What do Keita Takahashi, 1-bit graphics, Bennett Foddy, a crank, a Stockholm-based engineering company, and Lucas Pope have in common? All signs point to Playdate, the brightly-colored, two-button handheld created by Panic. This nifty little game machine has been sparking interest for years, and with today’s update video, fascinated parties finally received a substantial look at what’s in store when Playdate is finally released to the world.
When gamers the world over are still clamoring to get their hands on the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series and the Nintendo Switch continues to sell out in stores four years after its initial release, is there room for yet another device that plays video games? Panic is unequivocally saying yes, banking on Playdate’s completely unique library developed by a wide range of developers both known and unknown. For the uninitiated: Playdate is an adorably small rechargeable handheld. It has two buttons, a directional pad, and a crank that would fit on the world’s smallest fishing rod. It has Bluetooth capabilities and the ability to connect to wifi. It even has a magnetic charging dock that doubles as a speaker. Imagine if a Game Boy had the stylistic sleekness of an iPhone and the whimsy of Willy Wonka; the result would undoubtedly be this little yellow machine.
With Playdate, Panic wants to recreate a feeling of excitement. Remember driving home from the store with a brand-new game, excited to rip the plastic off without knowing what was inside? Panic plans to roll out games on Playdate (24 in Season 1, with potentially more to come) via wifi. Rather than choosing from a limited storefront, players will be able to download two new games a week for twelve weeks. The sense of excitement about the future of the system is palpable. Whether or not the games themselves become viral sensations is besides the point. Like the website says, “Will you love them all? Probably not. Will you have a great time trying them? Absolutely.”
Conspicuously absent from the Playdate update was an actual release date for the handheld. Preorders will be up in July, with a week’s worth of notice for interested customers. The update video stressed the point that Covid has made manufacturing difficult and that future delays are very possible. While some have had hands-on experience with Playdate, it remains to be seen how well Panic is able to manufacture supply to meet demand. After today’s update, demand might be higher than anticipated.
The lo-fi aesthetic of the device is appealing, and with the attachment of Return of the Obra Dinn developer Lucas Pope and a partnership with Sweet Baby Inc., there are sure to be inventive, interesting games on the system. Panic is making an effort to feature games made by those outside the traditional studio system, and even announced a browser-based development tool called Pulp for those interested in making their own experiences. The whole idea behind Playdate feels bold and experimental, though it is difficult not to think of failures like the Ouya. With the right support and interested creatives, it is easy to imagine Playdate having sustained support for years.