No Better Time to N-Gage
No, seriously. You should buy one. Find out why...
Ever since it was revealed, Nokia's N-Gage has been the butt of jokes from gamers all across the world. From its awkward, taco-shaped style, to the dorky side-talking design, the N-Gage seemed destined to fail before it even hit the market. But even with a system redesign, and Nokia's determination to succeed and appeal to gamers, the N-Gage was simply unable to make its mark. Now, after nearly three years since its debut, the N-Gage platform has finally died, with support dropped not only by third parties, but from Nokia themselves. While Nokia still has plans for the N-Gage name (something that should resurface in 2007) the poor old N-Gage as a closed platform has all but been abandoned.
However, many gamers have found that the best time to give a system a chance is during its death throes. The N-Gage is no exception. The system initially failed because there were far too many dry spells during the systems lifespan, with only a little over 50 games released for the platform over the course of three years. It was easy to see why being an N-Gage owner didn't always seem like a smart decision. But now that the system has shown everything it has to offer, the laggards can finally move in on a quality piece of equipment while losing little out of their wallets.
Why the N-Gage you might ask? It might be hard to look at what appears to be an outdated electronic with all the new flashy gaming devices now in days. For one thing you have the DS (and more recently the DS Lite) continuing to "wow" gamers with innovative game design, and then Sony is making their mark by providing gamers with a console-like experience on the go. Heck even the archaic Game Boy was given a sexy redesign with the Micro.
So where does Nokia fit in? Like most mobile games you find on phones, the game design often revolves around the idea of "pick up and play" format. Rather then being engaged with a massive and deep story line in, say, Valkyrie Profile: Lenneth or complicated and complex control schemes such as Metroid Prime Hunters, the majority of the N-Gage library is built around being able to play a quick five minutes of gaming while, for instance, sitting in a waiting room for your doctor's appointment. This instant gratification is becoming scarce on the current handhelds (to a lesser extent with the GBA). That's not to say the N-Gage doesn't have deep titles however - even with a small library of games you can get the best of both worlds.
I think everyone and their grandmother knows what went wrong with the system, and thus Nokia fell into an irreversible spiral, and was then completely ignored regardless of how hard they fought to get out. But this feature isn't meant to rag on their faults, but rather highlight what Nokia did right with the N-Gage and why you should care. So now's the time, lets engage with the N-Gage...
Two systems, two options.
When the original N-Gage was ridiculed for its goofy side-talking design, Nokia quickly went back to the drawing board on how to please consumers - the result was the N-Gage QD, a much more compact and attractive looking unit. The only downside was the lack of music playback. In the past, system redesigns have simply resulted in a smaller size, such as the recent PlayStation 2. But with the N-Gage and the N-Gage QD you actually have two different types of systems that appeal to two different demographics. If you're not self-conscious about how you look when you're talking on your phone, and want an easy portable MP3 player, then the original N-Gage is actually a good route to choose. On the flip side, if music playback isn't all that important to you, you can pick up the QD for a more efficient design and longer battery life.
It's a phone that is designed to play games.
Yeah, I know it's obvious, but when I look at the N-Gage I really couldn't possibly see myself owning one if it weren't for being a gaming phone. When my initial phone that I picked up from my wireless plan broke I looked at my options. I'm an avid gamer, isn't the logical choice to have a phone that is made to play games? So I turned to the N-Gage and haven't looked back. I'll admit, in 2006 it's presentation is outdated, you don't have a camera, you don't have a lot of storage space, it's not really built as a web browser or movie player but it has the basics.
When I buy phone I'm not really looking into all of that other stuff, I don't really need a camera that can only take pictures of objects three feet in front of them. I have enough patience to wait until I get to a TV or a newspaper to see if the Timberwolves are up against the Knicks. Those kinds of features really don't interest me, and in the end you're paying a lot more money for half-assed extras. So if you're like me and you use your phone to make calls, and not organize your life, and enjoy a little gaming on the side, then the N-Gage is a perfect match.
Nokia's dedicated support.
While they might not be making games for the system any longer, Nokia remains true to its fanbase. With the genuinely well-crafted N-Gage Arena, Nokia continues to host the servers, despite a very small online community. They also manage to retain a very full online schedule which includes celebrity chats, trivia, and power hours (hours of a day dedicated to a single game for online play).
On top of that Nokia is making it a much more accessible platform for new comers; they offer special and very affordable bundles on their website. And since retailers, for the most part, have dropped the N-Gage, Nokia has moved on from retail distribution, to digital distribution for games, a much more logical move for mobile games, and much more convenient for the gamer, as you simply download it directly to your memory card.
Best of all - everything's dirt cheap.
One of the best benefits from being a late adopter is the fact that you can pick up all of the software and hardware for cheap. In the past months retailers such as GameStop and EB Games had a clearance on all of their N-Gage products. Games were as low as $5, hell even the N-Gage QD itself was $20 brand new. Now that's what I call bargain bin shopping. For around the same price of a standard PSP game ($50) you could pick up a decent phone and a handful of games to go along with it.
While the N-Gage may be out of the competition, it's clear the system continues to thrive, as gamers all over the world are finally discovering the gold mine that is the N-Gage. Whether it be trying to collect all the games, or tracking down the prototypes of cancelled titles such as Virtua Cop, people have finally stepped into an experience people often over looked and laughed at. And unlike ill-fated competitors such as the Tapwave Zodiac, or Gizmondo, the N-Gage actually managed to make its mark in a market that has been fairly set in stone for over a decade.
With a handful of great games to pick up (at low prices to boot) for a viable platform crafted by a dedicated company it's time for some of you to follow suit and track down an N-Gage of your own to see what you're missing out on. Because as it stands, side-talkin' lives on.