Find out about the Nokia NGage, some of the best Nokia NGage games, and a brief history of this cult classic handheld in our snapshot retrospective of the mobile/gaming console hybrid handheld.
The early 2000s were a thriving time for handheld videogames, with the rise and rise of the Gameboy and the upcoming Gameboy Advance, Nintendo had a monopoly on the market. Mobile phones were also becoming commonplace – being dominated by Finnish telecommunications company, Nokia. The Nokia 3310 and 3315 were massively popular at the time, selling over 100 million units. I bet most of you reading this article owned one at some point! Both these phones also included some simple games on the device, which would become staples of mobile gaming, most notably Snake II, a sequel to the original game which was included on previous Nokia devices.
So you had games on your phone, and this was a massive success; truly one of the best features of Nokia devices. But what if you have phone on your game? Enter the Nokia NGage, the logical next step for the company: a handheld game system with telephone functionality, and one of the first ever “smartphone” devices on the market. Announced in 2002 and released the following year, this was to be the challenger and rival to the Gameboy Advance.
That didn’t turn out quite as well as intended… The NGage sold 3 million units compared to the Gameboy Advance’s 81 million. But respect to Nokia for entering the competition!
The NGage Console
With a 2.1 inch colour display (with an odd 11:13 aspect ratio and 176 x 208 resolution), bluetooth and internet functionality, expandable memory, and even MP3 playback, this was a far more advanced handheld than the GBA which even had “advanced” in its very name! But being technically impressive was not enough to lure consumers into the smartphone gingerbread house.
The design itself was undoubtedly ugly, with many consumers referring to its shape as a “taco phone”, with poor positioning of a speaker and microphone that made its use as a phone awkward and uncomfortable. And with a price point of $300USD, the NGage was sadly not a commercial success, and Nokia has since admitted the console was a failure, meeting only a third of their initial expectations. At one point they had even discussed putting NGage hardware inside of their new smartphone range, but this idea was short-lived and only available on certain devices.
Nokia NGage Games
Despite the poor performance on the market, in its limited time in production the NGage managed to secure some excellent exclusive titles for its library. Series like Sonic the Hedgehog, Rayman, Splinter Cell, Bomberman, even The Sims had original games and ports developed specifically for the NGage. Although the library consists of less than 100 individual games, most of them are impressive for the period!
Asphalt Urban GT
This sleek racer from Gameloft was the first entry in the widely-popular mobile racing series, Asphalt. Released originally on Nokia NGage, Nintendo DS, and mobile, the game included 23 real-life licensed vehicles and real world locations such as Paris and New York City.
The classic, frantic, explosive multiplayer arcade game! The NGage port of Bomberman featured on the NGage as an enhanced port of the very first game in the series.
Call of Duty
It’s the first-person shooter everyone knows, but did you know that the very first game in the series was originally ported to the Nokia NGage? Sporting a significantly cut-down gameplay from the PC/console release, the game did however include additional arena and map packs that were never released in the main version of the game.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
A faithful port of the classic skating game, the NGage version included many of the same levels as the original game, and impressively accurate graphics, controls, and gameplay.
A port of Sonic Advance made entirely for the NGage. While the visuals and gameplay are impressive and hold up quite well, the vertical aspect ratio of the NGage makes the fast-paced platforming of Sonic incredibly difficult, especially compared to the landscape screen of the Gameboy Advance.
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey
One of the most valuable games on the Nokia NGage! The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey is a standalone spin-off exclusive to the NGage and features dungeon-crawling gameplay and 3D visuals, though received mixed critical reception due to its clunky and sluggish combat. Though it’s still a gem for collectors of valuable games!
Released in 2003, the NGage port of the original Tomb Raider offers a faithful handheld experience and accurately replicates the gameplay, visuals, and aesthetic of the very first Tomb Raider game.
Some other notable titles include:
- Crash Nitro Kart
- Pocket Kingdom
- Puyo Pop
- Puzzle Bobble VS
- Splinter Cell
- Rayman 3
- Super Monkey Ball
- Worms World Party
So the NGage was a flop. There’s no denying that. But without its innovation and foray into the smartphone gaming market, would we have the modern smartphones that exist today? Nokia took a risk that did not pay off, but now almost everyone has a smartphone, and you know what’s on that smartphone? Games.
Thanks to my friend WindyCornerTV on YouTube for lending me his NGage and game collection for the photos.
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