It was love at first sight. Its neat square frame with smooth, rounded corners. The polished hollow rivets in each corner holding the shell together. The shade of funky, pleasant Super Mario-Block yellowish-orange. That grayscale screen. The classic NES-style controls… and that crank, that bizarre piece of hypnotic ingenuity.
Playdate is a novella of a portable game console. It’s a boutique zine of a Nintendo Game Boy. Even I could’ve guessed that it comes from Portland, Oregon.
Produced by small software developer and game publisher Panic, which recently published Campo Santo’s Firewatch and the upcoming Untitled Goose Game from House House, the Playdate is a new portable console due out in 2020. It’s about the size of a smartphone squashed down into a square with a D-pad, two buttons labelled A and B, and an honest-to-goodness hand crank on its right side, which neatly slots into the device when it’s not in use.
Even the 2.7-inch screen is unique. Panic calls it a “premium” black-and-white screen: it’s like a classic Nintendo Game Boy screen in that it lacks colour or a backlight, but it runs at a higher resolution of 400 x 240 and is highly reflective, similar to the Kindle’s matte screen. There’s also none of the grid lines or blurring that you see on older portables, meaning that its visuals are sharp and clear.
Alongside all this high-end retro-chic oddity comes a catalogue to match, which is like WarioWare turned into a platform. Playdate’s “Season One” will include 12 games in total and will release weekly over three months. Panic has already revealed the first title Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure, a puzzle-adventure from Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi that uses the Playdate’s crank exclusively for its controls.
However, in an interesting move, Panic isn’t planning to fully reveal the rest of the platform’s catalogue – which includes games from Bennett Foddy (QWOP), Shaun Inman (The Last Rocket, Retro Game Crunch) and Zach Gage (TypeShift, Really Bad Chess) – until the games are already released and downloaded to devices. Even if you receive a Playdate mid-season, you’ll start at the beginning of the three-month period and receive each game weekly (though there’s a shortcut to catch up to the season at its current point, whether the season is finished or only part-way through). It’s the video game version of an event calendar.