Although the N-Gage's game library is pretty limited it can't be said that it has a shortage of "mascot characters," including such hits as Sonic, Tomb Raider and so on. Allow me to introduce you to one of these mascots, Sonic, Sega's blue hedgehog in Sonic N. It's not an original game but is instead a port of Sonic Advance this leads to the questions: Is it as good as or better than the Game Boy Advance version?
Sonic N, like its GBA counterpart is a very good game from a design point of view. In addition to the somewhat paltry twelve missions, Sonic N offers four characters to choose from; each with their own specialties that open up new possibilities and a reason to play through levels more than once. Not only do the multiple characters add replay value to the game, they're an excellent way to give players a chance to tackle each level at their own pace.
Level design is good for the most part and really lets players take advantage of the different characters' unique abilities. For example, there are stretches of track that grant Sonic the room to reach screaming speeds, and there are special areas that can only be reached by exploiting Knuckles' climbing abilities. Each level, while sporting the same layout for all characters, offers something new to each one. That said, there are still a few annoyances, such as pop-up spikes that appear (without warning) just in time to catch Sonic just as he begins to reach full speed (developer Sonic Team's way of keeping gamers on their toes? Or just a way to drive them mad with apprehension?).
Sonic N is sorely lacking N-Gage Arena and multiplayer modes. If a simple racing mode along the same lines of the included single-player time attack mode would have been implemented, it would have greatly increased the game's replay value. And seeing as Tomb Raider and Pandemonium both have online Shadow Racing modes, surely Sonic N could easily have joined in on the N-Gage Arena fun.
With slick level designs, and a great assortment of playable characters Sonic N should be a blast right? Not quite. While it's not a problem with many other games, the N-Gage's screen ratio just doesn't work well for the speed-intensive Sonic franchise. When bolting through a level at high-speeds you must be able to see a good distance ahead in order to avoid approaching danger, and unfortunately the N-Gage's vertically biased screen makes this a pain in the ass. The developers made an attempt to ease this problem by adding an option to switch to a widescreen perspective (based on the ratio of the GBA screen), where the camera zooms out to open the field of view, but at the same time constrains the screen considerably with letterboxing. While this technique is more practical for playing Sonic N, the price for practicality is a major loss of visual quality. Sonic N is a good game, but it is severely hampered by the N-Gage's unfriendly screen ratio. A complete reworking would have been necessary to make this game fun to play on Nokia's handheld, because as it stands now the game's design severely clashes with the delivery medium. Sonic is best played widescreen!
It's puzzling that the N-Gage can handle PlayStation quality graphics but can have trouble with a 2D game like Sonic N. I've classified Sonic N's varying graphical quality into three distinct stages; the zoomed out letterbox mode would fall under the crappy and distorted category, the zoomed-in view while Sonic is stationary is excellent, and while moving, the environment stutters badly. If the GBA version of the game ran without any of these problems there is certainly little reason the N-Gage version should be plagued with them.
Sonic N features light-hearted and catchy tunes that sound similar to previous Sonic games. Music samples aren't very high quality and have a slightly grainy and distorted sound to them (which gets worse with headphones). Sonic N's overall sound design is stylistically good, but suffers from a low quality sample rate (most likely to conserve game card space).
Sonic N is a great game that ultimately may be impossible to fully enjoy with the limitations of the N-Gage's screen ratio. And Sonic N strangely ignores the N-Gage's connectivity capabilities by omitting any online or multiplayer modes (let's see, Tomb Raider shadow racing or Sonic shadow racing?). To top it all off, the N-Gage version of Sonic is outshined in graphics and sound by the Game Boy Advance (with its less powerful hardware!) version. So if you own an N-Gage (and not a GBA) then be sure to pick this up if you can find it cheap.