After joining the update list on 30/10/2020 and putting in my order on 29/07/2021 my Playdate finally arrived 08/05/2022 🎉👏
The playstation 5 would arrive in peoples hands roughly a month after Playdate pre-ordering opened, and whilst I’m still waiting on finding one of those 1 I’m happy to say Panic have delivered what they promised, even after some bumps in the road.
Playdate has obviously been a labour of love for Panic, and is being made just for fun. It’s kitschy and cute. Artful and functional. It’s a joke made serious. A black and white handheld with a crank in 2022?!
If you’ve ready any stories or watched any videos comparing this to Gameboys or other handheld portables they are waaaaaay off the mark. This is a Tchotchke, a fun little thing, an art project. It’s not a ‘games platform’ it’s not made to ‘shift units’ or gain ‘market share’. If you’re taking this product seriously, you’re kinda missing the point.
Just like Panics fine FTP software, the presentation is crisp and clear. Panic have always been a company that is passionate about design and presentation and this shines through the boxes and how the device is presented when you first open it. Yellow shines through the whole presentation.
Panic worked on the design with teenage engineering. Not being musically talented, Teenage Engineering had kinda of passed me by, but it’s obvious after looking at their offerings that they make absolutely beautiful pieces of hardware.
Their Mini-ITX case makes me contemplate building a PC. Something I haven’t thought of in years.
Whilst it looks like a simple yellow square at first, it’s a system of the small details that all add up. The more you look at it the more you spot the small considerations and how tight the design is. The screws and how they have holes into fit the optional purple case are a part of the units silhouette, creating an identity (Look at the icon on the back of the unit).
The mesh over the speaker case, the metal on the famous crank. It’s a beautiful looking piece of hardware that looks fun and considered at the same time.
USB-C charging is great, and I can’t wait for the stereo dock
The display is a 1-bit sharp memory LCD. It’s not e-ink but has some of the same properties when it comes to power use. This means the playdate screen is always on, just like e-ink, so it displays the time/date when at rest (you have a choice of multiple different clocks to display when the unit is at rest.
The display being 1 bit means it’s black or white. No greyscale, so greys are made by dithering patterns onto the screen. This gives games a very distinctive look. People will compare the playdate to gameboys and other early handhelds, but this screen really reminds me of the original black and white Macintosh displays. In some ways, the playdate feels like if hypercard had a games console.
I’ve never seen a display quite like this before. Imagine an original gameboy screen without the smearing, or e-ink without the latency. You have to see it to appreciate it. It runs up to 50fps, but games are typically 30fps and in the right lighting it just looks spectacular. It’s such an odd combination of capabilities.
By right lighting however, I really do mean the right lighting. You absolutely must have a good and direct souce of light on the screen. The screen is reflective and not back-lit. Playing in the open air, at a desk under a screen-bar or in my living room under a lamp are optimal for playing.
You can play in indirect light as well, but you will get an experience similar to the O.G. Gameboy as you find the best angle to play at.
The crank is solid and operates….smoothly? How do you describe a crank? It’s an input interface and works really well. Games like WhiteWater Wipeout essentially use it as an analog input. Crankin uses it to fast forward or rewind time, casual birder to cycle your inventory. Is it a gimmick? More of a unique selling point I’d say. There’s gotta be a fishing game in Season 1? 2?
Registering the playdate is like activating a streaming service on a a streaming box. Log into your account on the play.date website and turn your play.date on. The play-date will generate a code that you put on your account that ties the two together! At this point you’ll receive your first two games and your playdate season 1 will begin!
The Games - Season 1
Playdate comes with an entire season of 24 games made exclusively for playdate from a range of developers. I’ve deliberately not looked too hard into what is included with the season as I want the games to be a surprise and will try and do write-ups on them as they become available. So far into the process I have the first two weeks of games unlocked.
- Whitewater Wipeout - The surfing game from California Games
- Casual Birder - A Zelda like collect ‘em up minus the combat
- Crankin presents time travel adventures - From Keita Takahashi!
- Boogie Loops - A Music Sequencer ala fruity loops etc.
The games do seem eclectic, some use the crank, some ignore it. You probably won’t like everything (I have zero interest in Boogie Loops having zero musical talent), but it’s pretty much guaranteed something so far will appeal.
Anyone can develop for playdate and the SDK and documentation are freely available. Several titles have popped up on itch.io with some standouts already out there. Bloom in particular seems one not to miss. There’s no issue charging for your games and side loading is as easy as logging into your playdate account, clicking side-load and dragging the .pdx file containing the application over. This then appears on your download list just like the official Season 1 titles.
Panic have also related an application to mirror the screen to a Mac or PC. A must for streamers or to capture images. I plan to use it as I start to write up about the Season 1 games.
The playdate turned out exactly like I’d hoped. It’s A fun little unique community driven toy you can explore and dig into. I’m excited to see what developers start to create for it as well as exploring the rest of Season 1 as it opens up to me through the next 10 weeks. Couldn’t be happier with the experience!
I plan to write up the weekly games as they come out, as well as review the dock when it’s available.