I came into E3 truly excited about the possibility of the N-Gage. I am constantly frustrated by the lack of games on my current cell phone and the thought of having one device in my bag for down time is an exciting one. The press conference at E3 this morning for Nokia was revealing in many ways, enigmatic in others, and sometimes unrealistically hip.
The conference started with a diverse group of young hot dancers enticing and exciting all of us already weary press junkies with the possibility of looking like them if we are cool enough to get our hands on an N-Gage. Well, okay, so I am entirely too susceptible to advertisement. But the dance troupe was an interesting way to wake us all up.
After the dancers left the stage, Nada Usina, director of N-Gage took the stage to tell us all she knew about the "multiplayer, online, mobile" experience we were about to share. Nokia is looking to enter the world of gaming- in the days where snake will no longer cut it. Usina shared that the global release date would be October 7th and that there would be 10 games available at launch.
Executive VP of Nokia Anssi Vanjoki then stepped up to tell us that though there are many advances in the mobile industry, in his mind, with respect to the N-Gage, "It's the games, stupid." With this in mind, he shared some of the titles already lined up for the platform. From Ubisoft and Gameloft, there will be Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell. Also, Rayman 3 and Marcel Desailly's Pro Soccer are forthcoming from the publisher. Activision's monster Tony Hawk will make an appearance (as was thoughtfully shared by a scantily clad blonde who would play a much more important role later,) as well as Eidos' resident heroine, Lara Croft. Nokia also announced that they would be venturing into the publishing world with Pathway to Glory, a World War II strategy game that will be played online with multiple other players. Other titles include a Sonic game, a tennis title, a BMX title, as well as a new version of Pandemonium and Red Faction. In the same breath, Vanjoski also announced that the system will be available at current popular gaming stores, including Best Buy, Target, Circuit City, EB, and Gamestop.
Other features of the unit include an MP3 player, available stereo headphones which will operate with the phone features. Additionally, the unit will employ Bluetooth to allow wireless multiplayer action within 30 feet. The unit will allow MMS messaging and email support, web access through an XHTML browser.
Then came the most important question of the afternoon: how much? To answer this question, the aforementioned scantily clad blonde entered again and removed her shirt, accompanied by a shocked gasp from the crowd. However, we were not gasping at her lewdness (she was wearing a bikini top,) we were more than slightly shocked at the numbers written in black ink across her stomach. I thought it was a joke� the numbers 299 revealed that this handheld would most likely be out of my price range. I was expecting the sentence� �we could sell for this unit for $299, but this next scantily clad woman will reveal what we are really pricing it at.� Well, that sentence didn't get uttered. The games, to be released on a memory card, are priced at $30-$40.
After the prices were laid out, it came time to actually get my hands on the unit. Using primarily the 7 and 5 keys to move around (and the d-pad'--called the Rocker pad), I tried out several of the games available. The phone was much smaller and lighter than I anticipated, which was a definite bonus. The backlit screen was easy to see both in the dark and in the daylight. The biggest disappointment came in the actual quality of the games. However, only playing E3 builds of the games probably does not do them justice- at least, I hope not. They were fairly difficult to control, the most difficult being the BMX game. Without instruction on any of them, it was difficult to fine tune any kind of skills on the games. Changing from one game to another is also a little bit difficult, as you must remove the back of the unit and the battery just to get the game out of the system. Another thing that might be a little difficult to get used to is that to talk on the phone, you must turn it sideways, putting the skinny side of the phone to your face.
In the end, the N-Gage has a lot of potential. I am not sold on it yet. The press conference showed some capabilities, but did not offer up enough evidence that the system is worth three hundred dollars. Yes, it is a convergence of three addicting technologies, but you could, at this point in time go buy a slightly inferior MP3 player, a GBA SP, and a different Nokia cell phone and still come in under the N-Gage price tag. I hope that the N-Gage proves me wrong and is worth the buzz surrounding it. Today was just not quite enough to prove to me that this is a must have. Maybe I just need a little more time to come around.