Hands-on: Nokia N-Gage

Nokia showcases its N-Gage game deck and a handful of games at a press event in London.

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At a press event in London today, Nokia let selected members of the international press get some hands-on time with its N-Gage game deck, which, it's been announced today, will be released worldwide around September or October this year.

The first part of today's press event took the form of a presentation on board a boat on the river Thames. Members of Nokia's senior management were present to explain why gamers, developers, and publishers alike should be excited about the new handheld. Representatives of Activision, Eidos, Sega, Taito, and THQ were also on hand to explain why they are among the first publishers to commit to developing games for the new platform. Aside from the fact that the N-Gage is undoubtedly a powerful games machine, the main reasons given by each of the publishers for being keen to support it were that they very much believe in the idea of portable multiplayer gaming, and that the business model for the N-Gage is essentially identical to that of a conventional games console, so they already know it works.

Neither the representatives of Nokia nor of any of the publishers were willing to comment on pricing for N-Gage hardware and software, but the general view seemed to be that both will be priced in such a way as to be competitive with Nintendo's recently announced Game Boy Advance SP and its software. Given the wealth of features on the N-Gage, though, it's unlikely that it will be the cheaper of the two.

Nokia describes the N-Gage as a games platform first and a cell phone second, which is perhaps why, when we sat down on the London Eye observation wheel on the south bank of the Thames to try the device out for the first time, we found it very comfortable in the hands when playing games, but a little unwieldy when held up to the ear. The games we actually got play at the event were early versions of Sonic N, Super Monkey Ball, Tomb Raider, and the Nokia-developed Kart Racer, which was the only game at the event to support multiplayer gaming via Bluetooth.

The most impressive of the games that we played today was Tomb Raider, which seems to be a near-perfect conversion of the original PlayStation game and will actually boast additional features, according to Eidos. While most games on the N-Gage will use only the eight-way directional pad and two action buttons (keys 5 and 7), Tomb Raider uses almost every number on the keypad to give players access to Lara Croft's full range of acrobatic moves.

The only issue we have with the N-Gage right now is with its screen. The screen is well lit, but it's noticeably smaller than the GBA's screen, and it's taller than it is wide. This portrait format could well prove to be suitable for games such as Space Invaders and Puzzle Bubble--which have both been confirmed by Taito--but it felt a little restrictive when playing Tomb Raider, and it clearly wasn't considered a good option for Sonic N, as the game is played in something resembling a widescreen format, using only around half of the actual screen.

We'll have more information on the N-Gage for you soon, but in the meantime, here's a list of all the games that we've been able to confirm are in development for the platform at this time:

Eidos
Pandemonium
Tomb Raider

Nokia
Bounce
Kart Racing
Virtually Board Snowboarding II

Sega
Puyo Puyo
Sega Rally
Sonic N
Super Monkey Ball
Virtua Tennis

Taito
Puzzle Bobble
Space Invaders

THQ
Major League Baseball
Moto-GP
Red Faction

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