Playdate: Questions About The Bizarre Handheld Console Answered

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Playdate is a weird, little handheld console and I am all about it. Panic

As someone who has covered the video game industry for almost a decade now, it’s rare that a company announces a new project that is truly unique. In a world filled with endless sequels, remakes, and remasters, the games that seemingly come out of left field are the real personal highlights. So imagine my surprise when a novel new handheld console was revealed.

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The Playdate is a new video game console that releases in early 2020 Photo: Panic

Called the Playdate, the handheld looks like a Game Boy Pocket, with a crank on the side. No, this crank isn’t used to power the console. Instead, it’s an input device, with game developers creating unique experiences for the odd addition.

The Playdate is the first piece of hardware created by Panic, a software developer and game publisher famous for publishing Firewatch and the upcoming Untitled Goose Game. Panic also teamed up with Swedish electronics company Teenage Engineering for the project. Player.One spoke with Greg Maletic, the Director of Special Projects at Panic, about Playdate and what gamers can expect for the strange and exciting new handheld.

Along with the novelty of the entire console, one major hook for the Playdate is the line-up of games. There are 12 games planned as of right now, developed exclusively for the Playdate. However, the hook here is only one game has been revealed so far. The other 11 titles will release in weekly intervals via a WiFi download. The games will be kept secret until the week they launch.

If you’re skeptical or confused about the project, then your first question is likely going to be a simple ‘why?’ The answer is because the team at Panic wanted to create a nostalgic device. “ We started this project wanting to create a Nintendo-style Game & Watch game,” Maletic said. “The display we chose — a SHARP Memory LCD, that looks like e-Ink but with a much higher refresh rate — really mimicked that Game & Watch look nicely, so that was the first thing we settled on.”

While the device is intended to be reminiscent of older systems, game developers were excited at the prospect of creating new experiences. “Surprisingly, [the response] was almost universally positive,” said Maletic. “Developers were very excited to program for a very different sort of device. Not to mention, one that's quite easy to write for.”

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The Playdate looks kind of like a squished Game Boy, but with a crank built into the side of it. Photo: Panic

It seems an extra challenge to sell a console as unique as the Playdate while purposefully keeping the games a secret, but Maletic has assured those interested that there will be a broad selection of titles once all 12 are released. “We can guarantee that Playdate owners will get a lot of different experiences: some on the funnier side, some wackier, some more beautiful,” he said. “But hopefully all are enjoyable and rewarding.”

Maletic did confirm that the Playdate has “a decent amount” of flash memory, which means games can take advantage of save states and longer experiences. Will we get something as epic as The Legend of Zelda or Pokémon? Maletic didn’t share the longest game experience on the Playdate, but did mention more would be announced as the handheld enters the pre-order phase.

While we do know the Playdate can connect to the internet, Maletic was careful to avoid mentioning if the device is capable of other functions aside from playing the 12 games. “We’ll have more to announce in the future,” he said when asked about the handheld’s other features. That said, given the black and white screen, I doubt you’ll be streaming Netflix on this thing any time soon.

As for the future of Playdate, Maletic said there are no concrete plans as of right now to expand the game offerings beyond the initial 12 titles, but if there are enough gamers interested and enough good games to release, Panic is happy to do so.

If a second season of games is released, Playdate owners will probably have to pay for the new content. “There will likely be some additional charge to buy follow-up seasons,” Maletic said. “We haven't yet finalized how that will work, or what that amount will be, but we'll make sure it's a price that seems fair and reasonable to Playdate owners.”

Panic has not started collecting pre-orders for the Playdate just yet, but it has been confirmed that the device will cost $149. Those interested can sign up on the official Playdate website to be notified when the handheld does start taking order requests. The devices are expected to arrive to fans in early 2020, so pre-orders are likely going to begin soon.

So what do you think? Are you excited to learn more about the Playdate once pre-orders become available? Will you pick up one of these novel handheld consoles? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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