Panasonic will return to console market with hand held "Jungle"

Panasonic has announced today that it is to return to the videogame industry with a new handheld gaming system, despite its early nineties failure with the doomed 3DO Interactive Multiplayer.

The new handseld system will compete with Sony’s PSP and Nintendo’s DS and upcoming 3DS, not to mention the rapidly growing array of smartphones and tablet PCs which can play games and have been causing increasing competition for the traditional floggers of consoles.

With such a crowded market, it raises some eyebrows. Anyone remember Nokia’s N-Gage?

A Panasonic spokesperson indicated that the device will be called the Jungle and there appears to be a teaser website available which shows what it will look like and what kind of market it’s aiming for.

It highlighted the goal of the project to “create an ecosystem around online gaming.” It also advertised an upcoming browser-based Battlestar Gallactica MMO, along with a new Machinima show called Online Underground, which in turn highlighted another MMO. 

This is an interesting move, as the MMO market is huge but mainly confined to PCs. If Panasonic can target this specific area rather than trying to directly compete with Sony and Nintendo for an overall handheld console, it may just be able to make it work. At least until other portable gaming manufacturers and developers clock on, if it takes off.

That is, of course, providing it doesn’t charge through the roof, like it did with the flop that was the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer  in the 1990s. The 3DO launched in 1993 with high expectations, but it had a massive $700 price tag, not to mention expensive games which were few and far between.

With cheaper rivals on the market from Nintendo and Sega, the 3DO struggled to gain traction, and even with prices cuts in 1996 it was discontinued by the end of that year. 

Panasonic attempted to create a  successor to the 3DO called the M2, but this was cancelled in late 1997 when the company realised it would be unable to compete with its rivals, which by that point included Sony’s highly successful PlayStation.

Advertising and game development for the M2 was already in full swing, with the cancellation announced very close to its planned launch, adding insult to injury.

It’s been over a decade since these forays into the games market, so it remains to be seen how Panasonic will fair with the Jungle. The concept is interesting and could appeal to the millions of MMO players who want to game on the move, but with the 3DS set to be released in early 2011 it will be up against stiff competition.