I bought a Playdate.

A promo photo of the Playdate handheld console on a yellow backdrop.

On the Eve of Valentines Day, I was sat scrolling Mastodon and a post from the @playdate account popped up on my Home Timeline to announce they had just shipped over 70,000 pre-orders of the console, followed with the news that they expanded the list of countries they ship to by another 20 – including Norway.

I have been keeping an eye on the progress of the cute yellow little handheld gaming system from Panic Inc + Teenage Engineering but never really imagined that I would end up buying one. Clearly, I didn’t need too much convincing.

A promotional image taken from the Playdate media pack. It shows the playdate console with content on the screen and the crank control extended. The console is a cute yellow blocky (but thin) device. It looks like a really slim and mini version of a Game Boy Pocket, but with a crank on the side that you can turn.

So, what the hell is a Playdate?

Playdate is a little handheld gaming console. It’s yellow, small enough to fit in your pocket, and has a black-and-white screen. And a crank.

You buy the console for $199, which is about the 2024 equivalent of what the original Nintendo Game Boy cost at launch. When you boot the thing up and connect it to the interwebs, two games download to your device to get you started.

With no extra subscription cost, 24 games are delivered to you in Season One, which starts from the date you get your console, and 2 new games roll in to your device each week for 12 weeks.

You can also purchase extra games from the Catalog. Today new games cost anywhere from $2 – $15, depending on the game.

Playdate was made by a company called Panic Inc who have been trusted makers of computer software (notably Transmit) for many many years, the most recent of years also brought success as a video game publisher (Firewatch and Untitled Goose Game).

Hold on, you mentioned a crank. What the hell is a crank?

The crank is a cool way of controlling the console and the games. You spin the thing and it will navigate through menus or do a very specific action or task in the game you happen to be playing.

Personally, I think this is one of the unique selling points of the console – it introduces a brand new way of controlling video games into the mix – which is the same sort of appeal the Nintendo Wii brought to the table with it’s weird nunchuck-motion-sensor controllers.

It’s been very nicely designed by Teenage Engineering. The crank turns and turns and turns, but then when you are done cranking for the day, you can tuck it away into the side of the console.

An image swiped from the media kit of the Playdate. It shows a Playdate console lay flat on a surface yet housed in a green cover that magnetically attaches to the back of the small yellow console, and folds over the top, clasping down at the front.

Okay, so what about the games?

Do you remember the part where I said the console was small and the screen was black-and-white? Don’t expect to be playing Red Dead Redemption 2 on this little thing, but rather short games which are great for when you have 5 minutes to waste away on public transport, or slightly longer but still creative games.

Creative is a key word – there are some very fun games. Some of which are fun because of The Crank but others that are fun because they are just so weird and unique. The indie developer community seem to have really got behind this thing and are throwing up tasty morsels of delicious games for you to sample on both the official store and (hundreds more!) on itch.io.

The first two games that hit my console were Whitewater Wipeout and Casual Birder from the Season One release pack:

Whitewater Wipeout is a simple game where you have to surf using the crank. Your only control is the crank and you spin it to control the surfer, build up speed as you surf, and then perform some gnarly tricks above the water for points.

Lose control or surf too slowly and you’re going to crash into a wave and the game ends. Your high score is logged and you get to start all over again. You can also view high scores from the rest of the globe too.

Casual Birder is an RPG where you have to go around snapping photos of birds and completing other little missions. The dialog is humourous, the characters are great, and the game makes use of the crank to “focus” your camera when taking photos.

I haven’t played this one yet so much, but I’m looking forward to when I get a ‘free’ weekend to play through this game.

Also…

Time Travel Adventure came bundled as week 2 or 3 of the Season One downloads (I forget which week) and I love it. The premise is very simple; you are a dude who has woke up late for a date with a girl and you have to turn the crank to make your way through an assault course of life to meet your date… who ultimately ends up kicking you in the balls.

So, you’re busy cranking because you want to run from A to B, but maybe you need to stop cranking and watch time progress in order to smell a flower to avoid being stung by bees, or crank half way from A to B only to realise you are going to need to crank your way all the way back home to avoid getting trampled by a stampede of pigs.

It’s very silly, very fun, and had me laughing to myself on the tram a few times over the past two weeks.

You seem to really like this new video game thing, huh?

So far, so good. I really do like it. I really can’t find anything to complain about – and for those that know me, you’ll know that I really like complaining about things.

Panic Inc have done good and I’m surprised about how good this is. The hardware is great, the whole thing was well packaged, the games are fun, the fact you get 24 ‘free’ games drip-fed directly to the console and they already have a decent catalog of games to purchase… It’s all very impressive.

Personally, I don’t understand how this will be sustainable long-term and so already expect and would genuinely be willing to pay for consecutive Season packs. I guess that’s the plan. Maybe? They can’t give away more “for free”, surely? And the games in the store are just a few dollars – so even if Panic is taking 50% of the cost, WHAT ARE YOUR OVERHEADS?!

Okay. I’ve said too much.

Bye!

TLDR: Buy a Playdate. They are great.


PS: If you are working at Panic Inc. and you are reading this post (unlikely, but still…), then I am curious to know what your “end of life” plan is for the console? Will I still get to keep my games locally on my console? Do your servers still need to be online for it to work? Will you open source it all? Just something to think about, huh?


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