What if your games had phone on it?

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.

Nokia 3315 3310 Snake
The hugely-popular Snake II, running on a Nokia 3310.

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 N-Gage, 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 N-Gage sold 3 million units compared to the Gameboy Advance’s 81 million. But respect to Nokia for entering the competition!

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.

50% phone. 50% game. 100% cool.

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 N-Gage 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 N-Gage hardware inside of their new smartphone range, but this idea was short-lived and only available on certain devices.

Despite the poor performance on the market, in its limited time in production the N-Gage 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 N-Gage. Although the library consists of less than 100 individual games, most of them are impressive for the period!

Nokia NGage Console Games
A selection of N-Gage games, many of which came with detailed manuals.

So the N-Gage 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 N-Gage and game collection for the photos.

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