It’s time to wrap up your holiday shopping. A few of your friends and family members are hoping for a brand-new game console, but prices are high and may be out of your budget. Luckily, we’re no strangers to the game market and have a few alternatives that may help your wallet.
While the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S are the big consoles of the season, there are a few other ways to bring the joy of video games to your household. We even have a method for playing top-tier Xbox games without buying an Xbox console.
Here are our top alternatives to an expensive video game console that kids and adults will still love to play.
Xbox Cloud Gaming With Game Pass
One of the most incredible advancements in video gaming is cloud gaming. Rather than purchasing a game console, what if you could stream video games via the cloud the same way you stream movies from Netflix or Hulu?
With Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you gain access to Xbox Cloud Gaming, enabling you to play video games using your favorite devices, wherever you are — as long as you have a stable internet connection.
You’ll need to sign up for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, then use a supported device, such as an Android smartphone, Windows 10 PC, iPhone or iPad, to stream games. Once logged in, you’ll have access to nearly every game in the Xbox Game Pass library.
You’ll also need a supported controller, such as an Xbox Wireless Controller, but other third-party options are available from companies such as 8BitDo, Logitech, PowerA, Razer, SteelSeries and Turtle Beach.
If buying a $500 Xbox console or PS5 is out of reach, consider signing your loved one up for a $14.99-a-month subscription. (The first month is only $1.) It’s a fraction of the price of a game console and includes over 100 top-tier games at no additional cost.
Other streaming video game services include Sony PlayStation Plus Premium, Amazon Luna and Shadow. Our testing found that Xbox Game Pass Ultimate provides the best overall value, with many of the year’s most popular games.
Apple TV and Other Streaming Devices
Apple’s streaming device, the Apple TV, is another excellent way to access a library of games. Apple TV 4K is significantly cheaper than any mainstream game console today, starting at $129.
You can purchase video games directly from the App Store on Apple TV, but we recommend signing up for Apple Arcade. For only $4.99 a month, Apple Arcade gives you access to hundreds of games without ads or in-app purchases.
You can play many games on Apple TV with the included remote, but we suggest picking up a dedicated game controller for a more immersive experience. Compatible controllers include Microsoft’s Xbox Wireless and Sony’s DualShock 4 controllers.
If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can bring many of the games you purchased on Apple TV or play via an Apple Arcade subscription with you on the go. While Apple TV isn’t home to many top-tier games, it still includes excellent options to keep you entertained.
Other streaming devices, such as Amazon Fire TV and Roku, also provide access to games, but in our testing, we found Apple TV to have the most advantageous library. If you subscribe to Apple Arcade, new games are added every week.
Purchase a Previous-Generation Console
We know that those on your list may want the latest consoles available, but there has been no better time in history to purchase a previous-generation console. You can get a nearly identical experience and spend significantly less.
Take, for example, Microsoft’s previous-generation console, the Xbox One. Available on the secondhand market for around $100 to $150, it is priced lower than even its cheapest current-generation game console cousin.
Comparing the Xbox Series X/S and the Xbox One, we found the previous console can also play the majority of games available on Xbox Series X/S consoles. The graphics won’t be as impressive, but Xbox One will still offer an immersive experience.
When it comes to Sony, the company still offers its PlayStation 4 console directly — it has yet to stop selling it. While Sony has a few more games exclusive to the PlayStation 5, the older PS4 still offers an impressive library of games.
If you decide to buy a PlayStation 4, consider the used market. While Sony does continue to sell PS4 consoles directly, they are significantly more expensive (and even harder to find) than buying a used model.
Previously, we have seen past-generation consoles left behind relatively quickly, but this time, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 offer up a lot of game power with an impressive library that is continuing to build.
Nintendo Switch Lite
We know that the Nintendo Switch Lite is technically a mainstream game console, so you may wonder why we put it on this list.
The Nintendo Switch Lite is Nintendo’s most affordable model of the Nintendo Switch. The regular Nintendo Switch costs $299, while the Switch OLED with an improved screen costs $349. But the Switch Lite comes in at under $200.
If you know someone asking for a Nintendo Switch, but the price tag is too high, then the Switch Lite is an excellent alternative. Switch Lite plays nearly all the same games as the other models but saves you some cash.
What makes the Switch Lite cheaper? The primary difference is that, unlike its more expensive siblings, the Switch Lite cannot be attached to a television for a big-screen experience — you’ll need to play on the built-in display.
Nintendo began offering the Switch Lite as a more price-effective option and a model best suited for playing games on the move. It features a slightly smaller 5.5-inch touchscreen display, a smaller overall footprint and a battery life lasting up to seven hours.
Go Retro With Retro Gaming
Retro video gaming is all the rage, and finding a local retro video game retailer isn’t too tricky. One of the retailers we spoke with even told us that specific consoles, such as Nintendo’s GameCube, have increased in popularity thanks to YouTube.
Retro gaming isn’t for everyone — some kids may see it as outdated junk — but for those who don’t mind tapping into a time that has since passed, it can be a compelling option. Just know that while consoles can be cheap, many games retain a high retail value.
Some popular retro game consoles include the Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo 64, Nintendo SNES and the Sega Genesis. The original PlayStation and Xbox are also attractive options for retro gaming enthusiasts.
In addition to brick-and-mortar stores, you can find consoles via online marketplaces, including Facebook Marketplace and eBay.
Michael Archambault is a senior writer with The Penny Hoarder specializing in technology.