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[ Writer ] = BAD
[ 08/27/03 ] = N-Gage Talk

Joining Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, Nokia is the most recent name to enter the videogame industry. Seeing as how the most recent buzz around the industry has been about Nokia's videogame hardware plans, I also have a few things to say about it. Known for making cellular phones (yeah, those wretched public noisemakers that eccentric assholes are packaged with), Nokia has decided to enter the fray by debuting with a hardware called N-Gage. I didn't even know what to think when I saw ads and other media on the system for the first time a while back, and was actually somewhat confused as to what the hardware's function actually was, but with recent announcements Nokia confirms that it is indeed meant for videogames. The N-Gage, although qualified to handle 2-D and 3-D games, has received lots of attention particularly due to the laundry list of other things that the system can do. Does it look better than the GameBoy Advance and/or Neo Geo Pocket Color? Does it have a solid line of developers to create games for it? How many buttons does it have? And most of all, does it have shoulder buttons? All of this and more, if you proceed...



As can be seen from the image above (from Nokia's site), Nokia's N-Gage hardware has a whopping twenty-one buttons (yes, count 'em!). Wow. Twenty-one buttons, huh? The last time I saw that many buttons on a damn controller was with the Jaguar. Well, at least we know that if the system did happen to get any fighters, there would be no shortage of buttons; buttons 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 seem to form a rather pretty six-button formation that fighting fans may take kindly to. Anyway, the N-Gage has a lot of buttons, which may lead one to the question "does it really need them all?" Yes. Why? Well, because Nokia first wants you to use it for a plethora of other things like making/receiving phone calls, playing MP3s, and/or sending e-mail (just to name a few); thus, the sheer amount of buttons (remember, twenty-one?) found on the N-Gage's face are justified. Moving on, the N-Gage's primary means of data storage come in the form of 8MB Multi Media Cards (MMC) similar to that of the Hu-Cards that NEC Turbo Grafx 16 games were stored on. While the N-Gage MMC game cards have been said to be a bit bigger than the GBA cartridge, and will probably also be smaller than the PSP discs, Nokia has said that in addition they will cost less. If the pictures I've seen are indeed authentic, then I would be so inclined to say that the N-Gage's Multi Media Cards even look similar to that of the TG16 Hu-Cards! If what I saw was not authentic, then just pass me off as a stupid asshole and forget about that last sentence. With a processor that can handle both 2-D and 3-D graphics, RAM is a concern - and in the case of the N-Gage, a concern that has not really been addressed. So far, there are no details on how much RAM the N-Gage will have, and even GameSpy said that when they "cornered" a Nokia rep, they were told that only the developers know about the RAM specs. Convenient. Will Nokia tweak the N-Gage specs a bit before launch similar to how Microsoft did with the XBox? Maybe; if the specs haven't been completely decided on, there is a chance that pressure from developers might put such action into motion. We'll see.

Sometimes, when you see a new piece of hardware, you think "how does it fare against other hardwares?" Well, when I saw Nokia's N-Gage, I immediately thought of how it would fare when stacked up against Nintendo's GameBoy Advance. First, I looked at display boxes at retailers, and then I checked screenshots of upcoming games for the N-Gage at Nokia's official site. To tell the truth, from the media given it looks like the N-Gage pales a bit in comparison to the GBA in 2-D ability. Screenshots of titles Sonic N, Bust A Move VS, and Puyo Pop look decent, but nothing like the lush 2-D that we've seen in GBA titles of the same genres; GBA titles Sonic Advance 2, Bust A Move, and Puyo Puyo all look better. I tried to look at various forms of media in order to make sure about the 2-D visuals of the N-Gage, but no matter which ones I chose, all screenshots seemed to show a level of 2-D smoothness and color below that of the GameBoy Advance. While the N-Gage is above the Neo Geo Pocket Color in graphical capabilities, it is yet to be seen if the N-Gage can match in sheer amount of animation in 2-D games. Even today amongst the GBA and its gob of quality 2-D titles, the NGPC stands out as one of the coolest 2-D game hardwares in videogame history. I won't pass judgment on the N-Gage hardware's 2-D capabilities just yet, but after seeing the goodness of titles like King Of Fighters EX2, Megaman Zero 2, Gradius Galaxies, Metal Slug Advance, and Castlevania - Aria Of Sorrow on the GBA hardware, its 2-D ability looks a bit sub-par. With what I have seen so far, I would choose the GBA and/or the NGPC over the N-Gage, and considering launch games of both the GBA and the NGPC when they made their debuts, I would still choose them over the N-Gage. One can only guess as to if this will change or not, but I say that I was initially disappointed in the media of early 2-D N-Gage games, and that I hope future titles will look better. Maybe Capcom, SNK Playmore, or Konami can help?



On the other side of the coin is the fact that the N-Gage is capable of processing 3-D graphics - in the palm of your hand. How do the N-Gage's 3-D graphics look? From given media, the 3-D visuals of the N-Gage don't look like that of PlayStation hardware (if that's what you were expecting), and aren't quite up to Saturn hardware 3-D visuals; imagine visuals somewhere between 3DO and Saturn hardware 3-D visuals (I say this loosely). Although the system pulls off 3-D graphics with "portable" hardware (in a somewhat acceptable manner) over the GBA, it ultimately fails to amaze me because the 3-D graphics aren't anything particularly impressive. While the N-Gage's 3-D models (and the environments they interact in) are fairly detailed, the colors look a bit washed-out and seem to better suit games with realistic graphics (Tomb Raider, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, Red Faction). Sure, the system is "doing" 3-D, and with "portable' hardware at that, but it will need to do a little more to sell me; will future games look better? As of now, it seems that the 2-D capabilities of the system are sub-par, and that the 3-D capabilities of the system aren't enough to make up for its lacking 2-D capabilities. I wasn't expecting anything like the 3-D graphics of the PS2, GameCube, or XBox on the system, but with the ambitious PSP specs Sony has released, the N-Gage might have a hard time impressing players and developers alike. Looks like we'll just have to wait and see how the games turn out; maybe developers will be able to (and hopefully) prove me wrong.

Although the N-Gage is capable of playing videogames both 2-D and 3-D, the excitement surrounding it has been due to all of the other things it can do. The N-Gage acts as a cellular phone, functions as an FM radio, plays and records digital music, sends and receives e-mail, and in addition to a laundry list of other bullshit, plays games. Who the fuck needs all of this shit? A cellular phone? Give me a fucking break. A billion worthless ear-shattering ring-tones? No thanks, I've heard them all before in public (assholes). An FM radio? Get one for a dollar from one of those piece of shit dollar stores. E-mail and Internet? That's what PCs are for; who doesn't already have e-mail? The N-Gage doesn't need to make breakfast, shave me, and then send me off to work happily, it just needs to play games! Who needs all of the extra "bells and whistles," anyway? An ass-load of extras, in the end, only turn out to be mere novelties. Nokia needs to cut out all of the bullshit; gamers don't want all of the extra garbage that comes with the N-Gage. If some of the better developers (Capcom, SNK Playmore, Cave, Konami) decide to make games for the N-Gage and draw in fans (like myself), we (the fans) don't want to pay two-hundred and fifty fucking clams for bullshit features that we'll never actually use. I would consider buying an N-Gage if there were some good games on the system, but not at all for all the other shit that it comes with. However, there is one redeeming feature that stands out in the sea of N-Gage features: the ability to take screenshots of games. Now this is a feature! No hassles with hardware or software for taking screenshots; the N-Gage is supposed to let you do it easier than before. Good job on the screenshot feature, Nokia. It must be kept in mind, however, that the screenshot feature is not so important that it will make you forget about the truckload of other worthless features the system comes packaged with. Plainly put, it's a damn shame to see the gaming aspect of the N-Gage tossed aside in favor of trendy multimedia functionality.

Sure, Nokia claims they are marketing the N-Gage as a multimedia machine rather than a game machine, and that they are not going up against Nintendo's GameBoy Advance, but I don't buy it. First of all, it's not too hard to see that they want a piece of the consumer pie too, and second, it's not too hard to see why they aren't saying outright that they are going up against Nintendo's GBA. Do they think that they can market a machine by putting in other features first and then games last, similar to what Sony did with the PS2 (and how they will also do with the PS3)? I wasn't too happy about the "extra" DVD "player" feature(s) that the PS2 and XBox came with upon their releases, and the inclusion of similar multimedia functions into the guts of the N-Gage have did very little to change my mind. Sure, it can be argued that the N-Gage's lower-end graphics show that Nokia isn't marketing the thing as a game machine, but I still think that they saw a perfect opportunity (with Sony not in the "portable" market) to take some of Nintendo's profit, and took it. Nokia says that they are trying to find their niche by venturing into a new realm of gaming (thus supposedly not competing with Nintendo), but isn't that what every company says when they debut hardware? I'm not being a Nintendo "fanboy," but it sure looks like Nokia plans to take at least some money from Nintendo. They might be able to take a bit of Nintendo's profit this year, but when (and if ) Sony releases the PSP, it might be a little harder to pull in.

Speaking of developers, the N-Gage has a few; namely Sega and Taito, among many other developers from all over the world (according to Nokia). At first, I was surprised when I saw Sega's name as one of the primary developers for the system, but then I remembered the restructuring of Sega in 2000 and kicked myself for being surprised. Anyway, the good thing is that Sega is developing for the hardware, and where Sega goes, quality follows (or should I say linger?). Sonic N looks decent, I'm excited to see how Sega Rally turns out (it better be good!), and Puyo Pop looks alright, but I'm more hyped to see the titles Taito has planned for the N-Gage. Although no screenshots are available as of yet, Taito has a game called Taito Memories planned for release on the N-Gage, which is a sort of compilation of past Taito gems; it should be good, as long as a few new features are put in. Bust-A-Move VS is also on the N-Gage horizon, but didn't really impress me; the GBA Bust-A-Move looks better, and the NGPC Bust-A-Move also isn't too far behind in terms of graphics.

Capcom has been rumored to be among the developers interested in N-Gage development, which I think is a good thing for Nokia (if the rumor has some substance). However, I don't want to see anything like the bullshit hack-job ports (of great games) that plague Japanese cell phones; what Capcom did to Final Fight One, in the process of porting it, made me furious. If I so much as smell anything like it on the N-Gage, shit will fly, and heads will roll. Period. As for Eidos and Tomb Raider, I didn't give a fuck about them before, and the N-Gage can't do anything to change my mind. And about the rumors of EA also signing? I could give a fuck about them, too; if I were Nokia, I'd let those bastards go fuck themselves with their Madden franchise, and then choke on their NCAA garbage. Memories never die, especially bad ones - after the way EA fucked Sega and the DreamCast, they can burn. Go ahead Nokia, you can have EA; that is, if you want a bunch of back-stabbing pricks to develop games for your hardware (add Square to the train). If anyone at Nokia is reading this (by luck) and managed to survive through the last few lines of hostility, my words of advice would be to get more of the good Japanese developers to make games, and then to hold on to those developers. Sure, there are a few good non-Japanese developers (keyword: few) , but the developers who make games that sell hardware are often Japanese ones (Capcom, Konami, Namco). Sega and Taito are a good start, but a great relationship with other developers (in time) will be needed to sell hardware. Sure, the N-Gage doesn't seem too appealing as of now, but it still needs solid developers to contribute. If it's one thing that has been proven time and time again throughout the history of videogames, it's that games make a hardware (not millions of other functions, on the contrary).

[ Extra ] = Features
[ 1 ] = N-Gage Official Site