Pocket Kingdom Hands-On
Nokia's SNAP Mobile unit is busy constructing a kingdom for your other pocket. We're there to try it out.
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Game Developers Conference, San Francisco--Here's some more evidence that Nokia might be one of the most versatile (and most devious) corporations in telecommunications: While distracting the mobile games industry with the spectacle of the N-Gage, the company has simultaneously been preparing a service that will extend much of N-Gage Arena's functionality to existing Java handsets! The same technology unit that powers Arena's community and multiplayer gaming features, known as SNAP Mobile, is being test-marketed through a Hong Kong-based mobile operator called SmarTone. Naturally, SNAP Mobile is only as compelling as its supported games can make it, so the team has ported Pocket Kingdom to Java handsets as a launch title, in conjunction with Sega Mobile. Although the retail version of Pocket Kingdom Java we played has been scaled back in a few areas to fit the downloadable footprint, it seems that the game's tactical soul has jumped the gap in fine fettle.
Pocket Kingdom Java is definitely a simplified version of the game--there are fewer areas to explore in the world of Ulgress, the online item auction is gone, and forging all of your items from combinations of molds, gemstones, and precious metals is a thing of the past. Tellingly, some players may regard these changes as addition through subtraction, because the N-Gage game's endless cycles of item replication and horse-trading grew old quickly. In addition, Pocket Kingdom Java's interface is much more austere this time around. The opulent backgrounds of your throne room and laboratory have been reduced to overhead schemas that look like they could have come from an early SNES RPG. Again, this change seems to be more of a solution than a problem, as the menus are functionally intact and no longer experience the painfully slow transitions that plagued the previous version of the game.
On the flip side, the most important areas of the Pocket Kingdom experience--combat and multiplayer--have been transferred to Java in all of their glory. The combat mechanics and graphics seemed to be exactly the same as those found in the N-Gage, and over-the-air multiplayer worked well over Cingular's standard network, although the wait time while interacting with your opponent prior to a battle seemed to be a little longer. We weren't able to confirm that all of the N-Gage game's absurd tactical options, like dropping bathtubs on an invasion force, have made it into the Java version, but our test battle between some ninjas and wizards went off without a hitch.
It remains to be seen how quickly US GSM carriers (Cingular and T-Mobile) will buy into SNAP Mobile's service, but we can say that Pocket Kingdom Java looks great and should be a major selling point. SNAP Mobile hopes to bring its multiplayer games to the US by the end of this year. Hopefully we'll have more to report on this promising suite of products before then.