Pandemonium is one of the first games to come out for Nokia's new handheld game system, the N-Gage. But it isn't an entirely new game. The game has its roots on the PlayStation, where the game was first released by Crystal Dynamics back in 1996. Back then, the game had a pretty good look to it, but it wasn't much of a game. Here and now on the N-Gage, the dull gameplay comes across loud and clear, and the graphics aren't as impressive as they were seven years ago, even when you take into account the N-Gage's portability.
Pandemonium is a side-scrolling platform game that lets you select one of two characters. Nikki is a female with the ability to double-jump. Fergus is a court jester of sorts, and he can execute a cartwheel attack that will take out enemies. The game opens with 10 pages of text detailing the duo's misadventures, which start with them unleashing a giant beast that swallows a town and sets them on their way to find a wishing well to wish away the evil creature.
While the game may have a somewhat psychedelic look to it, the gameplay is pretty straightforward. You don't have many moves at your disposal, so the main tactic is to simply take it slow and make sure you don't incur too much damage. You have three hearts--you lose one every time you're hit--and three lives. Like in most games, you can opt to continue after you run out of lives, but unlike most games, Pandemonium starts you out with the number of lives and hearts you had at the beginning of that level. So if you finish a level with no remaining lives and only one heart, you'll basically have to play to perfection until you can acquire more of each. Hearts can be found in a few spots on most levels, and you earn lives by collecting coins that are strewn about the levels. Unfortunately, boss fight levels tend to be devoid of those items, so if you reach a boss fight in a dire situation, you'll have to be at the top of your game to proceed. Needless to say, this is a pretty annoying way to handle the continue feature.
The most damning thing about Pandemonium is that there really isn't much going on. The levels are rarely packed with enemies or any sort of terrain that is difficult or interesting to cross. Instead, you mostly run to the right and stop whenever you see anything moving to make sure you don't accidentally run into it. After jumping on top of or over the enemy, you carry on as before. Some levels have multiple paths or secrets to find, but there's rarely anything interesting to be found. The boss battles are slightly more interesting, but as you'd expect, they're all exercises in very, very basic pattern recognition.
The multiplayer is a slightly different story. The game lets you race against another player live using the system's built-in Bluetooth support or in a delayed fashion against the best times of players around the world using the N-Gage Arena service. Racing against other players' best times and sending them text messages when you beat their time is fun for a while, but only one level is available, and spending your time honing your abilities on one level, rather than being able to jump around and try your skills at different levels, won't hold your attention for long, though it's a reasonably cool idea.
Graphically, the N-Gage is pretty adept at presenting a decent facsimile of the 1996 PlayStation original, though the colors aren't as bright and brilliant, which gives the game a pretty drab look. While, on some level, it's a little impressive that a polygonal game such as this can be run on a handheld device, the occasional slowdown, sketchy frame rate, and extremely basic models and textures look pretty bad nowadays, and the game's look wears thin fast.
Pandemonium barely has any sound in it at all. Aside from some end-of-level fanfare, there's no music to speak of. Each enemy will make a slight grunting noise, but the main sound is the rubber band "boing" sound of your character jumping. Waterfalls and other ambient objects will make a bit of noise, but most of this isn't very good. The waterfall, specifically, sounds more like static than anything else.
Pandemonium didn't exactly set the world on fire when it was originally released, and the N-Gage version certainly won't get things blazing seven years later. While the multiplayer is an interesting addition, the dull gameplay and muddy graphics make this game one to skip.