Recently picked up a lot of Nokia N-Gage stuff at a local flea market. Awesome stuff.
Now I get to talk about this thing:
The Nokia N-Gage was a cell phone that also was a handheld game system. Now, in today’s marketplace, the ability of a phone to play video games is practically a given, as both Android and iOS can do some pretty amazing stuff, and chances are that if you own a smartphone, you’re going to play something on it, be it Angry Birds, Temple Run, or running SNES emulation. Back in 2003, though, the phone gaming front was limited. The most common games were things like Snake and BrickBreaker – very basic. They were more like time-wasters than legitimate experiences.
The Nokia N-Gage was Nokia’s first and only entry into the legit handheld market. And it failed on a spectacular level.
The original N-Gage was a piece of technology that had a lot going for it. The device supported Bluetooth, it could play MP3s, and it even had a built-in FM radio, in case you really wanted to hear 105.5’s morning show and your car radio didn’t work for some reason.
The N-Gage games ranged in scope and quality, from straight Java ports from phones of the era (Bomberman), to decent ports of Game Boy Advance titles (Rayman 3, SonicN, Splinter Cell: Team Stealth Action), to flat-out amazing feats of technological prowess, such as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Ashen, and Tomb Raider. Those latter three games looked and sounded just like Playstation 1 titles, which was completely unheard of in 2003. Remember, the PS1 was still being made during that year.
The N-Gage also had its share of flaws. The biggest and most damning being that you had to take off the back plate of the phone and take out the battery to switch out games. It was completely impossible to do so while the device was on. This turned what should have been a simple matter of card-swapping into a 2-minute pain in the ass. Imagine having to take apart a 3DS and removing the battery to swap out games. A terrible design choice. I have no idea why they figured it would be a good idea.
The device also suffered from a functional problem, in that it still used a numeric keypad for input, which isn’t great for intense gaming, as all the buttons are right on top of each other. Not very fun.
Perhaps the most well-known flaw with the device is the often-ridiculed “side-talking’. See, since this phone was SO JAM-PACKED with features and shiny objects, the face of the phone didn’t include an earpiece or microphone for, y’know, ACTUALLY USING IT AS A PHONE. The earpiece and mic for it were on the sides of the device, which, aside from making it unable to actually hear the person you’re calling, made you look like a complete goddamn idiot. Try it for yourself. Take your phone, and hold it to your ear from the side, like where the volume buttons are. I guarantee you that people will stare. Even if you don’t care about that, I’m sure someone will stop you and ask you if you know how your phone even works.
The internet had a field day with the device. Thousands of posts were made about the quality of the device. “You bought an N-Gage, didn’t you?” became a meme on GameFAQs long before the word “meme” was even used in that context.
Nokia had a good idea. It didn’t work, but it was original. They attempted to correct the flaws of the N-Gage by releasing the N-Gage QD,
Now, the N-Gage QD was basically the N-Gage done right. No more side-talking, no more taking the battery out to change games. It worked well. It’s the model that I owned. I begged and pleaded with my dad to buy me the N-Gage, because it could be used as my main cell phone. Only problem? We had Sprint as a provider, and Sprint didn’t work with Nokia, at least back then.
Still, I reasoned that it was a new video game console, and thus I needed it.
So my dad paid the $200 or so it cost back in ’03. That was about the average for a high-end phone back then. I got Red Faction, Tomb Raider, and Tony Hawk to play on the thing. It was great. Ridiculously enjoyable. I beat Tomb Raider and Tony Hawk in a matter of days. Amazing games. They’re better on other consoles, but it was the principle of the thing, dammit.
I always hated the fact that there were never any games coming out for the thing. Stores just didn’t order them. I guess I was the only person buying the software, so they didn’t care. Understandable. Seems like nobody remembers it in a positive light. I sure as hell don’t, at least not entirely. Little did I know, there were about three-dozen games released for the device that flew completely under the radar. Good ones, too. Stuff like Catan, and King of Fighters.
There was even an Elder Scrolls game. Friggin’ Elder Scrolls! If people knew about these games, they would have flown off the shelves. But, well, y’know.
Not only does my recently-purchased N-Gage work like a charm, but my N-Gage QD from back in 2003 still works as well. Games are kind of a pain to find, but for the stuff I don't own, I did find a 2GB MMC card on Amazon. I tried to load it up with ROMs from the various places online because there are basically no places to buy legit games online without paying a premium, but the card can’t really support more than one game at a time, as far as I know. Just the way the Nokia memory card structure works.
As for my use of it as a phone, I didn’t get much out of it. A girl gave me here phone number during homecoming in my Freshman year of high school. I don’t believe for a second that it was actually her number, and I don’t believe for another second that she came up to me on her own accord. Woo, high school.
But, all in all? Interesting device. Well worth playing, if only to actually give it a chance.