Playdate Console Review

Playdate 5

The Playdate is an odd handheld, but one that is filled with promise. With the power of mobile phones and the Nintendo Switch modernizing mobile gaming, the market has seemed to drift away from the novelty and creativity that lower-powered systems helped establish.  

The Playdate, an eccentric little handheld console launched by indie publisher Panic, seeks to breathe new life into the portable gaming space with its delightfully quirky and unconventional design and concept. This isn’t your standard gaming console; it’s more akin to the gimmicky console from the Game Boy era than a modern handheld, making it a standout in the current gaming landscape. 

Unboxing the Playdate reveals an approach to packaging as unique as the console itself: it’s small, compact, and devoid of unnecessary waste. Encased in minimalistic foam cushioning is the Playdate and a charging wire. The snug fit and compact packaging means you can take it on the go with minimal fuss, and yay, environment, am I right? 

Playdate 1

The handheld is a petite device measuring 76 x 74 x 9 mm, with a square form factor slightly wider and half the length of a modern smartphone. Dominating the top half of the console is a 400 x 240 1-bit black and white display, supplemented by a small speaker and a home/pause button. Below this lies a very tactile D-pad, two buttons, and perhaps the Playdate’s most distinct feature, the crank on the right side. The device’s power button is at the top, while the USB-C port and a headphone jack can be found at the bottom. 

The Playdate’s aesthetic, to put it bluntly, is fantastic. The bright yellow colour gives the device a cheerful and unique charm that sets it apart in the sea of black and white consoles we are used to in the modern era. Despite being less powerful than a smartphone, the device packs enough punch for the games designed for it-more on that later. A ten-hour battery life ensures uninterrupted gaming sessions, and thanks to easy USB charging, it is never a problem to top up this little guy. 

“The Playdate’s aesthetic, to put it bluntly, is fantastic.”

There are, however, some minor hiccups in the design. For people with larger hands (like myself), the device might induce cramping after extended use. Its lack of backlighting requires a substantial external light source, which makes gaming in low-light conditions challenging, if not impossible. The crank, despite being an integral part of the device, can feel a bit flimsy, although it has held up well during all our testing.  However, these flaws do not significantly detract from the overall experience the Playdate offers. 

The Playdate is built for simplicity and portability, a design ethos that clearly shines through. Whether you’re commuting, waiting in line, or simply lounging around, the Playdate’s small footprint and light weight make it a perfect gaming companion for on-the-go situations. 

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At its core, the Playdate is all about video games, and it exhibits this fundamental philosophy from the moment you power it on. A minimalist menu showcases all available games in neat tiles, allowing you to jump straight into the fun.  

The device’s unique selling point is its seasonal approach to game delivery. The first season offers 24 unique titles developed by various indie developers and Panic themselves. This seasonal package approach promotes a sense of diversity and intrigue to the gaming experience on the device. 

“At its core, the Playdate is all about video games, and it exhibits this fundamental philosophy from the moment you power it on.”

Panic continues to bring games to the platform, with catalogue drops happening all the time, bringing new titles that are well worth your attention. Even if some of these are not to your liking, sideloading games onto your device is a breeze. The marketplace is already teeming with unique, indie-developed games, making it a platform worth keeping an eye on. 

The games vary in quality and style, with something for almost everyone. The catalogue drops bring a range of games to the platform, with the games feeling like great value for money. I didn’t find any games that felt like they were breaking the bank, and even standout titles like Shining Gadget or NECROCRISIS manage to cost less than DLC for other systems. This is one of the most affordable handheld gaming systems you can get, and if you like creative indie titles, you will feel right at home with its game library. 

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I enjoyed most of the time I spent with the games, with titles like SKEW, Recommendation Dog and Reel Steal all entertaining and making fun use of the hardware. This is a system built for creativity, and the developer community is picking up the mantle and running with it. Plenty of systems out there cater to the big-budget market, so it is refreshing to see one built from the ground up to be unique and provide a place for creative development. 

The system’s emphasis on indie games is an intriguing and welcome decision. At a time when AAA titles often dominate the headlines, the Playdate provides a platform for indie developers to create unique experiences with a fresh and novel control input. The ever-growing library of free and paid games on the marketplace suggests a healthy community of indie developers eager to explore the possibilities of this distinctive console. 

“If you’re willing to embrace its idiosyncrasies and dive into its quirky library of games, the Playdate could prove to be a worthy addition to your gaming repertoire.”

The Playdate is a charming, distinctive handheld console that won’t appeal to everyone but carves out a niche for itself in the gaming landscape. Despite its slightly steep entry cost, the Playdate offers a unique gaming experience that emphasizes novelty, minimalistic mechanics, and creativity. Some design issues might affect its usability, but ultimately these are minor, especially when the fun. But the Playdate’s unique charm and breath of fresh air it brings to the mobile gaming landscape makes it a compelling option for those who crave creativity and novelty in their gaming experiences 

The Playdate’s commitment to unique, inventive gaming experiences makes it a worthwhile purchase for anyone seeking something different from their handheld gaming. It’s a device that celebrates creative expression and indie development, offering a unique platform for games that wouldn’t feel at home anywhere else. In a gaming landscape dominated by AAA sequels, it is amazing to see a company try something new and innovative. 

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The Playdate can not rival the raw power and graphical capabilities of modern handhelds, but it’s not designed to. It exists as a testament to the innovative and creative potential of gaming, offering a platform where quirkiness and inventiveness thrive. Panic’s Playdate is a bold, unique entry in the handheld gaming market. It bucks conventional gaming paradigms and is a device for gamers who appreciate novelty and creativity and aren’t afraid of straying from the beaten path. 

If you’re willing to embrace its idiosyncrasies and dive into its quirky library of games, the Playdate could prove to be a worthy addition to your gaming repertoire. Despite some design concerns, it presents a truly unique handheld gaming experience that is hard to match in today’s market. It’s not a device for everyone, but for those it does appeal to, it’s likely to be a gaming experience unlike any other

Final Thoughts

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