Two years with the little yellow inspiration machine


Playdate got here out two years in the past, and it’s nonetheless miniscule and yellow with a black-and-white display screen and a pleasant crank on its facet. At the moment, the system has a built-in library of greater than 100 titles, none of that are Name of Obligation, Darkish Souls, The Final of Us or some other big-budget, mainstream sport — and that is exactly what makes it so rattling charming. The group that’s sprung up round this palmheld is vigorous and inventive, and scrolling by means of the Playdate tags on or github seems like hanging out in a pleasant underground clubhouse populated by crank-obsessed online game freaks.

It’s much less disturbing than it sounds, I promise.

For actual although, Playdate has solely gotten cuter and extra related with age. Firewatch writer Panic and {hardware} studio Teenage Engineering unveiled the system in February 2019, pitching it as a sub-$200 handheld with a monochromatic display screen, a crank and seasonal drops of free video games. Pre-orders for Playdate opened in July 2021 and the plan was for shipments to start out by the tip of that yr. Nonetheless, in November, Panic found in its manufacturing line and the corporate was compelled to swap suppliers and delay the discharge. Playdate formally landed in gamers’ fingers in April 2022, and total, reviewers discovered that it was .



Playdate shipped with 4GB of flash storage and 24 free video games, together with Crankin’s Time Journey Journey from Keita Takahashi’s studio uvula and Zipper by Bennett Foddy. Playdate has all the time supported sideloading, too, which means it’s simple to get titles from and different distribution websites on the system. In March 2023, Playdate’s Catalog went dwell, providing a curated collection of 16 video games for buy. Panic additionally upped the value of Playdate from $179 to $199 presently, citing rising manufacturing prices.

At the moment, Panic has offered roughly 70,000 Playdates and its Catalog options over 100 video games, with extra added commonly. Panic held a software program showcase in February and the headliner was , a Playdate-exclusive venture from Papers, Please and Return of the Obra Dinn creator Lucas Pope. Mars After Midnight got here out on March 12, and Playdate had a that week, similar to a grown-up storefront would.

Two years post-launch, it’s clear that there’s no single components for a Playdate sport. , as an illustration, turns the Playdate on its facet and makes use of the crank as a helicopter-style rotor, spinning the propeller cap on a demon trapped in a gothic tower. Cranking controls this horned dude as he slices by means of flying enemies, leaving bits of meat and bone to fall out of the slender body. After which there are titles like , a easy but addictive letter-shifting sport that I’d advocate to all Wordle followers. Playdate helps first-person shooters, detective mysteries, bullet hells, shoot-em-ups, puzzle video games, RPGs, pocket pets, rhythm conditions, action-adventures, racing sims and all method of subgenres, together with some which have been invented only for the platform.

Root Bear

Root Bear by TEAM ROOT

Throughout Playdate’s UI and video games, the crank transforms into tons of of various instruments. There are the usual iterations like crank to scroll and crank to purchase, however there’s additionally crank to pour a drink, crank to fly, crank to fish, crank to spin a report, crank to construct a metropolis, crank to regulate time, crank to crank, crank to survive. Actually each sport on Playdate reveals a brand new use case for the crank or helps show the absurd stage of element doable on a 400 x 240 1-bit show. Many video games do each of this stuff — and Mars After Midnight is one among them.

Because the creature in control of a group room on a Martian colony, Mars After Midnight gamers crank open an statement window and determine the proper aliens for every session, whereas additionally offering snacks, cleansing up with two lengthy tentacles and planning future assist teams. Gamers use the crank to slam the room’s peephole open and shut, however the sport additionally absolutely incorporates Playdate’s A and B buttons, D-pad and speaker, rolling out recent mechanics at a gentle tempo. The sport is populated by lovable, bumbling aliens and cartoonishly cute set items, and it even introduces a whole language.

Just like the overwhelming majority of Playdate video games, Mars After Midnight doesn’t really feel like a pared-down model of a much bigger concept; it was merely meant to be a colorless, crank-powered expertise.

Mars After Midnight

Mars After Midnight by Lucas Pope

I’ve encountered one constant concern with Playdate, and it’s one thing that I didn’t suppose could be an enormous downside after I first reviewed it in 2022. The dearth of backlight in its show is noticeable and infrequently annoying, notably in low-light areas. I usually discover myself tilting the display screen towards a close-by window or lamp, and the system is just about unplayable on a darkish airplane or bus, or with no gentle supply after sundown. When you bear in mind attempting to play an authentic Recreation Boy at night time within the backseat of your mother and father’ automotive, ready for the road lights to flicker previous the window at common intervals, it’s lots like that. There’s a tinge of nostalgia right here, nevertheless it’s principally simply kinda irritating.

Playdate’s largest concern, nonetheless, may be the Stereo Dock. Panic unveiled the Stereo Dock in mid-2021 — it’s a really lovable charging stand, Bluetooth speaker and pen holder that matches Playdate’s nice yellow hue. I’ve wished to plop one on my desk because it was introduced, however the Stereo Dock has been “coming quickly” for 2 years now.

It actually continues to be coming, Playdate Mission Lead Greg Maletic instructed Engadget.

“We apologize to everybody with a Playdate who has been ready patiently for the Stereo Dock; it’s been a trickier venture than we anticipated and we had just a few false begins,” Maletic stated. “We thought we might save a while on that venture by having our manufacturing unit do the software program for the Stereo Dock, however we have realized that you do not all the time essentially need that in some instances. The Stereo Dock could be very a lot alive, we’ve the bodily prototypes to show it! We count on to have a proper replace on when you should purchase one later this yr.”

Playdate Stereo Dock


If the worst factor about Playdate is the truth that individuals can’t get sufficient of it, then it feels like issues are going nicely. The system hasn’t confronted any widespread remembers or {hardware} points, its storefront is rising, its improvement pipeline is , and persons are nonetheless taken with shopping for it (and the Stereo Dock, at some point).

With Playdate, Panic has created a brand new pocket of curious sport lovers, and it’s supplied a platform for innovation that can ripple throughout all sectors of improvement. Playdate is a straightforward, small gaming machine with a single twist — a crank — and in its first two years available on the market, it’s unearthed wells of creativity within the indie scene. By paring down the graphics and including a brand new enter methodology, Playdate modifications the way in which we take into consideration how video games are performed and made. As lots of the trade’s most influential studios are trapped in a cycle of mass layoffs and commonly scheduled crunch, it’s a unbelievable time to rethink what we’re all truly doing right here. Playdate makes this course of pure, accessible and entertaining.



A tool like Playdate doesn’t simply occur. I wouldn’t be fearful about revisiting this factor two years post-launch if it have been too underpowered, overcomplicated or unserious, however this isn’t a humorous gimmick from an organization on a press tour. The sense of class, care and correct prioritization constructed into Playdate is what makes it a clean canvas for thus many various kinds of sport improvement. Playdate is a bit yellow inspiration machine; it’s a bodily reset button for the whole trade. Really, I assume it’s a reset crank.

Go on, flip it. It’s a lot enjoyable.