As Steve Jobs said in that groundbreaking 1997 Apple ad, “To the weirdos, to the misfits, to the rebels, to the troublemakers… to those who see things differently.”
Giving people what they want seems to be a core tenet of good business, but as Jobs showed, an even better idea is to create something they couldn’t possibly imagine.
Certainly few gamers have cried out for a new console the size of a sticky note. And exactly zero has ever imagined one with a side crank handle. Yet that is precisely the shape of the new Playdate machine, a tiny record that’s both retro and forward-thinking.
Unsurprisingly, this linksfield console isn’t from the tunnel-eyed giants of the industry, but from a small development crew known as Panic, best known for writing Mac productivity software and crediting a handful of indie game hits publish.
Playdate not only stands out because of its charismatic design – in my eyes it resembles a crushed Game Boy in mustard yellow. The elegant packaging is also of Apple-like minimalism and exudes friendliness.
But Panic is also tearing up the rule book in terms of distributing games for its quirky machine. Confident and unexpected in this time of instant gratification, every Playdate gets 24 free titles – albeit at a rate of two per week, which will automatically download over three months.
Therein lies the origin of branding – that you can reserve a weekly play date for new entertainment.
The catalog will not only be limited to Season One as the first wave of free bundled games is known. Developers are free to create and sell their own titles directly to Playdate owners – there’s no walled garden here, as executed so well by Apple, PlayStation and Xbox. Interestingly, Panic has provided a web-based development environment called Pulp that allows virtually anyone to develop a handheld game. It’s not quite as easy as Nintendo’s Game Builder Garage, but rather than diving into the full Playdate developer tools, it will get most people started.
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So much for the theory of Playdate anyway. In practice, every detail of the machine reflects the careful consideration behind its robust design, with solid buttons, a D-Pad and motion-sensing controls as options on top of that quirky crank.
It’s clearly not meant to compete with cell phones and their huge color screens with a small – some would say cramped – monochrome display with a resolution of just 400 x 240 pixels. For reference, the iPhone 13’s screen is 2532 x 1170. Even without a backlight, you can squint at the playdate in darker conditions. Panic allows the Playdate to mirror its screen on a computer when connected with a USB cable, but that defeats the purpose of its portability.
Nonetheless, this cute device still draws you in and encourages the player to lean in and interact with its idiosyncratic design, the most emblematic of which is the right-mounted handle that rotates like a pump or crank. In an age obsessed with touchscreens, this anachronism helps Playdate stand out even more.
Of course, a new console without compelling games is nothing more than an ornament. Playdate’s list ranges from Game Boy-like RPGs to mobile-like match-three games to truly innovative experiments with the hilt. Not every title uses the crank, but those that do use it for things as simple as scrolling text or things as complex as skillfully controlling a surfer do. You may find that games that use the crank extensively become tiring after a while. This is due to the firm grip required with one hand while cranking with the other.
The list of must-haves is short – personal favorites are Spellcorked and the Zelda-esque Ratcheteer – and some titles probably won’t keep you for many minutes once you’ve sampled their wares.
But Playdate already delivers enough to show its potential for weird and wonderful experiences unavailable elsewhere. Here is indeed for the quirky.
- Playdate costs $180 but is now out of stock until 2023.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/games/playdate-review-the-dinky-little-device-with-big-ideas-41614101.html Playdate Review: The cute little device with big ideas