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I know, I know: The N-Gage was a bust. But hear me out on why it’s a great time for a new one. Once, Nokia was ...
I know, I know: The N-Gage was a bust. But hear me out on why it’s a great time for a new one.
Once, Nokia was the King of Mobile. Everyone took pictures with those fantastic Nokia cameras, and jokes about the indestructible 3310 were still the funniest. The cash was rolling in, sales were fantastic, people loved their phones and Nokia was as happy as a clam.
Then the iPhone came, and suddenly Nokia was old news. A has-been. Compared to the shiny, new and elegant touchscreen Apple phone, their line was practically antiquated. And so Nokia began a steady decline into relative obscurity, content to concede to the new mobile giant. However, one of their greatest missteps, even before Apple took the market as its own, was the ill-fated Nokia N-Gage.
The N-Gage was a stillborn. Incredibly unintuitive, not quite a phone and not quite a handheld, it came with a $300 price tag that put off even the most passionate of mobile gamers (remember, this is 2003). The Game Boy Advance outsold it 100 to 1 on release week. The “Taco phone” had to be disassembled and the battery removed just to insert a game in the system. The fact that the phone’s speaker was on the edge of the handheld earned it the moniker “The Sidetalker”.
In short, people hated it. And with good reason: aside from all the finickiness, the system -- plain and simple -- had no games on it. No one wanted a bulky, unwieldy phone that doubled as a shoddy game system. So why am I clamouring for a new one?
In recent years, a ton of factors have come together to warrant a new N-Gage. The first is Nokia being bought by Microsoft.
Last year, Nokia sold off what was left of its crumbling business to Microsoft. Microsoft promptly equipped Nokia handhelds with their Windows Phone OS, and has been putting out some decent handhelds in the past months. Microsoft also makes the Xbox. Xbox doesn’t have a handheld. Its competitors, Sony and Nintendo, do. See where I’m going with this?
Microsoft has integrated its Xbox Live service in its OS pretty well. If you have a Windows Phone, chances are there’s an Xbox Live Tile gathering dust on your home screen. Microsoft could do much more on mobile with Xbox, and here’s where Nokia comes in.
I said that the N-Gage was ahead of its time, and I stick by that. In 2003, gamers didn’t realize they wanted a gaming phone. Well, they do now. Just look at the mobile gaming scene -- it’s practically exploding. Titles that ruled the PC scene are getting mobile-only sequels (Civilization, I’m looking at you) and games are being developed simultaneously for consoles, PC and mobile.
The only catch is the controller. Games that do well on mobile usually require simple touch or swipe inputs, and games that require precise button controls play like crap. That’s why 3DSs and Vitas are still selling.
Power isn’t the problem. Nvidia’s Tegra K1 chip outperforms the Xbox 360 and PS3 while consuming significantly less power -- so the guts are there. All we need is to put them in the proper hardware.
Rethink the N-Gage. Put a decent d-pad in there, maybe an analog stick or two, get some proper buttons. Repaint it green, slap the Xbox logo on it, call it the X-Gage. Gamers play serious games on their phones, or at least they want to. Microsoft needs a contender for the handheld race. Nokia’s got the history. Seriously, what’s the hold-up?