I am a big fan of Handheld game consoles. I actually prefer them to full size Video Game consoles. I love the pick up and play nature of them. If ever there was an environmentally friendly way of playing Video Games, handhelds are IT. No huge TV require, no Surround sound, just charge and play.

Nokia N-Gage is one such device. Not only was it a great handheld, it was also a phone and it could also be turned into a fully functional GPS system (via Route 66 and a Bluetooth GPS dongle). When it was first released it only real competition was the Gameboy Advance. It had 3D graphics comparable to a Playstation One at the time. But for some reason no one cared.

Did Nokia really think they could take on Nintendo in the Handheld market? Many have tried and failed. Atari Lynx and even the mighty Sega Game Gear couldn’t compete and like the N-Gage they boasted much better specifications than Nintendo’s handheld. Was it the high price compared to the Gameboy? The lack of games? Brand Loyalty? Consumers confusion over what it was? The release of the Sony PSP? I think it was a mixture of all of these.

Bizzarely, Nokia thought redesigning the N-gage and branding it as an N-gage QD would entice more gamers. All that happened was more N-gages become discounted than before. Only this time you have a choice of a discounted N-gage or N-gage QD.

I maybe the only person brave enough to say this, but I was rather fond of the Nokia N-gage. I bought one as soon as it came out. Mine came with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and Fifa Football 2004. To say I was impressed is an understatement. Fifa looked very similar to the Playstation version and Tony Hawks, while looking visually impressive, actually played rather well. I found that with nearly all the N-gage releases. Each one looked great, sounded great and played great.

Great! Well, no. I think I was one of about 10 people in the whole world, no, universe, who thought this. Close to the N-gage’s demise (2 weeks after launch?) some great games were released, 2 possibly the greatest games to grace an Handheld since Super Mario Land back in the late 80’s. Snakes and Pathway to Glory. If you’ve never played these, you have missed out on something quite special. Snakes was a 3D version of the popular Snakes game included on Nokia phones. Pathway to Glory was something special. It was almost like an updated Cannon Fodder, only better and with the ability to talk to your friends over a multiplayer game. It really was ahead of its time.

It’s a shame the N-gage never sold, because the N-gage had the potential to be much more than it was. Nokia knows this. They believed in the N-gage brand and they want the N-gage to be a brand associated with games on Mobile Phones like Java is.

Well, your in luck. Nokia have just released an N-gage 2.0 application which allows you to play N-gage 2.0 games (unfortunately the original N-gage games do not work). Thats right, Nokia are back and this time they have developed an online mobile gaming platform. It sounds too good to be true. You don’t even need to buy a new phone because your current phone may work with just a small downloaded N-gage application. However, It does have to be a Nokia N-Series phone.

Being a huge N-gage fan myself I had to try this out. I went to the website, checked the compatibility and my phone, a Nokia N95 was listed. I installed the application in the usual way via file manager and waited anticipation. It did install eventually, but boy, did it take a long time to do so.

Once installed I run the N-gage application, I setup a username and connected to the N-gage server to download some trial games. This was all done via the phone, so as long as you have WiFi on your phone, you will be able to do the same. The application is very intuitive and seems to be bug free so far. I downloaded the trial versions of System Rush:Evolution and Hooked On:Creatures of the Deep to try it out.

System Rush:Evolution – Mini Review of the Trial Version

This game reminds me so much of Stun Runner by Atari. You basically have to go through a continuous tunnel trying to avoid random objects and you have to do this as fast as possible. The N95 finally shows off its 3D hardware to good effect, although the sound is annoying at best. It makes good use of the N95’s limited control system and is quite enjoyable, for about 2 minutes. Maybe its the demo or maybe it’s just too dated to coexist in todays video game society. If you enjoy going through tunnels in a spaceship repeatedly, this is for you.

Hooked On:Creatures of the Deep – Mini Review of the Trial Version

I don’t like fish at all. I don’t like the smell, taste or look of fish. So, why do I love this game, which is all about catching fish? If ever there was a game designed for the N-gage platform, this is it. The interface is perfect. The graphics are stunning. The sound is atmospheric and the control system actually works quite well. You start off by choosing an area and then trying to catch fish there. Sometimes you catch a fish, sometimes you don’t. There is something really enjoyable about this game. Maybe its the atmosphere. Maybe the graphics. I don’t know what it is, but its the best game so far out of all the N-gage trials and I will certainly be buying this. I do have one complaint though. The demo is far too short.

Honglong’s Verdict:

+ User friendly N-gage Application with a great interface
+ Great online service with the potential to have a big online community
+ Its a bit like having Xbox Live on your phone
+ Some of the games are very impressive and work well considering the design on the phone

– Unfortunately some games do not work as well and feel very strange to play. Fifa ’08 seems to be designed for a phone with a controller on one side and buttons on the other. Virtually all the Nokia N-Series phones do not have this setup
– Considering the specifications of the phones now compared to the original N-gage, the graphics aren’t that much better
– There are only a handful of games avalible at launch (6)
– Of all the people I know, again, I seem to be the only person using the N-gage (application)

Nokia really needs to get this advertised and already there is a potential to get more people using the N-gage application because it works on existing N-Series phones. I used a Nokia N95 and I got something close to a handeld games machine on a mobile phone. The online facility is great and the ability to download games works rather well. The only thing that worries me is the lack of games. There are loads in the works though according to Nokia. This all sounds very familiar.

Deja Vu?