N-Gage Review: Pandemonium!

It's hard to sell a new system when its launch titles are ports of seven-year-old games, and not even complete ones at that. Much like Tomb Raider, Pandemonium! hasn't aged well, and even if there are die-hard fans still lingering, even they should be able to admit it's uneventful now. This is a dull 16-bit platformer mixed in with some nicely rendered 3-D landscapes. To call it anything else would be cheating yourself.

While later N-Gage titles would find work-arounds, Pandemonium! has no music aside from certain events (end level, death). While running, jumping, collecting, and bopping enemies on the head, you'll only have the aggravating sound of leaping to accompany you. The audio is as barren as the levels, devoid of challenges for long stretches, little to do, and hardly any encouragement to seek out hidden areas.

The two characters to pick are different, though Nikki is the only real option. Her double jump, even though completely unresponsive at times (it requires an inhuman specific timing that is based far more on luck than skill), is a requirement to navigate some sections. As levels increase in complexity, player's selecting Fargus will have a harder time doing just about anything.

Enemies and bosses provide rudimentary challenges to anyone who's played more than two video games in their life. The basic collect-a-thon/jump gameplay has been run dry, and even with the new technology from 1996, it shows there's nowhere else to take this standard and derivative game style. In fact, the 3-D technology hinders the game more than it helps make it look great. Certain camera angles during this 2 ½-D platformer make it difficult to judge distances or where certain power-ups are (things floating in the air without a shadow is simply awful design).

The N-Gage version doesn't lose much in the translation, except the music. Controls only require two buttons, and with over a dozen to work with on the face of the system, any combination you desire is possible. The vertical nature of the screen doesn't hinder the action too much either, and since so few enemies are scattered about in the first place, running into one on accident is rare. It's a mystery why they didn't port the far better (though not perfect) sequel.

Maybe a small child can appreciate the candy-coated fantasy world of Pandemonium!, but a kid that age probably isn't going to ask for a N-Gage to play it on regardless. With all the Mario and Sonic games out there, taking the role of a court jester named Fargus doesn't sound very appealing in the face of competition either. Time wasn't kind to this one.

(* out of *****)

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