Too Complex

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Now that the hockey season has officially started, my work as a Sports Correspondent can rest for a while. Sure, ESPN NBA Basketball comes out this week, but considering that it is the first of a massive slew of titles, including SSX 3, Rogue Squadron 3: Rebel Strike, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (back in its purist form after 10 years), and the biggest surprise of them all, an early release of Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, there is no time for me to write an NBA report card against NBA Live (then again, I don't care much for basketball, except maybe the Lakers.)

Yes, this week is perhaps the biggest launch week we have had in quite a long time. We could even say that it is officially the start of the holiday season. From here until the holidays releases will increase, and in due time. The game industry has been in under a drought and hopefully the holiday season fixes that.

Sad to say, however, that not all releases turn out to be a success. And that's what brings me to what I wanted to write about last time. Mobile phone maker Nokia, or Jokia as I call them, entered the gaming market with their cell phone/MP3 player/Web browser/portable gaming system called the N-Gage.

Initial presentations at E3 were unimpressive. The N-Gage had a dismal showing, and many critics including myself, considered the N-Gage as the biggest disappointment of E3. As time went on, impressions were left unchanged. Even my European colleague Chella had a chance to test it out with negative results.

Nonetheless, the N-Gage was released to stores worldwide on the 9th, but no one seemed to care. I called several stores in Maryland, DC, and Virginia, and the most that each store sold was only two units.

Whatever happened to the days of monster launches? Who could forget 9/9/99, when the Dreamcast made a $94 million splash to American stores nationwide? Even so, what about the madness that occurred when the PlayStation 2 was launched, where riots broke out in France and systems were available on eBay for upwards of a grand? None of that was to happen this time. As a matter of fact, this miserable failure made me come to the decision to refer to the N-Gage but a more proper name…THE UN-GAGE!

Anyone who takes a close look at the Un-Gage, and you could see why it would become a failure. We're talking about a system that has graphics capabilities that could only rival the PlayStation One, but with a miserable frame rate. The control is a joke, featuring a miserable D-pad and a very confusing button layout. Using the cell phone is also laughable, considering you hold it to the side (as if you were listening to an original Game Boy Advance with your ear to the L and R triggers), and the interface is downright confusing, even for those who are used to cell phones.

However, the most disturbing fact about the Un-Gage is how to change games. To do so, you must take off the back cover, remove the battery, then slide out the old postage stamp sized game card (which is prone to easily being lost), insert the new game card, reinstall the battery, and snap on the cover again. All this is needed just to play a new game, when the GBA only requires a single cart swap?

Not only that, but to use the Un-Gage as a cell phone, you need to have a provider that supports tri-band. I may be mistaken, but only T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless are supported. Since I use Sprint PCS, I would be out of luck. Then again, Jokia has never been very supportive of the Sprint PCS CDMA band, but favoring GSM instead.

But competition might be the Un-Gage's biggest flaw. Jokia is trying to take on the stranglehold of Nintendo and its Game Boy Advance. When the Christmas holiday gets here the Game Boy Advance and the SP will have thousands of games available while the Un-Gage will have less than 20, and while the GBA will stick with its tried and true formula with mass success, recent reviews of Un-Gage titles will spell instant doom for Jokia.

As far as I'm concerned, I will most likely share the same opinion as the general masses who have turned down the N-Gage. I own a Game Boy Advance, and I also own a Samsung A500 (A Sprint PCS phone). Both items cost me a total of $230 combined. Compared to the $300 I would have to spend for the Un-Gage, I would still have enough money to get Super Mario Advance 4 and another GBA cart. It seems as though my predictions of the Un-Gage being the biggest flop since the Virtual Boy might come true. Sorry Jokia!

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