"After seeing a huge amount of success during the initial pre-order run, we're positive that the Playdate console from Panic will be a popular pick in the handheld market before long."
Handheld consoles are always great for gaming on the go, which is why systems like the Nintendo Game Boy and PlayStation Portable have remained useful long after their original life-cycle. However, the handheld market has seen a shift in the last few years, with new systems prioritizing power and processing speed over design and software. Enter the Playdate handheld system, created by the indie creators at Panic.
This quirky handheld looks to put fun and indie software at the center of the conversation, while calling back to the days of retro gaming with its bright and appropriately playful design. Not only will the Playdate offer weekly indie games delivered via the internet, but it also features one of the silliest control methods we’ve seen in a while – a crank. After seeing a huge amount of success during the initial pre-order run, we’re positive that the Playdate console from Panic will be a popular pick in the handheld market before long.
"The first batch of Playdate consoles has already sold out, with over 20,000 confirmed pre-orders already placed."
What is the Playdate and How Does it Work?
The Playdate system is simple, designed for players of all ages and skill levels. The unit is comfortably tiny, sitting at approximately 3 inches long in length and width. The screen is around 2.7 inches long, displaying simple black-and-white video in 400×240 resolution. There is a standard four-way directional pad on the face of the system, next to two classic “A” and “B” buttons. Apart from this nostalgic setup, the Playdate differentiates itself with a small crank lever that pops out of the side, used in some of its included games. If anything, the crank is a perfect representation of what the Playdate is all about, being goofy and quirky while begging to be tinkered with.
Unlike other handhelds that utilize cartridges of miniature discs, the Playdate’s game library will be delivered entirely via your internet connection. When you purchase a Playdate, it comes with a “season pass” of 24 unique games, with two games delivered each week. Once you download the games onto the Playdate (which contains 4GB of flash storage), they’re yours to keep forever. Every game has been specifically designed for the Playdate, ranging from time-travel adventures to a round of golf.
The Playdate console and the first season of games come out to $179, with all current orders being delivered sometime in 2022. The first batch of Playdate consoles has already sold out, with over 20,000 confirmed pre-orders already placed. This initial round of consoles will arrive sometime in late-2021, so some lucky early adopters will get to play by the end of the year.
"For example, the tiny black-and-white display is highly reflective, but not it's not backlit, giving modders something to strive for at the start."
The Future of the Panic Playdate
While the Playdate is an irrefutably offbeat handheld with lots of potential, many worry about the future of the console, especially given its direct-to-system game delivery. The first 24 games will be fun enough, but with no official plans for a second season of games, it might be hard to plop down $180 for just a few dozen indie titles. Luckily, developing new games for the Playdate will be a seemingly simple affair, with a focus on easy-to-use development software for all. Hopeful game creators will be able to develop titles for the Playdate using the custom software development kit, or through a simple browser-based, no-coding solution called Pulp. Although the Playdate hasn’t hit store shelves yet, it seems like the homebrew scene is already getting started.
There also seems to be a decent potential for mods, as the Playdate is missing just a few important features that many handheld gaming loyalists will want. For example, the tiny black-and-white display is highly reflective, but not it’s not backlit, giving modders something to strive for at the start. Also, while the bright yellow casing is cool enough, I can easily see some custom case mods popping up after a bit. Either way, the Playdate offers loads of potential in both the modding and homebrew scene, and will surely be a handheld to keep on your radar as we move into 2022.