especially the three Metroid games. From here you can go in a Mario direction (Kart, NSMB Wii, Galaxy), get some Zelda (TP), explore some great but obscure games (Muramasa, Pinball Hall of Fame), or just do whatever. There’s a ton of good games, but these three give the best representation of what the Wii can do: there’s the frenetic party game, the hardcore gamer’s experience, and the casual waggle display.

Still got around $120 left over. Not enough to pick up a DS and games and really only two or three more Wii titles, but I bet I can do better than that.

Dominion ($34.25, Amazon)

Race for the Galaxy ($27.53, Amazon)

Zooloretto ($33.93, Amazon)

SORRY! Sliders ($22.69, Amazon)

Yeah… that should keep you busy when you’re away from your new Wii.

Total: $742.69


Hmm. I have $750 and I am getting into the current generation of gaming without experiencing any part of it. So, what would gamer me buy sad alternate universe bored-because-he-has-no-games-to-play non-gamer me?

PS3 Slim ($299.99, Amazon)

Why? Because if you’re going to play video games then you need a console to play them on, Sony has some great exclusives, and non-gamer me is scared of the Red Rings of Death.

The Beatles: Rock Band Special Edition – ($249.99, Amazon)

Why? Because I love the Beatles, and the instrument build quality is (according to the reviews I have read) great. Beatles: Rock Band also has the best trophy system of all three games (more games need tracking a la The Orange Box), a soundtrack that hits far more often than it misses, and the dreamscapes are amazing.

Burnout Paradise – ($17.49, Amazon)

Why? Because it is visually stunning, inexpensive, and appeals to both those who want a clean race (burning routes) and those who want to run their opponents off a cliff to gain a little extra boost. And when alt-me gets around to buying a PSN card Criterion has been great about supporting Burnout Paradise via DLC.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – ($56.99, Amazon)

Why? Because the original Uncharted delivered great gunplay, a cinematic feel, and a fun upgrade system through earning medals. Uncharted 2 looks to bring back everything that was great about the original while adding in three-player coop that is separate from the main story and competitive multiplayer that is tons of fun judging by the multiplayer beta.

Batman: Arkham Asylum – ($52.99, Amazon)

Why? Because Batman: Arkham Asylum is to Barman video games what Batman Begins is for Batman movies. We finally have a Batman game that feels right. Batman feels badass and fragile exactly when he needs to. Beating up thugs feels great all the way through, challenge rooms add to replay value, and since we’re buying for the PS3 here alt-me will get to play as Joker as well.

Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty – ($14.99, PSN/Amazon)

Why? Because Quest for Booty takes everything that Tools of Destruction did right and brings it back in a bite-sized chunk. Fun weapons? Check. Tight gameplay? Check. Neat story? Check. Pirate theme? Check. Quest for Booty added a couple wrench abilities to Ratchet’s arsenal and narratively joins the two future games together. It is also a great introduction to PSN games and the quality to be found on the service.

Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time – ($56.49, Amazon)

Why? I haven’t played this one yet, but the preview videos show me a weapon where I can take out my enemies by making my gun burp at them. Even if that is the only new feature then alt-me will have a great time. Insomniac makes great games and already has a powerful library on the PS3. Also, my doppelganger will want to know what happens after Tools of Destruction and Quest for Booty.

And that brings my total spent to $748.93. Here’s hoping that tax on this bundle only works out to be $1.07!


Xbox 360 Elite bundle with Pure, Lego Batman ($299.99, Amazon)

This is pretty obvious for anyone who knows me, but the 360 is easily my favorite console this generation. Plus, with all of the games I want that are coming out the rest of the year, the majority of them are on the 360, so why not? It was between this and the PS3, and even if I bought the PS3 for the exclusives, I wouldn’t be able to get any extra games with the ones I already wanted. PLUS, the Xbox 360 controller rules, so yeah. 

Brutal Legend ($56.99, Amazon)

Played the demo, loved it, and am a huge fan of Tim Schafer. 

Borderlands ($58.99, Amazon)

Love the art style, the co-op looks great, and it seems to be a game that will last me quite a while. 

DJ Hero with Turntable Controller ($118.99, Amazon)

I guess I’m just a sucker for music games. It just looks incredibly fun, has a lot of great tracks and remixes, and it’ll be interesting to see where the series goes if this succeeds. 

Dragon Age: Origins ($56.99, Amazon)

BioWare has made a lot of fantastic RPGs, but one of my favorites is and has always been the original Balder’s Gate. This is the spiritual successor to that game/series, so how can I NOT be excited?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 ($59.99, Amazon)

Everything I see about this game blows me away. And with the multiplayer, it seems like it will last me a while as well.

Left 4 Dead 2 ($54.99, Amazon)

L4D is a game I still play. L4D2 might be more of the same, but it’s more of an amazing co-op game. I think this, too, will last me quite a while, as the first game did (and still is). 

(Total: $706.93)


Xbox 360 Elite Holiday Bundle (LEGO Batman + Pure) ($299.99, Amazon)

Xbox 360 Wireless Controller ($37.49, Amazon

Batman: Arkham Asylum – ($46.99, Amazon

LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga – ($19.99, Amazon)

LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures – ($17.49, Amazon)

Star Wars the Clone Wars: Republic Heroes – ($43.99, Amazon)

LEGO Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues – ($46.99, Amazon)

Tony Hawk RIDE Bundle – ($118.99, Amazon)

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – ($59.99, Amazon)

Star Wars The Force Unleashed : Ultimate Sith Edition – ($36.99, Amazon)

Grand Total: $728.90

Despite great games on all three major consoles, the Xbox 360 is still the one that gets the most use and it has a library of games that appeal to the kids and to me and my wife. I opted for the Xbox 360 Elite Holiday Bundle because of the recent price drop and the inclusion of 2 games, with Lego Batman being a title I would likely pick up anyway. I added a single extra wireless controller because I don’t think we have ever actually had more than 2 people playing any game on our 360, ever.

Jumping right into the game list, you’ll see that I’ve got 3 of my 8 games as Lego titles. I really enjoy playing these titles on my own and they are games I can play with the kids too. Add in the fact that some of them are under $20 and it was a no brainer. Lego Indy 2 is on the list simply based on past experience with the Lego titles. I’m sure we’ll sink a good 100+ hours into that, so it’s a great value for us.

Looking at upcoming titles and recent releases, there were only a full that struck me as a great value to buy at full price and these were Batman Arkham Asylum, Star Wars: Republic Heroes, and Modern Warfare 2. Republic Heroes would probably be more for the kids, but the other 2 are definitely for when the kids get to bed and it’s time for me to enjoy a more mature gaming experience.

Rounding out my list are the Tony Hawk RIDE Bundle and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Ultimate Sith Edition. I’m very eager to check out RIDE simply because Skate It had such great potential and ultimately fell a little short of my expectations and I think this new controller could be amazing. The Force Unleashed was a game I passed on the first time around and I really want to check it out now that it has an updated release.

So there you have it. If I had $750 to spend on gaming equipment for this holiday season, this is what I would buy.


For my list, I really tried to go with games with great depth and replay value.  Not much here’s actually new for this holiday season, but I think much of it is good enough for every holiday season.

Nintendo Wii ($199.99, Amazon)

Extra Wii Remote ($34.96, Amazon)

Classic Controller ($19.49, Amazon)

I started out with the Wii, because so much of what’s available really does have staying power.  I just went with one extra remote.  I adore local multiplayer, and cooperative modes in particular.  Unfortunately, with the budget restrictions, I limited myself to just one extra.  As for the Classic, I needed it for some things later on the list.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii ($46.99, Amazon )

This is the only brand-new item on the list.  I played a few levels at E3 on the first day.  How was it?  Well, I went back and played a few more on the second day.  And the third.  It’s great fun, and it also features cooperative local multiplayer.  

Mario Kart Wii w/wheel ($46.99, Amazon

I keep playing this game, whether I’m alone and racing the world or on a couch with a group of trash-talking friends.  With this, I’d have enough to play 2-player, at least.

Xbox 360 Elite bundle with Pure, Lego Batman ($299.99, Amazon)

360 Wired Controller ($28.49, Amazon )

Bundles are great additions to any shoestring list like this one.  The Elite is a must-have upgrade over the Arcade for some stuff later in this list, and Pure and Lego Batman are actually solid, fun experiences, so I didn’t worry about finding a $250 360 Pro.  And again, I can’t resist local multiplayer, and a few of these games are great with two players, so I sprung for the second pad.  The wired controller, while inferior to a wireless one with a Play & Charge Kit, is cheaper, and we’re on a budget. 

That gets us to $676.90.  Now $73.10 doesn’t buy much nowadays…that is, unless you dip into the pool of games that I can’t get enough of: downloadables.

Castle Crashers ($15, XBLA/Amazon )

An absolutely amazing game that had a few online problems at launch, but I didn’t care.  I played it to exhaustion with two friends in my apartment.  Now, of course, the problems are mostly solved, and you can enjoy it however you wish.

‘Splosion Man ($10, XBLA/Amazon )

A platformer with one button.  Twisted Pixel’s physics platformer is brilliant, and the co-op is even better.

Tetris Splash ($10, XBLA)

The Wii’s Tetris Party is a bit more full-featured, but you’re buying Tetris, and this delivers.

Penguins & Friends: Hey! That’s My Fish! ($8, WiiWare)

The tabletop classic has a faithful, if clunky, adaptation on the Wii.  While I love Carcassonne and Catan on XBLA, I felt I had to recommend this hidden gem with an awkward name.  Get past it and enjoy the strategic depth of such a simple game.

With $29.57 left, I felt it was time to dabble in some Virtual Console offerings, but I had to be careful to not go over my limit.

Paper Mario ($10, Virtual Console)

Intelligent Systems’ masterpiece was augmented by the brilliant Treehouse localization team.  At $10, it still provides as much enjoyment as the $60 RPGs of today.

Secret of Mana ($8, Virtual Console)

River City Ransom ($5, Virtual Console)

Local co-op?  Yep.  Classic?  You bet.  Affordable?  Indeed.  These were no-brainers for me.

Okay, so I have $7.10 left.  What’s the best thing available for that cash that fills a different need gaming-wise?

Bomberman ’94 ($7, Virtual Console)

Bomberman ’94 offered some improvements from ’93, Despite its age, it’s a solid experience, and offers a more authentic Bomberman experience at the expense of online play.  I tend to take those trade-offs.

So that’s my list…all $749.90 of it.  I guess I’d take the extra 10 cents and track down a gumball machine or something.


Xbox 360 Elite with Lego Batman and Pure ($299.99, Amazon)

The Xbox 360 is my system of choice right now as it has more games in the genres I love than either the PS3 or the Wii do. I could have gone with the $199.99 Arcade version, but I want the hard drive that comes with it because it gives me access to downloadable content from Xbox Live as well as allowing me to sign up for an Xbox Live Gold account to play games online. Luckily for holiday purchasers, Microsoft is bundling Lego Batman and Pure with the Elite this year. Lego Batman I would have bought separately anyway, so that saves me some cash, and Pure is a great racing game.

Xbox Live Gold 12 Month Card ($49.99, Amazon)

While paying to play online is anathema to many gamers, I am perfectly happy to pay $4/month to play all the great multiplayer games the 360 has to offer. In light of the recent growth of the MMO genre, $4/month to play as many games online as I can get my hands on seems a small price to pay compared to $10-15/month for a single game.

Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition ($57.99, Amazon)

Having loved the atmosphere and writing of Fallout and Fallout 2, and being a huge fan of Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, getting Fallout 3 is a must for me. Getting it with all 5 expansions for the same price as the original release is simply phenomenal.

Mass Effect ($19.99, Amazon)

Mass Effect is nothing short of one of the best pieces of original science fiction in years. The fact that it is developed by Bioware adds amazing production values to what would have been one of my favorite games regardless. Bioware took all of their experience with Knights of the Old Republic and applied it to making a game that far surpassed its spiritual predecessor.

Halo 3 ($36.99, Amazon)

Halo 3 is one of the most played online games in console history, and for good reason. I’ve played more online Halo than any other online game I’ve owned, and the amount of fun I’ve had fragging and being fragged (mostly being fragged, to be honest) makes this a must purchase. However, if I had the money available, I would have totally bought Halo 3: ODST instead of Halo 3, since it includes the Halo 3 multiplayer and adds to it.

Civilization Revolution ($26.99, Amazon)

Civilization on a console? Score! Civilization Revolution is a streamlined version of Civilization that takes many of the best parts of the PC versions and turns it into a much faster paced game that works very well on consoles. Also, a turn based strategy game that can be played online is like crack for me.

Elder Scrolls: Oblivion – Game of the Year Edition ($27.49, Amazon)

Bethesda makes awesomeness with every release. Oblivion is the ultimate medieval action RPG. Even though I had never played an Elder Scrolls game before playing Oblivion, the back story, the world, the wealth of information and quests, and the sheer size of the game made it instantly one of my favorite games ever.

Tales of Vesperia ($27.99, Amazon)

I have to admit that for a long time the only JRPGs I played were from Square Enix. I am very glad that I was willing to go outside my shell and play Tales of Vesperia. The story and the characters make it worth a purchase by any RPG fan. Even though my favorite series is, and always will be, Final Fantasy, my favorite character of all time is the game’s protagonist, Yuri.

Red Faction: Guerrilla ($36.99, Amazon)

Destruction = Awesome. That’s the formula behind Red Faction: Guerrilla and it is a formula most gamers can agree with. It really needs no more explanation than that. Red Faction: Guerrilla is all about destruction and it does destruction better than any other game I’ve played. Thus, it is worth a purchase for anyone who loves destroying things as much as I do.

The Orange Box ($17.49, Amazon)

The Orange Box is the ultimate in content for price. You get 5 games for $20. And not just any games, you get 5 Valve games. Half-Life 2 is one of the most decorated games of all time, yet it isn’t even the best value in The Orange Box. It also comes with the next two games in the Half-Life series, Team Fortress 2, and Portal. Team Fortress 2 is a very stylized multiplayer game that is very polished and very fun. Portal is the centerpiece of the Orange Box to me. It is one of the funniest games I’ve played, and the gameplay is very original and brain-twisting. All of that together should make it a purchase for anyone who likes comedy or shooting in their games.

Lost Odyssey ($27.49, Amazon)

Lost Odyssey feels somewhat like a throwback to the original PlayStation’s Final Fantasy games. This feel is more than just an accident, as the creators of Lost Odyssey were the creators of Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger that left Square during the that era. The story and gameplay of Lost Odyssey also serve to make it one of the better RPGs to come out so far this generation.

Last Remnant ($19.99, Amazon)

Last Remnant is a different style than most Square Enix RPGs. You don’t control individual people, and you don’t level up your characters as you normally do. Instead, you control squads of units against groups of enemy units. This gives you the feeling that you are commanding a small army in your attempt to save the world. It is also a design that gives way to a more strategic feel than you usually get in a RPG. It can take awhile to really get into Last Remnant, but it is very worthwhile if you give it a chance.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 ($59.99, Amazon)

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is one of the two shooters that have taken up the majority of my online gaming time the past few years. It had one of the most robust and addictive multiplayer structures I’ve ever seen, the gameplay was second to none, and the story and cinematic way it was told made you really feel like part of the war. I realize none of that is about the game I’ve selected here, but from everything I’ve seen and heard about Modern Warfare 2, it will continue and surpass all of the things I loved about the first Modern Warfare.

Bioshock ($19.99, Amazon)

Bioshock is probably the closest thing to survival horror I could ever stand to play. In fact, watching my brother play it when he first got it was somewhat creepy in and of itself. The atmosphere and sound design of Bioshock, mixed with the story, made Bioshock another game I had to have. Of course, being able to shoot fire and lightning out of your hand isn’t a bad way to get someone to want to play your game either.

(Total: $729.36)


So what would you pick?  What do you think of ours?  Let us know in the comments!