Playdate: That cute plaything nobody asked for is too hot to handle

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 console the size of a stack of sticky notes. And exactly one with a crank handle on the side has never been imagined. 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. But Panic is also tearing up the rule book in terms of distributing games for its quirky machine. Confident and unexpected in this era of instant gratification, 24 free titles are being sent to every playdate – 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 bundled games is known. Developers are free to create and sell their own titles directly to Playdate owners – there’s no such thing as a walled garden as executed so well by Apple, PlayStation and Xbox.

So much for the Playdate theory. In practice, every detail of the machine reflects the careful consideration behind its robust design.

It’s clearly not meant to compete with cell phones and their huge color screens, which feature a small – some would say cramped – monochrome display with a resolution of just 400 x 240 pixels. For reference, the iPhone 13’s screen measures 2,532 x 1,170. With no backlight, you may find yourself squinting at the playdate in darker conditions.

And yet 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.

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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.

The list of must-haves is short – personal favorites are Spellcorked and the Zelda-esque Ratcheteer – while several titles probably won’t linger 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 already sold out until 2023. Playdate: That cute plaything nobody asked for is too hot to handle

Fry Electronics Team

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