The Playdate caught my eye when it was first announced and a close friend and family member who works for Panic got me beyond excited for its release. The Playdate struck me as the perfect marriage between nostalgic and innovative gaming. Due to the stress of the global supply chain over the past two years, Playdate kept getting pushed back like a Lil Wayne album. Finally, after 15 months of waiting, it arrived. Three days in and I can safely say my initial hopes have been met.
This little yellow device is truly special. A simple directional pad, two buttons, and a hand crank make up the controls for the games. It also has a lock button at the top of the device as well as a settings button to return to the main menu or to adjust the volume. The device itself is barely larger than a credit card. The screen may best be described as a high def gameboy screen. The little speakers on the device pack a nice punch and the included headphone jack will make gaming on my commute a welcome new practice.
My Playdate arrived on Saturday morning and already had 2 games downloaded onto it. Every new Playdate is guaranteed at least 24 brand new games designed specifically for the device. This contingent of games is referred to as Season 1. Inferring there will more than likely be future seasons to come, though it is likely those will come with an added cost. After registering the device, the user will receive two more games every week for twelve weeks. That’s not the limit by any means. Only a few months since the first batch of pre-orders shipped and there is already a very healthy community of independent developers creating awesome games that can be sideloaded onto the device.
My Playdate started out with Casual Birder, a pokemon esque rpg based around snapping photos of wild birds and using the crank to focus the camera. I got hooked immediately. The second game was Whitewater Wipeout, a killer surfing minigame that uses just the crank to “steer” the surfboard in an attempt to gather points with aerial tricks. The next two games in my Season 1 delivery were Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure and Boogie Loops. So, in my first 4 games I have an RPG, an extreme sports mini-game, a music emulator, and time travel experience that seems to regularly end with my character getting kicked in the balls.
The hardware itself can’t help but feel nostalgic. A full upgrade in quality to the handheld devices of 20 years ago, but outside of the crank it should be quite familiar to most casual gamers. The crank is awesome but stands as the physical metaphor to the true innovation behind the device. The good folks at Panic are actively supporting independent developers to build games for the Playdate. Either using their software development kit for the experienced developer or their excellent browser based game builder Playdate Pulp for those without coding experience.
Panic and Playdate want their fans to be as creative and experimental as the hardware allows. The crank provides a non-traditional tool in the gaming world and all 4 games I’ve played so far employ it to totally different means. I will be patient with Season 1’s games, but after playing them all through I cannot wait to see what the Playdate community has come up with. The wait times on orders should be much shorter now, with all final pre-orders shipping in early 2023. I absolutely recommend you sign up for yours today.