"Before you buy" checklist
Avid gamers typically know which games they want to buy, but if you're randomly searching for a new title, there are a few things you can do to avoid selecting a dud. First, check for metascore ratings at GameRankings.com. This site doesn't review games, but instead collects scores from other sites, giving each game in its database a median score. For example, based on 12 media reviews (from sites like 1Up, GameSpot, and IGN), Nintendo's Super Mario Galaxy gets an impressive score of 97%. (The worst game? Charlie's Angels for the GameCube, with a ranking of under 24%.)
In addition to GameRankings.com, gamers should also look for game play footage to get a feel for the game they might be interested in. Does the game lag when multiple characters are on screen? Are there any glitches that make controlling the main character impossible? Do the graphics look anything like the game's screenshots? All of these questions can be answered if you take a look at real game play footage, which can be found all over the web at sites like GameSpot, IGN, or even YouTube . Better yet, browse the publishers' sites for playable demos of the game — they're the ultimate test drive before purchase.
Finally, ask your friends and other gamers what they're playing. If they know the kind of games you gravitate toward, they'll be able to provide the best recommendations. Best case scenario? They might already own the game and you might be able to snag their copy when they're through playing it.
Finding deals on new releases
When it comes to new releases, it's nearly impossible to find great deals, but that doesn't mean you should pay retail price. Walmart, Amazon.com, Best Buy, Circuit City, and Fry's Electronics are known for their pre-order specials. Pre-release deals at Best Buy and Circuit City usually run up until the Saturday after the title is released, giving you ample time to take advantage of any price cuts. These stores frequently offer free gift cards (with the purchase of select new releases) which you can then use towards future purchases at those stores. Amazon is also well known for its discounts on new releases, plus other advantages like free shipping on most new releases and no sales tax in most states.
Finding deals on older games
If having the latest video games on the day of their release isn't important to you, then you have the upper hand when it comes to saving money. Casual gamers should keep an eye out for sales from stores like Toys "R" Us. From time to time, the store offers 2-for-1 specials where you can mix and match games, so for instance you can purchase two Xbox 360 games and receive a third Wii game for free. Likewise, GoGamer.com is known for its Madness Sales, where it slashes prices on games for all consoles. Not into console gaming? PC gamers looking to save money should check out Steam, which stocks an impressive library of games you can purchase and download from its site.
If you don't mind playing used games, you could save some cash by purchasing used games at places like GameStop. And don't shy away from digging through the discount bins in its retail stores — there's always gems to be found from years ago. (The adage "if you haven't played it, it's new to you" certainly applies.)
Louis Ramirez is the dealnews Features Editor
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