• The greatest videogame of all time – 'Snake' on a Nokia phone. (Wikimedia Commons)Source: Wikimedia Commons
In the billion dollar mobile gaming industry, there is still one game that surpasses them all. The one on your old Nokia.
Rob Hunter

15 Nov 2018 - 2:56 PM  UPDATED 14 Dec 2018 - 12:07 PM

The Rise And Fall Of Nokia Mobile presents the story of the unlikely Finnish tech company that changed the world, building phones that were so solid they could be used as house bricks. Yet while Nokia’s phones provided the innovative and affordable ability to travel while staying globally connected, many fans used them for a grander purpose: playing Snake.

With its origins in the arcade game Blockade in 1976, Snake has taken on many iterations, with game designers correctly predicting a huge market for people wanting to steer a featureless rectangle around a box.

As technology improved and the game developed into something only slightly different from what it already was, Nokia saw an opportunity, preloading an early version of Snake onto its model 6110 phones in 1998.

At the time, mobile phone technology was becoming increasingly affordable and widespread, but it wasn’t until the year 2000 that the game’s popularity skyrocketed worldwide, thanks to the introduction of the celebrated Nokia 3110.

Selling 126 million units preloaded with Snake II, the phone was a global sensation known for its sturdy nature and straightforward functionality. With few other mobile gaming options available, Snake quickly became one of the most widely owned and played games of all time. Demonstrating much-improved graphics, almost perfectly replicating the exact feel of being a real-life snake in a real-life jungle (as seen below), the game was understandably a hit.

Requiring players to guide a pixelated rectangle around a green screen collecting circles and bugs, it was simple and addictive. The game was also wildly infuriating, leading to rage-fuelled tantrums, and to phones being thrown against walls as bugs spawned in uncatchable positions. Fortunately the 3110 seemed built to survive a nuclear explosion, allowing players of all ages (and tempers) to enjoy the thrill of the bug chase and growing the snake’s tail.

Though some played as a means of passing time, the ultimate goal for any true Snake fan was to fill the entire screen with the snake’s body, completing the game. Tactics varied, but the most effective strategy supposedly involved manoeuvring the snake in elongated vertical or horizontal lines and filling the screen to the edge, thereby forcing bugs to appear in easily accessible space. Simple in theory, this proved far more difficult to execute in practice for all but the most expert of players.

For most, the lure of achieving a high score was reason enough to continue playing. There was also the cutting edge option of multiplayer gaming using a simple and not at all massively inconvenient method, requiring the use of Nokia’s infrared detection:

Brilliant in its simplicity and rarely veering too far from its originally compelling roots, the game has since been adapted into countless versions over multiple platforms. It can even be played online here or on the recently released retro version of the Nokia 3310.

Admittedly, the new snake may be too realistic for fans’ liking, but its ongoing appeal in the face of modern phone and gaming options is a tribute to Nokia and Snake’s timeless charm.

The Rise And Fall Of Nokia Mobile charts the journey of a company that changed the world, presenting portable, global communication to the masses. But for providing countless hours of fun and helping pioneer the concept of endlessly staring at our phones rather than using them to communicate, Snake remains Nokia’s finest achievement.


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