September 30, 2022
It's not very often a gaming product gets released from a company entering the space for the first time and gets this much attention. After learning more about the Playdate, it's clear why there is so much hype around it.
What is the playdate?
The playdate console is a new handheld device from Portland based software company Panic.
It's premise is simple — enjoy a simple gaming device with a unique crank feature, while getting a new game airdropped to the device every single Friday.
Keep in mind, this is no competitor to something like the Nintendo switch. It's more for the gaming enthusiasts that want a new experience, and don't mind the limitations of the hardware (a 1 bit display, and no backlight for example).
The first thing I noticed when I got my playdate was the simple, yet charming packaging.
By simply rotating the device inside of the box, it immediately gives it a sense of playfulness.
Inside the box you'll find the console, a color matched USB-A to USBC charging cable, and a small instruction booklet with the basics.
So many design details
Rather than Panic trying to get into industrial design, they decided to hire one of the best in the business — teenage engineering.
They are known for their innovate designs in the music space, but this is the first time they've jumped into the gaming space.
The console is straight forward, and is almost reminiscent of an early 90s gameboy.
It has a d-pad, a power button, a start button, an A and B button, and it's characteristic crank.
I love how they've included a recessed area in the body of the Playdate, which allows the crank to sit nicely inside when it's not in use.
The console also plays a satisfying sound when the system detects it's in the tucked away state.
The back of the device has a few lines of text about the unit indicating that it's made in Malaysia, as well as the model number.
Notice the industrial looking screws on the corners of the unit as well, it seems like they are somewhat of a staple on Teenage Engineering products.
The device onboarding and UI is just as charming as its design.
You can control the menus using the crank to navigate up and down, or use the d-pad.
Each game is displayed as a wide tile on the home screen, complete with individual artwork.
So far the games have had a nice mix of controls combining the two control methods. Some games use them both, while others only opt for one.
At first I thought the crank would be a gimmick, but after using the Playdate for the last couple weeks, I'm sold on the design.
Is it comfortable to play?
The answer depends on what type of game you're playing. For me, playing games that rely just on the crank makes you hold the device a little bit differently then how you would with the d-pad.
I did find myself getting a bit of hand fatigue on the crank based games, mostly due to the sharp edges of the body of the console.
It's not the biggest deal since these games aren't made to be played for long periods of time, but it is noticeable.
What games are on the Playdate?
This is my favorite part about the playdate — games are introduced in "seasons", and you'll be getting 2 new games every single friday for the duration of the season (12 weeks). That means you get 24 games in the first season alone, and the weekly releases almost turn them into a community wide gaming sort of book club.
The launch games include:
- Casual Birder
- Crankin's Time Travel Adventure
- DemonQuest 85
- Echoic Memory
- Executive Golf DX
- Flipper Lifter
- Forrest Bynes - Up In Smoke
- Hyper Meteor
- Lost your Marbles
- Pick Pack Pup
- Questy Chess
- The Racheteer
- Saturday Edition
- Whitewater Wipeout
- Boogie Loops
- Battleship Godios
A lively developer community
If you do pick up a Playdate, make sure you check out some of third party games available from indie developers on itch.io. I've found a few of the games I've bought are more fun than the games that come included with the system, most notably Bloom, A joke that's worth .99c, and A Balanced Brew
How much is the playdate?
The playdate pre-order is currently available for $179 USD, which includes the first season of games.
Protect your playdate on the go with a durable leather case that attaches with magnets.
How charming is this? The playdate dock not only charges the device, it's a perfect little display piece as well. Teenage Engineering have also designed a custom pen for a holder at the top, and the device acts as a bluetooth speaker as well.
Make your own Playdate games
The team at panic has also put a ton of work into the Playdate SDK (software developer kit) which will allow anyone with a playdate to create and distribute their game through a free web builder. Find more information for developers here.
Battery life expectations
The playdate has a battery life of 8 hours while gaming, and 14 days while it's in its standby clock mode.
Playdate storage capacity
Since the Playdate games are so small, the device itself doesn't need that much storage. It contains a 4GB flash drive, and if it does manage to get full, you can always archive existing games on the system to make room for more.
After playing with the Playdate for the last 2 weeks, I can't deny how much fun some of these games are. The weekly release schedule keeps a content flow of content coming in, and the indie developer community on itch.io is a great resource for find some hidden gems.