Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Somehow, the words "From the makers of the 3DO" just don't inspire much confidence

Panasonic has announced a new portable handheld game system called the "Jungle". It will apparently be focused on online gaming, and has a touch pad and full keyboard alongside more console-style controls. Not much is known yet, aside from the fact that one of the flagship titles will be a Battlestar Galactica MMO.

First impression: Awful name. I applaud Panasonic's attempt to offer a change of pace from the "game systems that sound like acronyms for government agencies" style of naming seen in the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP, but ”Jungle” sounds like an internal development codename that Panasonic forgot to change for retail. I would have thought it obvious that naming a video game system after vegetation was a bad idea, but I guess not.

Older handheld systems did it far better than their modern successors in this regard. The Nintendo Game Boy, the Sega Game Gear, the Atari Lynx, whatever the hell that portable version of the TurboGrafx 16 was called... THOSE were names for game systems. On the plus side, the inevitable Guns N' Roses references that will appear in every video game press article about this system from now until the end of time pretty much write themselves, which is a timesaver.

It's early yet, but frankly what I've seen so far seems like the worst of several worlds to me: Bigger, less convenient, and almost certainly much more costly than a DS or PSP, less versatile or user-friendly than a laptop computer, pointless overkill for the sort of mobile games people play on cellphones. I also can't imagine playing a game that involved any significant input from a QWERTY keyboard on a keyboard that size. Maybe it'll do better on the Japanese market, where handhelds and wi-fi based multiplayer games are much bigger business than they are in the US.

Alternately, if the Jungle is able to play some of the big MMO names like World of Warcraft- it's still not clear at this point- Panasonic may be able to tap in to the ultra-hardcore MMORPG player/addict/Morlock market. Necessity is pitiless and unyielding, and even the most obsessively devoted MMO player has hitherto been forced to occasionally face those nightmarish interregna- trips to the bathroom, funerals of immediate family members, house fires- when he simply must step away from the computer, precious dopamine draining from his limbic system's burnt-out reward pathways with every moment. The potential appeal of a portable MMO-focused system like the Jungle is obvious, though I'm not sure how much disposable income that particular demographic has.

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