Are You Ready to N-Gage?
One of the most obscure gaming handhelds systems besides the Gizmondo is the Nokia N-Gage. I fondly remember this system yet never owned one until recently. I remember the giant cardboard stands in GameStop for it. The system even had its own game rack next to the GBA games. It was a massive deal back in the day because merging cell phones and video games weren’t even a thing yet. The iPhone wouldn’t be out for four more years. Sure, phones could play simple Java games, but just barely. The days where simple Snakes and Tetris were starting to sunset, and we finally were getting real 2D mobile games. But 3D games on a mobile device? It’s why the N-Gage was so expensive. At $299 ($462 adjusted for inflation) you were getting a mobile powerhouse. The graphics capabilities were about on par with the original PlayStation. However, it was the same price as the PS2 and Xbox and twice the price of the GBA.
So, what happened? Well, there are plenty of YouTube videos that dive into the history of the N-Gage extensively, but there isn’t a cohesive guide on how to use one in 2022. There are a lot of roadblocks to getting the game running. You can’t buy games at stores anymore, you can use the device like a cell phone, but it’s impractical today, and it doesn’t take standard removable media. The N-Gage is a pain in the ass to get working for just 65 measly games. However, these weren’t just shovelware. There were released by big AAA companies like Activision, THQ, and EA. This guide will help you choose your device and get you started.
The Nokia N-Gage was released on October 7, 2003, to mixed reception. The device looked fine, but it had a few flaws. Firstly the device had to be held like a taco to speak into it and the battery had to be removed to insert games. This was a problem as you could possibly miss a call during that swap time and you had to wait for the phone to restart. It also had middling battery life not just for gaming running at around 3 hours, but for talk and standby time as well. Talk time was around 5 hours. The system launched with 7 titles with all of them being ports. Tomb Raider, Pandemonium, Sonic Advance, Super Monkey Ball, Puzzle Bobble VS, Puyo Pop, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. All were solid titles for the platform, but the fact that these seemed like great to decent ports worried many early adopters. The exclusive and more anticipated releases weren’t set to be released for another 30 days or more. The original N-Gage model was quickly replaced by the QD just 7 months later. The price was reduced by $100 just two weeks after release and games retailed for $30 ($46 adjusted for inflation).
Should you get a taco model? No. Unless you’re a collector there’s no reason to get this version. The only advantage is the USB file transfer so you won’t need an MMC reader and you can use it as an MP3 player if you wanted. They are also more expensive than the QD and harder to find. The N-Gage also boasted its rival to Xbox LIVE which was N-Gage Arena. It’s dead these days but gave way to multiplayer options and game interactivity such as new levels, scoreboards, and more that were never seen before on mobile devices.
The QD model was released in May 2007 to quickly fix many of the original model’s problems. While game stores were thinking about booting the system, the QD put the speaker on the face of the phone and added a card slot at the bottom of the unit for MMC cards and games. The issue here is that you can only have one. Instead of adopting SD cards and having a third slot, Nokia cheaped out. They also removed the USB port, MP3 functionality (most likely a chip they decided to axe), and only a dual-band antenna. The design itself was also rounder and easier to hold. The QD is more available running at around $50-60 and is really cheap.
How Do I Get It Running?
So you just bought your shiny N-Gage and it won’t work! That’s normal. First off, make sure you have a new battery. There is old new stock on eBay as well as third-party batteries such as those from Polar Cell. The model number for the battery is BL-6C. You also need to have a SIM card in the system or it will not run. You will get a continuous “Insert SIM Card” error that you can’t back out of. You can either get one from a local phone store or buy a deactivated one on eBay for less than $10. It’s another cost on top of the system, but unless you already have a full-size SIM card you need to do it.
Second, the games are rather expensive. Some launch titles are under $20 including sports games, but the better exclusives like Ashen are $50+. The rarest game is The Elder Scrolls: Shadowkey which can run $600+. So, holy Christ I just bought this $50 to play some obscure mobile games and the games can cost more than the system?! Unless you’re a hardcore collector don’t bother. You will need to fork out even more cash by buying an MMC card which is hard to find and only really available in China.
There are 13 pin MMC+ cards and 7 pin standard cards. Most plus cards or dual-voltage cards won’t work in the N-Gage. I haven’t been able to get any current 1GB cards you can buy right now to work reliably. I recommend sticking with 512MB cards as it’s plenty of space for games and usually works more reliably. You will also need an MMC USB card reader that you can get cheap on eBay as well for less than $5. The max size you can use in the N-Gage is 1GB. The 2GB cards will not work and are unnecessary anyway. The entire N-Gage library is just a bit over 1GB. You also need to remember to never transfer games via Bluetooth. If your system memory is full during the transfer you can get the “White Screen of Death” and will need a flash box to reflash the system. The system memory only holds 4MB. It seems laughable today, but ROM chips were incredibly expensive up until maybe 10 years ago and the same went for removable storage. In total that’s another $15-20 on top of the $10 SIM Card. So in all, you need to spend $70 or so just to get the system up and running.
There was not much in the way of customizing cell phones back in the early 2000s. The most you could do was ringtones bought off of stores and wallpapers. The N-Gage doesn’t have much either despite its high price point. I couldn’t even find an option to change the ringtone at all. Wallpapers are about it and I have made a folder of official N-Gage wallpapers resized to fit on the device here. Just place these on the root of your MMC and go into Tools>Settings>Display>Standby Mode and select your wallpaper.
So there are of course the retail released N-Gage games, but you can’t just get direct ROMs and copy them to the MCC card. You need to get cracked games as these did have DRM. I can’t link to where to get them, but they are available. All you need to do is copy the numbered folder example: 6R31 to the System>Apps folder and it will show up automatically under the main menu. If it doesn’t the game isn’t cracked properly. There are also Symbian games that work on the system as well. While certain Java J2ME games run on the system they must be MIDP-1.0 environment games and they run poorly. It seems the N-Gage just wasn’t designed to run these games. While Symbian 7.0s was released before the QD Nokia did not update the software to run these newer games. So sadly, you are limited in your game selection. The Symbian games run much better on here though. Let’s take a look at the entire N-Gage library. There aren’t enough for “hidden gems” or anything like that. You should honestly check out every single game since there aren’t that many.
Ashen – N-Gage exclusive and developed in-house by Nokia. This is as close to Quake or Doom that you will get. It’s a horror-themed FPS and was highly anticipated for the system.
Asphalt Urban GT – A fun arcade racer and one of the few games that got a sequel. This really showed off the graphics power of the system.
Asphalt Urban GT 2 – Back again already? While just as fun as the first game it literally doubles the amount of content. I recommend finishing the first and then playing the second. You’ll get a lot of racing game time on your N-Gage this way.
Atari Masterpieces Vol. I – N-Gage exclusive. An awesome collection of Atari 2600 games. Asteroid, Battlezone, Millipede, and Super Breakout just to name a few. There are also four unlockable games.
Atari Masterpieces Vol. II – N-Gage exclusive. More Atari 2600. More fun. A couple of repeats oddly enough, but mostly all new.
Barakel: The Fallen Angel – N-Gage exclusive. One of the few dungeon crawlers on the system and it looked good too. This was a lot of fun and didn’t push the system too hard controls-wise. This was an unreleased game, but a full working copy is floating around online.
Bomberman – A multiplayer classic. It’s 16-bit Bomberman and it plays really well here. Not much content, but still worth a quick playthrough.
Call of Duty – A refined port of the PC game. Using a special engine to accommodate the portrait mode. It was one of the few shooters on the system.
Catan – N-Gage exclusive. Released late in the console’s life Catan somehow managed to actually work on the tiny screen. What helped were objectives and a quest mode to also help with longevity.
Civilization – A port of the original PC game, but with the Civ II’s graphics. There’s even a full Civilopedia and tutorial here too! A pretty impressive game overall. There was no multiplayer released most likely because this came out just before Nokia officially axed the system.
Colin McRae Rally 2005 – Overall one of the best racing games on the system. Solid visuals, physics, and somehow managed to just play well on the tiny system.
Crash Nitro Kart – A visually dumbed-down version of the PS1 game. Instead of 3D models, the game uses 2D sprites but still plays fairly well. Sadly, it’s another straight port from an older console.
The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey – N-Gage exclusive. One of the most impressive and sought-after N-Gage games. Period. This isn’t just a fun RPG, but it’s a freaking Elder Scrolls game! It just makes me think more and more how much I wish Travels: Oblivion would have turned out on PSP.
FIFA Soccer 2004 – A port of the GBA version, but with 3D stadiums. A fairly impressive game and was a best seller as well.
FIFA Soccer 2005 – More FIFA! Basically the same as the GBA version as well and just new rosters and mostly the same. Try each version to see which you like best.
Flo-Boarding – N-Gage exclusive. A pack-in title for Europe systems only. The was one of the few region-exclusive games. It’s a decent snowboarding game and helped tide, early adopters, over.
Glimmerati – N-Gage exclusive. A weird arcade racing game with supermodels to attract the equally strange. Boasted N-Gage Arena features at launch that don’t matter today.
High Seize – N-Gage exclusive. A fun strategy game with a lot of content packed in. This is as close to Advance Wars as you will get on N-Gage. Thankfully this game supports hot-seat mode so you can play multiplayer on a single device.
The King of Fighters: Extreme – N-Gage exclusive. One of two traditional fighting games and the best on the system. While its controls are limiting it works, and there is Bluetooth multiplayer so that’s not completely cut-off today. It looks good and does surprisingly well on the portrait screen.
Marcel Desailly Pro Soccer – An interesting release from Gameloft. While not as graphically impressive as FIFA it’s an alternative.
Mile High Pinball – N-Gage exclusive. One of the few in-house developed games from Nokia and just one of the best for the system period. 85 tables? Yes, please! The portrait screen is perfect for this kind of game. Lots of content here.
MLB Slam! – N-Gage exclusive. The only baseball game on the system. It isn’t graphically impressive, but it is a lot of fun and has a lot of content.
MotoGP – Probably the worst racing game on the system. It’s worth playing just to check out for curiosity. The game was rushed and feels incomplete with missing sound effects and choppy visuals.
NCAA Football 2004 – The only football game available. Full 3D visuals and a lot of content.
N-Gage Freestyle – N-Gage exclusive. Another European exclusive game. A weird motocross game mixed with button timings.
One – N-Gage Exclusive. An impressive fighting game exclusive to the system. It’s one of the best-looking games on here too. Feels a bit generic, but you can tell effort was put into the game.
Operation Shadow – N-Gage Exclusive. A decent shot at a military-style third-person shooter. Nothing special, but still fun.
Pandemonium! – A port from the PS1 version. This was a good 3D platformer despite its weirdness.
Pathway to Glory – N-Gage Exclusive. Probably one of the most impressive and highlighted games on the system. This was a killer app on the N-Gage. A really fun WWII strategy game similar to Company of Heroes.
Pathway to Glory: Ikusa Islands – N-Gage Exclusive. A direct sequel to the first game due to its popularity. More WWII strategy goodness awaits and it has Bluetooth multiplayer.
Payload – N-Gage Exclusive. A 3D car combat game similar to Wipeout.
Pocket Kingdom: Own the World – N-Gage Exclusive. The only MMO on the game and it’s a 2D one at that. You can still play this offline and dungeon crawl and level up. The online features just let you text other players and trade items which isn’t much of a loss today.
Pool Friction – N-Gage Exclusive. Another European-only game. Decent 3D pool and the only one you’ll get.
Puyo Pop – I was fairly surprised a Japanese puzzle game would make it to the N-Gage. It’s standard fare and not much different from the Game Gear of GameBoy Color versions. It’s still a fun puzzle game on the go.
Puzzle Bobble VS – Another great puzzle game. Essentially just good ‘ol Bust-A-Move. It’s perfect for the portrait screen as well.
Rayman 3 – A fun port of the GBA version with clean visuals and bright colors. One of the better platformers on the system.
Red Faction – Another high-profile game. While being a port of a PS2 game it worked surprisingly well and is rock solid. It does have control issues, but you can get used to it.
Requiem of Hell – N-Gage Excluive. A pretty decent action RPG with awesome horror and gothic themes.
Rifts: Promise of Power – N-Gage Exclusive. Absolutely rock-solid RPG. Backbone Entertainment was behind the wheel here. They only did one game before this one (an Incredibles game) but would later go on to create Death Jr. for PSP and become a porting powerhouse. It looks good, has a decent story, and has tons of content.
The Roots: Gates of Chaos – N-Gage Exclusive. A simple colorful action RPG. Nothing special, but still really fun.
Sega Rally Championship – A port of the Dreamcast version. This is a great game…to see just how not to do a racing game on the N-Gage. Yeah, this was a pretty awful port, but fun to play just to see how things could really go wrong on the system. It was only released in Europe so US gamers didn’t miss anything.
The Sims: Bustin’ Out – A port of the GBA game, but has N-Gage exclusive mini-games. If you like the Sims you will like this as well.
Snakes – N-Gage Exclusive. What would a Nokia phone be without a Snake game? This is the sixth generation of the game and is now in 3D! It was available for free on the N-Gage website and could be transferred to any other N-Gage via Bluetooth or Nokia N95 phones. However, only the N-Gage got the full 42 levels.
SonicN – A middling and lazy port by Dimps. This is a straight port from the GBA Sonic Advance, but instead of tailoring the game to the portrait screen, it’s just filled in from the top and bottom with a large border. The play area is incredibly small and it doesn’t run at the best framerate.
Space Impact Evolution X – A port of the Symbian version. Just a simple arcade shooter and high-score game.
Spider-Man 2 – A short but sweet N-Gage exclusive version. This is a 2D platformer with 3D races against time. You can probably beat it before the battery even dies.
SSX: Out of Bounds – Being the first mobile SSX game it had a lot of attention. Even my 13-year-old self at the time was reading about this game for N-Gage up to its release. It works surprisingly well but sadly had no online multiplayer.
Super Monkey Ball – Being a port of the GBA game it actually is in full 3D and plays better than the GBA version. It’s a lot of fun with a ton of levels and works well with the portrait screen.
System Rush – N-Gage Exclusive. One of the best games on the system. A mix between F-Zero and Wipeout. The excellent-looking tracks and models show what the N-Gage can do graphically.
TechWars – N-Gage Exclusive. A simple mech game. Great visuals.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004 – Not the best version of the game, and not having an analog stick makes swinging less accurate, but it’s still a solid title. A little more 2D than 3D graphics here.
Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Jungle Storm – A port of the PS2 exclusive. Ubisoft did a fantastic job here and it’s one of the best-looking N-Gage games. It also received a lot of press and attention. I remember fondly seeing ads for this in GameStop at the time.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory – Another high profile game for the system and a true killer app. This is one of the few games that really showed how to do games right on the N-Gage.
Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Team Stealth Action – A weird choice despite how impressive Chaos Theory is. This is a more traditional phone-style game and is a 2D platformer. Still great, but not as good as Chaos Theory.
Tomb Raider – A port of the PS1 game. While technically impressive the controls take a lot of getting used it and it plays link a tank.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater – A fantastic port from the PS1 version. It plays incredibly well and has a smooth framerate.
Virtua Tennis – Ideal for quick game sessions and a disappointing port of the Dreamcast version. The game is mostly 2D sprites, but it still plays decently enough.
Warhammer 40,000: Glory in Death – N-Gage Exclusive. A pretty good strategy game overall. It’s a shock that this genre is one of the strongest on the system despite the hardware and screen working against it.
Worms World Party – Again, another solid strategy game for the system. This is one of the best mobile Worms games you can play.
WWE Aftershock – N-Gage Exclusive. A surprising 3D wrestling game and the only one on the system. It’s mostly playable, but it’s not the best it could be.
X-Men Legends – A fantastic dungeon crawler hand-tailored for the N-Gage. This is one of the best games on the system.
X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse – Another fantastic dungeon crawler like its predecessor. While it plays it safe it’s basically more X-Men Legends goodness.
Xanadu Next – N-Gage Exclusive. An early release title, and while not the best RPG on the system, it’s still pretty decent.