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15 June, 2024
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Playdate: Retro Inspired in More Ways Than One

Playdate: The Game Boy and Famicom Successor

Consoles as a novelty. A toy. These ideas have been a Nintendo staple for years, and even that may change with the success of the Switch and discussion of a more powerful successor. There was a time, not long ago, where strange experimentation was common and taken for granted. 

And that’s where the Playdate steps in. It’s not powerful but it is retro-styled, cute, and speaks to creativity and playfulness. It speaks to the playfulness of retro consoles and their branding such as the charming mascots of the Famicom. The construction of the Playdate, the marketing, and even the OS embody a spirit predominantly lost to gaming.

It echoes gaming as it was, but also how retro gaming is. Tinkerers, preservationists, the community we’re surrounded by. The Playdate is an open dev environment. It has a robust SDK with documentation, and Pulp for those not familiar with coding. It’s a culmination of these ideas, and periods of time, in a cute yellow box.

“There was a time, not long ago, where strange experimentation was common and taken for granted.”

The console is weird. The black and white screen isn’t centred, and it has a distinctly industrial design. With the crank it’s downright unordinary.

But so are retro consoles.

While the bright colours of the Famicom are mirrored in the Playdate, so is Diskun. Diskun was the mascot for the Famicom Disk System, a charming yellow floppy disk that embodied what the system was. A toy to play games.

The Playdate is more than an homage to 80s and 90s gaming, but a successor. The Playdate mascot could be the grandchild of Diskun, embodying the hardware in such similar ways. The joy of the intro sequence when you turn on your Playdate for the first time, it’s fantastic. It steps you through the few inputs the console has, but also establishes that button presses are interacting with something, something with eyes and personality. Due to the Playdate’s pocketable form factor the mascot becomes a constant companion, two presses of the lock button and they open their eyes on the screen one by one. Hit any other button and they’re dozing. 

In a word. Adorable.

If you’re anything like me, it creates an attachment to the hardware that makes it more than the sum of its parts. With the time and effort modders put into their machines the same kind of sentimentality exists. My Game Boy DMG, my first experience with soldering, is not just like any other Game Boy. It would be the same with your childhood console, the one you modded and still use or refuse to change. It’s by making itself a regular companion on commutes, in the quiet moments, and tinkering on projects that puts the Playdate in this same position.

It brings retro console aesthetics and the ethos of the modding community together. It makes this niche console the successor to a distant era of gaming, at least in my eyes.


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