Another year has passed in the war of the consoles and Sony's PlayStation 2 still reigns supreme. Nintendo's GameCube spent most of the year at a distant third behind Microsoft's Xbox, but recent price drops have reinvigorated its sales. Nintendo is now claiming second place and says its market share has doubled to 37 per cent from 19 per cent. Each system has games unique to its platform but many games are no longer loyal to a single box. Games unique to one platform may appear on other systems within a year. Through choice or circumstance, Nintendo was in the past unable to deliver enough games for the GameCube, leaving it in an unfortunate position against it powerful rivals. Nintendo is still playing catch-up but its small stable of games is top-notch and many are exclusive. Unique and compelling game franchises like Resident Evil and Zelda fill PlayStation and Xbox fans with envy, and recent price drops have seen many gamers pick up a GameCube as a cheap second system. Nintendo officials are taking a wait-and-see approach to online gaming, arguing that only a small percentage of people play online. Nintendo is also beginning to leak news of a new GameCube, and vows that the software shortage will not be repeated. This year, Nintendo also announced a new GameBoy Adapter that allows GameBoy Advance players to play games on their TV screens through the GameCube. GameBoy's portability is wonderful, but it is immensely enjoyable to play on a bigger screen and your eyes will thank you for it. The GameBoy Advance SP launched this year is worth every cent of its higher price for the improved back-lit screen alone. Microsoft successfully launched its Xbox Live service, forcing Sony to play catch-up. If the Xbox Live kits were a game, it would be one of Microsoft's best-selling titles. Microsoft has worked hard this year to increase the number of games unique to the Xbox platform with titles such as Project Gotham Racing 2 (which features Hong Kong as a racing site) and the popular first-person shooter Counter-Strike. A little-known feature of the Xbox was discovered this year: its ability to deflect bullets. The Baltimore Sun said a man who fired at an Xbox because his room-mates were playing it with the volume too high. The bullet broke the Xbox but bounced off the plastic case. To celebrate its first anniversary in Hong Kong, Microsoft has announced a special bundle that includes three games and a DVD controller for $1,488. With 22.5 million consoles sold, the PlayStation 2 monster kept rolling on its momentum this year. Sony has formed a number of new partnerships with developers and released many new games. The company has just announced the Japanese release of PSX, an attractive device that combines the PS2 with a DVD recorder and TV tuner and sells for 99,800 yen (about HK$7,200). Sony promises many enhancements such as a big hard drive and multiformat DVD player by the time the PSX reaches Hong Kong. Sony dropped the price of the PlayStation 2 this year, only to be matched by Microsoft, leaving consumers the winners. Sony also plans to release a direct competitor for Nintendo's <243>GameBoy portable gaming platform known as the PlayStation Portable, or PSP. Sony says the PSP will support music and movie playbacks using its Universal Media Disc format. The price of the PSP is expected to be aggressively in line with those for GameBoy consoles. With competition among console makers getting fiercer and no outright winner on the horizon, 2004 should be a great year for gamers. ?