Review: Playdate is a refreshing and unique gaming handheld, but keep your expectations weird – TechCrunch

Everyone thought it was a little bonkers when Panic announced that they would be making a monochrome handheld gaming machine with a sort of subscription model where you can’t choose the games you get. DOA, right? Well, the preorders sold out so perhaps not. And fortunately, Playdate is a fun, weird and promising device that’s exactly what it sets out to be, and for those attracted to its funky aesthetic and games, a worthwhile purchase.

The original idea of the Playdate was a truly pocket-size gaming machine that set itself apart not just with a black-and-white screen and the inclusion of a crank for gaming gimmicks, but a scheduled release of games that would appear automatically and regularly … a play date.

Unexpected levels of interest from gamers (20,000 first batch units sold out even at the rather high asking price of $180) and developers interested in something new and weird led them to expand the first “season” of games to 24, sweetening the deal somewhat. After a few delays due to COVID and the chip shortage, the Playdate is finally shipping, and Panic was kind enough to send TechCrunch one to test out, with games arriving on an accelerated schedule.

So how is it? Fun and weird — like an indie game or film that asks you to engage on its own terms, the Playdate is its own thing and comparing it to other devices isn’t really productive.

A pocketable Panic production

Side view of the Playdate showing USB-C charge port and 3.5 mm headphone port. It looks canary yellow here but it’s more goldenrod. Image Credits: Devin Coldewey/TechCrunch

First, the device itself. I love it. It’s button cute, banana yellow and Post-It-small. Panic and their partners at Teenage Engineering really nailed the look and feel.

On it you’ll find a directional pad, A and B buttons, menu and power buttons, and of course the famous crank. The D-pad is a little soft but works fine; the main buttons are pleasant to use. And when gripped like a traditional handheld it is quite comfortable even for medium-large hands like my own. I wouldn’t want to play for hours at a time but that’s not the intent here.

The crank has a lovely, smooth feel to it, and it’s remarkably precise in games that use it, giving an almost analog level of precision. There’s enough friction that you never move it more or less than you want, but it’s easy enough to spin that you can do full loops without any trouble.

Image Credits: Panic

Where there is a bit of trouble is in how exactly you’re meant to hold the thing so you can hit the A and B buttons while turning the crank. I’ve found something that more or less works for me, but you end up sort of bracing your hand on the buttons themselves to get the leverage needed to crank, or vice versa. It’s not ideal, but fortunately few of the games require this level of dexterity.

The 400×240 screen is a mixed bag. With no backlight, you’re reliant on ambient light to see it, but since it’s glossy, you end up with reflections of the window or lamp if it’s in the best position. I’ve played plenty without cursing or …….



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