Panasonic's Surprise DS Competitor Has a Chance to Survive

Tuesday, Oct 5, 2010  |  Updated 3:35 PM PDT
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Panasonic's Surprise DS Competitor Has a Chance to Survive

Can Panasonic's latest toy survive?

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That headline above was originally going to read "Panasonic's Jungle is doomed to fail." The more I thought about it, though, the more I wonder if maybe it does have a chance. A slim chance, but here it is.

Notice we're using words like chance and survive. Nintendo probably isn't shaking in its boots — after all, it's got a potentially massive release in the 3DS right around the corner. Still, maybe the Jungle will surprise us all.

For those unfamiliar, the Jungle is Panasonic's take on handheld gaming and is geared toward playing online and playing massively-multiplayer games (or MMOs). (The most famous example of what kind of game you could expect to play is World of Warcraft. The most infamous? Second Life.) It's worth mentioning that Panasonic has pushed out a multiplayer-focused video game console before with the 3DO, but that was back in '93. It's definitely been a while.

It's this online focus that gives the Jungle more than the snowball's chance any handheld has going toe-to-toe with Nintendo's portable dynasty. If there's one great weakness when it comes to the DS or the PSP, Sony's offering, it's the lack of online multiplayer and the fact that they both make social interaction with other players frustratingly convoluted. Handheld multiplayer is often amazingly limited, needing assistance to get online lest you're okay playing with friends locally — as long as you all own the device and game and can get together in one spot. The Jungle could change all that if it lives up to its "play anywhere" promise using Wi-Fi or 3G.

That said, the Jungle's online focus could also be its downfall. You need numbers, or else an online game quickly feels dead. The more games you have for the unit, the more spread out your player-base becomes as well. It's a dangerous place for a new piece of hardware to be, especially an untested one.

That, and MMOs such as World of Warcraft have never really thrived anywhere but on the computer — the consoles have proved to be a dead zone for the games. Maybe handhelds will be verdant territory, but we'll just have to wait and see.

Details are still being revealed about Panasonic's Jungle, though we know it'll have a directional control pad and set of buttons like a controller, be rather large for a handheld, and feature a full QWERTY keyboard (most likely to chat with). As for games, apparently it'll have a Battlestar Galactica-themed title at launch, but nothing else is solid yet.

In any case, good luck, Jungle. Many have fallen — remember the N-Gage? — where you hope to thrive.

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