Thursday, October 23, 2008

N-gage is back!

by Anand Ramachandran - an old N-gage fan. This is an extended version of the article that appeared in my weekly 'Game Invader' column for the New Indian Express.

And it looks promising this time around.

Many of you may remember N-Gage as Nokia's failed attempt at a handheld gaming device / phone hybrid from a few years ago. A tale of design mistakes, bad marketing, terrible PR and lost potential.

This time around, Nokia has relaunched the N-Gage brand as a service tied to their popular Nseries devices, which looks to be a much better idea overall. I just got myself an N81 to test drive N-Gage, and here are my first impressions.

The N81 is ideally suited for gaming, but N-Gage works on other nSeries phones as well.

N-Gage is now the basic gaming application that runs on your Nseries handset. Using the application, you can download and purchase games, play them by yourself and against others through N-Gage arena, maintain high scores and buddy lists and more. It's like a pocket-sized Xbox Live, and everyone knows how much I love Xbox Live!

The range of games seems fairly exciting even at this stage, and is sure to get better as more developers warm up to the platform. Remember that the original Ngage started off with a rather tepid line-up, but ended up with bona-fide classics such as Pathway to Glory, Rifts : Promise of Power and Colin McRae Rally.

Every game has a free downloadable demo, so it's a great 'Try before you buy' system. And, provided you have a decent internet connection, works very well. I recommend Wi-Fi, but GPRS will do in a pinch.

Downloading and installing the games is a snap. I downloaded the demo of Star Wars : The Force Unleashed, and then purchased and activated the game over the internet using my Wi-Fi connection. It took about five minutes in all. Nice. I could get used to this.

I've so far tried Star Wars : The Force Unleashed, Bounce Boing Voyage, Dirk Digger and System Rush. The games are definitely a step up from the average mobile fare – both in terms of gameplay and production values. Each of the above titles boasts gorgeous graphics, way above what you'll see on the average mobile phone title.

Dirk Dagger and The Fallen Idol brings old skool adventure gaming to the N-Gage, with a delicious twist in the way it uses the camera. I couldn't be happier!

System Rush Evolution is absolutely jaw-dropping. Sometimes I swear it looks as good as a PSP or DS title !

Each of these titles also had some unique feature or hook that makes them worth trying – Force Unleashed features the innovative and engaging Cellweaver combat system, Dirk Dagger has a great art style and uses the phone's camera in a really cool way, and System Rush is simply jaw-dropping for a mobile game, looking as good as some PSP or DS titles. Look out for detailed N-gage gaming reviews in the coming weeks on Bossfight.

N-Gage arena and the community features also hold great promise. The mobile is a perfect platform for connected, multiplayer gaming, and the Ngage application does provide some features such as buddy lists and leaderboards. However, I'm hoping that Nokia beefs up this aspect with more features to spice up the multiplayer experience.

N-gage is a great, user-friendly App that works smoothly and is fun to use. Here's hoping Nokia adds more community oriented features.

But even as it is, the community and multiplayer features are a great reason to game on the N-gage platform. The community rates and reviews games as well – so you can see what fellow gamers thought about a title before you download it. An Xbox Live-like gamerscore system has the potential to make the N-gage experience an addictive and enjoyable metagame of one-upmanship, and we all know how enjoyable that is. However, for this to really work, a critical mass of users is essential, and these are early days yet. Much will depend on how much traction Nokia can generate by means of marketing, pricing and all that jazz.

With the mobile phone well positioned to become the dominant gaming platform in India, and Nokia being one of its pre-eminent drivers, N-Gage is an opportunity to take quality gaming to the mainstream Indian user. It's early days yet, but I for one will be watching this with interest. As one of the few people who had a wholly positive experience with the previous N-gage QD, I truly want the platform to succeed. A viable, multiplayer enabled mobile gaming experience may just be what's needed to make gaming a mainstream hobby in this country.

The previous iteration of the N-Gage was a sad case of a genuinely good gaming platform failing due to some unfortunate marketing and PR. There's good reason to believe that Nokia will give the platform a better chance of success this time. With the right support, smart pricing and well thought out community features, N-Gage could become a serious player in the fight for the Indian gamer's money.

If you have an Nseries handset, there's no excuse for you not to start downloading and playing N-Gage titles. If you're a serious gamer looking for a mobile gaming solution, N-gage just might slake your thirst.

Note : I will be covering N-Gage extensively on this blog in the coming weeks. So stay tuned. And get yourself an NSeries, wontcha? It's going to be fun. My nGage ID is bigfatphoenix - so bring it on!


  1. amazing insight on n-gage. i hv myself been an an n-gage fan? which phones does this work on. i hv n95 8gb..

  2. amazing insight on n-gage. i hv myself been an an n-gage fan? which phones does this work on. i hv n95 8gb..

  3. As far as I know - all NSeries phones support it, including N73, N81, N81 8GB, N93, N93i, N95, N95 8GB, N96, N78 and N82. The 5310 also is said to be compatible. Anyone has anything else to add?

  4. Hey guys, Next gen Ngage was releasd in feb 08 for beta test and in april it fully launched. I am surprised that u r posting the reviews now almost a year after. Where were u. I m also an indian but i m using next gen ngage since its beta test.

    By the way u hav wrong info about compatibility. U hav mentiond that all nseries phones r compatible. But let me correct u, only 5320xm, N79, N81/8GB, N82, N85, N95/8GB, N96 are officialy compatible yet. Any one owning one of these phones with latest firmware can easily play ngage as there is built in ngage client (in latest firmwares). In case u have old firmwares, u hav to download Ngage saperately...

    But i m really really disappointd to see an indian gaming site posting ngage reviews after almost a year when half of the games list hav been released...

  5. Anonymous,

    Thanks for the compatibility info.

    N73 is compatible, according to this :

    I'm not sure about the rest - I was just going by info on internet and on other sites - so you may be right.

    Also - sorry that you're disappointed that we're late on the n-gage reviews, but perhaps not everyone is as 'cool and cutting-edge' as you are?

    I only got around to testing nGage recently, so I can only write about it now, innit? Better late than never? Maybe we were too busy playing on all the other platforms. Boo Hoo.


    And if you're looking at participating, why stay anonymous? I never quite get that.

  6. hi anand,
    i like ur post cause i think a lot of casual gamers who may not be following n-gage very closely, might still not be aware abt the difference between n-gage qd and n-gage 2.0.

    i know a few of friends who are heavily into gaming (video, ps2) but r ignorant abt wht n-gage is... they still think it's that device that looked like a flying saucer.

    :) i kinda like some making an effort to clarify that.

    cheer, look fwd to insights on n-gage titles

  7. Puneet,

    Not flying saucer, mate. It looked like a Taco! Or maybe Mr.Spock's left ear!

    Thanks for reading.

  8. Seems like India is noticing N-Gage finally. Anyway, regarding your insight, it's pretty good, but does not provide a convincing picture. N-Gage has actually got a lot of implementation flaws, in this iteration too. One of them is the payment method. In India (and in many other countries), only credit card is accepted as a payment method and as a result, those without one, will have grave problem using N-Gage. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. You have only tried games, but only games can't make the platform, customers have to avail them. And I don't know in what handset you tried N-Gage, but the N-Gage application is quite buggy and badly designed. And regarding games, they are better than Java games, that's for sure. I would suggest you to try Creatures of the Deep - it is actually the flagship title of N-Gage.

  9. Sandy - regarding the payment method, I agree that I should have mentioned the 'credit-card only' thing as a limitation. Since I've been a regular credit card using online shopper, it didn't ocur to me - thanks for pointing it out.

    Having said that - this is true of most online-enabled systems in India, where buying anything online requires a credit card. I'm also operating on the assumption that a large percentage of N-Gage users in India will have a credit card, but I could be wrong. Point taken.

    Regarding the n-Gage app itself, I used it on an N81, using a wi-fi broadband collection, and have no problems so far. I've downloaded games, purchased them, added buddies - it all works fine. But it's early days yet for me, and if I have problems I'll be sure to report them.

    And yes, Creatures of the Deep is on my must-play list, just after Reset Generation, which is actually the flagship title now by all accounts.