15 years later: Finally got a Nokia N-Gage

Several weeks ago I took the kids to a local used game shop to see if they had any second-hand copies of Skyrim for the Switch. The boys lost my copy earlier this year and after having switched from PC to Mac I haven’t been able to play it. (Wine isn’t cooperating with Steam, I’ve tried.) The shop didn’t have any so I took a look in the glass cases at the Gameboy games. All I can say is that Nintendo licensed way too many kids movies with bad universal port versions back in the day. Anyway, at the end of the counter was a used N-Gage, something I hadn’t seen since college.

Back in 2003 or 2004, not sure which, I worked a seasonal spot at the game store in the mall. At that point in time the used game section consisted of N64 and Dreamcast games along with, you guessed it, licensed movie games for kids for the PS1. I remember cardboard signs for Diablo II, but didn’t know anyone with a computer that could run it. PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube were the main things out, even though I think the Gameboy Advance was selling better than the cube.

But on a pillar in the center of the shop was a small shelf which held the N-Gage phone/consoles and games. I couldn’t afford my own phone service at the time much less a high-end gaming model. We had a display with a demo of some adventure style game in it which we were too busy to play on. It was Christmas time and most of my job was to replace the empty game boxes back on the shelves after someone bought a copy. Yet the entire two months I worked there not once did I see anyone buy a game for the Ngage or ask me about the console. The guys in the store made jokes about it, how they never really sold any either.

Cut back to the other day when I’m holding a $60 gift card for this particular shop and already own copies of the other stuff in the store, I settled on a copy of Paperboy for the Gameboy and took the kids out for lunch. A week later I went back by myself one afternoon, which was probably an interesting interaction with the staff. How many people wander into a game shop riddled with Xbox 360 cases and dusty NES cartridges and go “Do yall still have that N-Gage?” An empty gift card and two games later I was heading home with the magic game phone I had basically forgotten about for all these years.

Now the thing about a phone that’s a decade old is that the battery (even if new) will not be good. This one didn’t come with one at all so I couldn’t test it until the typical 2 day Amazon delivery. (We don’t have the fancy same day/1 hour stuff around here.) While I waited for the battery to arrive I did some research on the device to see what all I could do with it besides play Tony Hawk Proskater and some Tennis game I haven’t tried yet as of this writing. I’ve wanted a “burner phone” for a while, to take with me on vacation or trips when I didn’t want to be out with my good phone that contains invaluable personal info, credit card, and bank access. I figured this one is old enough that no modern security issues will be a problem.

The phone has no camera, and no wifi option. You can connect via bluetooth but I can’t get it to show up on any devices. To change the games out you have to remove the battery first, and swap out what you would think was a SD card but is actually a thinner MMC card. (I tried to put and SD card in and it’s too thick) The internet probably worked back when it was a T-Mobile phone but I’m using some $5 100 minutes/100msgs service that doesn’t have data.

A quick look into the specs of the phone and it runs off the 2G GSM bands, which is fine for way out here where we still have some lone repeater nailed to an old AM station out in the woods. But by 2020 both ATT and T-Mobile are planning to completely phase out what’s still operating on their 2G equipment. So for now, I have a working pay as you go sim card in it and it works in various areas of the house. When the service dies I still need the SIM card inside in order for it to boot up and play games but 3G/4G won’t be an option. It’s also not the easiest thing to talk on as the mic and speaker are located on the top edge of the phone, making you hold it to your face with the screen facing up.

Ninja phone aside, I really got the thing to play games on. It had been so long since I last played on one I didn’t remember what the graphics even looked like. Considering these are all old java games I expected some terrible janky raspberry pi level graphics. I was surprised when I put Tony Hawk in the system that it played just like the N64/PS1 version. Even with better graphics, it’s easy to see how this didn’t catch on as well as the Gameboy Advance. Even with a lack of light up screen the Advance has a bigger wide format screen and doesn’t require disassembly to swap games.

But hey, the Advance can’t make calls or store a dozen text messages from your ex-girlfriends from 2005 that you left on the device before selling it. (Don’t worry dude, I deleted them all for ya.) One downside to the system currently is that some of the games are insanely overpriced. Like $200 for copies of games with the box. Loose cartridges range in the $30 area, I paid $7 for mine at the shop. What I didn’t know is that there is an Elder Scrolls game for this system called Shadowkey which I’ll have to hunt down one day as well. For now, I’ll be trying to get my hands on the Colin McRae Rally and Sonic N.

This poor phone never stood a chance since the iPhone and Android systems came out not long after the second gen model. Buying physical games is silly when you can just download them to the device. Back when I had flip phones I couldn’t afford the texting services (remember when that was separate?) so I never learned to do the whole numpad speed text stuff, which made trying to change info on the N-Gage super time consuming. 😀 What phone did you have in 2004?

Leave a Reply