N-Gage Review: Splinter Cell - Team Stealth Action

Ditching much of the complexity and trickery of the home version, Splinter Cell on the N-Gage is a translation of a Game Boy Advance game (like far too many N-Gage titles are). This 2-D side scroller has a lot of the charms of a 16-bit title, including extensive platform jumping. It's not Sam Fisher as we have grown to know him, but a small, interesting diversion marred by its controls.

If for whatever reason you would want a child to be introduced to this adult-oriented franchise, this would probably be the way to do it. Stealth is still at the heart of the gameplay. However, it's been simplified to the extreme. It's set up so there's always an open doorway to take shelter in and they're impossible to miss. There's no need to maneuver dead or knocked out bodies around to avoid detection. Rarely are guards crammed into a single room, and their AI routine consists of walking left or right.

Action is more prevalent, and you'll likely do more death dealing on this portable mission than you would elsewhere. Sam has also gained the ability to jump like a cheap Mario knock-off. It's now a crucial gameplay element, including traversing such dangerous areas as stacked boxes or wooden crates. The only thing missing are red explosive barrels. All of this is seen cleanly with a smooth, detailed graphics engine that shows Fisher's finest moves in fantastic 2-D animated style.

Sam still has the majority of his maneuvers, like hanging from pipes and the ability to move quietly. Gadgets are extensive as always, and mini-games (like lock-picking or safe cracking) should be familiar. You're in for no surprises if you've spent time with the character previously.

With the emphasis on jumping, be prepared for faster paced action too. Running is crucial, and sadly, this is the reason things go wrong. To dash, you'll need to tap the d-pad twice. You'll do this often, and for the most part, it's not intended. Levels already follow the prescription of die, learn, and repeat. In this case, you'll do the first item a lot even if you know the layout of the area simply because Sam decides to dash off uncontrolled into a pit of fire.

The checkpoint system it inadequate to accommodate this problem. Instead of repeating a small section of a level, there's a good chance you'll be starting completely over. That's a hard way to learn about the run controls, which are not used properly. With all the face buttons, there should be no need to enter the pause menu to switch to a different vision mode.

Multi-player offers some intriguing ways to play, including a co-operative mode that wouldn't be seen until the third console version, Chaos Theory. All the usual problems mentioned above are here as well, while the levels are reconstructed with the extra help in mind. That's the sole advantage to playing on the N-Gage, and that's assuming you know someone with the console and a copy of this game.

Even in 2-D, Splinter Cell is fun. It's certainly flawed, and Chaos Theory on the N-Gage would prove the console could handle the series in 3-D. That would be the version to play. This port isn't terrible, just lacking in a few areas and missing some key high points of the other versions.

(*** out of *****)

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