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Are you game?

Nokia is making sure that it gets its N-Gage gaming platform right the second time around.

Kushan Mitra | Print Edition: June 15, 2008

Back in 2003, when Nokia introduced the N-Gage handset, it seemed an obvious extension to the mobile device. After all, cameras were slowly becoming standard, and several of Nokia’s younger users in the developed world also owned portable gaming handhelds like the Nintendo GameBoy. The problem with the device was that it was poorly designed—not quite a good phone (you had to hold it sideways to talk) and changing the games required the phone to shut down and reload. The updated version of this phone also didn’t set the sales registers on fire.

Bored? N-Gage is at hand
Bored? N-Gage is at hand
But with the success of the Nintendo DS, which has sold over 70 million units worldwide, you would assume that Nokia would have made a play for gaming all over again. After all, on devices such as the N95 8GB, you already have almost everything you could want. Now, the best thing about the new N-Gage (or N-Gage 2.0 to keep up with the fad of adding a 2.0 on newer versions of everything) is that it can be loaded on a whole host of Nseries devices and eventually, the plan is to support all Nokia handsets that work on Series 60, and maybe, handsets manufactured by others, though SonyEricsson might have issues with that, given that there is a Playstation branded phone in the works.

So, how is it to use? The N95 8GB is still your typical mobile device, and the keypad isn’t what you would call “game-friendly”. But, as any fan of “Snake” from the late ’90s will admit, getting a game anytime, anywhere is bloody addictive. The interface is fairly clean, and on a device with a relatively fast processor, there is no jerkiness. You can download trial editions of all the games—there are nine at the moment—before you decide to buy them. Nokia India has not built a payment gateway as yet, so if you want to buy a game, you will be billed in US dollars. We went ahead and bought Asphalt 3: Street Racing for $7.99 (Rs 344).

The game is quite good, and considering that you are on a phone, the graphics are pretty good too. The game physics could be better, though, and have a touch of Playstation1 to them. As far as racing games go, this is no Gran Turismo 5. However, this is just the first batch of games, and even on the Microsoft XBox 360 and Playstation3, some of the first games had minor gameplay or game physics issues.

There are some other niggling issues as well—battery drain while gaming is on the heavy side, especially if you log onto Nokia’s N-Gage Arena, a sort of player hub/social-network where you can load scores, chat and find players to compete against. Good idea, but ideally, stick to logging on from a Wi-Fi network rather than India’s crowded mobile data networks. Downloading the application is free as are the trial versions of the games. You can download the application either “over-theair” directly from your handset or install it via your PC from www.n-gage.com.

But you need to have a fairly new Nseries device to play it right now. Yes, the keys are not that great and the gameplay isn’t perfect, but you can really grow to like this. Really! It beats the hell out of getting bored out of your wits at a crowded airport lounge. Or you could buy a Nintendo DS, but what was that thing about too many devices?

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