The N-Gage in depth
A mobile console (shame about the games)
Games are what make the N-Gage special, its colour screen and 104MHz ARM processor allowing it to display full 3D in a compact, mobile platform. Many of the launch titles are ports, most of them instantly recognisable from previous installments. We were given seven games to play with and here’s what we thought of them:
Tomb Raider – Lara just couldn’t keep her mitts off Nokia’s new toy and the result isn’t bad at all. Looking and playing like the original PSOne game that it is a port of, it contains trademark Tomb Raider gameplay elements and style. There are sixteen levels, three of which are new and exclusive to the N-Gage port, which should keep you busy for a while. Tomb Raider doesn’t really offer anything new in the gameplay department, but it does show off the system’s graphical capabilities. Maybe by today’s standards the game looks dated and obsolete, but for a mobile title it’s good enough.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater – No console can escape the rapacious super franchise that is Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and the N-Gage title is a port of the original PSOne game that started it all off. The classic game modes are present as well as single-console and multi-console multiplayer gaming. The graphics are fairly impressive considering the hardware, but the N-Gage’s speaker let’s the game down with its messy audio (although this can be solved by using headphones) and the controls aren’t ideal. Fans of the series will enjoy the nostalgia though.
Pandemonium! – Another Playstation game, this time of 1996 vintage, Pandemonium! is a side scrolling platformer that uses visual trickery to make you think that it’s a 3D game. This doesn’t hide the rather basic gameplay though, which sees Nikki and Fergus jumping around sparse levels. Although an interesting Bluetooth multiplayer mode is included, this doesn’t warrant a purchase as there are far better things to spend £30 on.
Puzzle Bobble VS – The series that’s more commonly known as Bust-A-Move makes it’s way onto the N-Gage with an abysmal result. The simple gameplay is sluggish and throwing coloured balls at other coloured balls is hardly going to keep you playing for any length of time. The music is repetitive and annoying, whilst the graphics are definitely average. Bluetooth multiplayer is included, but this isn’t a reason to invest your money in it at all. If you want a decent N-Gage game, look elsewhere.
Puyo Pop – The most blatant Tetris copy I’ve come across in a while, Puyo Pop is nonetheless surprisingly addictive. Coloured blobs replace bricks and once four blobs of the same colour are connected, they disappear. It’s the same classic stuff, rotating items and fitting them in, ending when the screen is full up with a pile of coloured crap. Multiplayer is built in with Bluetooth two player sessions whilst the visual and audio departments are distinctly average. Not the best game you’ll come across, but certainly worth a try.
Super Monkey Ball – The banana mad monkeys return in their translucent balls return, this time with fairly basic graphics and sadly no multiplayer. The N-Gage’s screen makes it hard to get a feel of the levels’ scale, making it harder than previous games. Graphically, the machine does a good job of re-creating the 3D world of Super Monkey Ball, though it does it at a significantly reduced frame rate. It’s a bit of a disappointment, but fans of the series may want to give it a try.
SonicN – Probably our favourite game of the sample we tried, SonicN‘s fast gameplay and solid graphics make it a reasonably enjoyable game. There are four characters to play as and a score of levels to speed through, although some sort of multiplayer would have been nice. It could have been better, but SonicN is fun while it lasts.
Overall, the N-Gage’s selection of debut software is mediocre at best. The platform desperately needs a good game that isn’t a port; a reason to buy the console like Halo was to the Xbox. We may yet see some decent games on Nokia’s fledgling platform, but at the moment there isn’t really anything worth buying except a few titles.
One of the main draws of the N-Gage is its multiplayer gaming. Each device comes with Bluetooth radio technology, allowing you to connect multiple N-Gages together wirelessly at up to 10m. Only around half of the games support it, but for those that do it boosts the lifespan quite a bit. You might never come across anyone else who has an N-Gage – more on that later – but when you do you could be playing for hours. Nokia have also included another feature called the N-Gage Arena. This allows you to connect to a central server through GPRS to download new content or the top scores from around the world. Stuck on a level? Then download a movie of how someone else managed to do it and you’re away. Wireless multiplayer is great, it’s just a shame that it won’t get used much.