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'Playdate' hasn't lived up to its name, but there's still hope

Samuel McConnell

Most video game systems go for broad appeal - Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all try to make their hardware as attractive as possible to the widest customer base. But increasingly, there are more niche systems being made that definitely have a narrower market. Devices like the Playdate, made by a company called Panic.

The Playdate is a tiny little thing, about three inches on each side. The display is strictly black or white, with no backlight, but it is strikingly sharp and reflective. This makes it great to play outside or under a lamp, but a bit more challenging elsewhere. It has a directional pad, two face buttons, and, most interestingly, a crank. The crank reminds me of a fishing reel, and is used as a control either in combination with the buttons, or in some games, exclusively.

Some of the games are great, like Casual Birder, which has a cute story interspersed with a puzzle game about finding and photographing little pixellated birds. Or Crankin’s Time Travel Adventures, which is controlled exclusively with the crank, using it to move forward and backward while avoiding obstacles. Others are less games and more toys, like Boogie Loops, which is a simple music looper with a surprisingly robust interface.

The original plan was that games on the Playdate would be released on certain calendar days, and be unlocked for everyone at the same time - hence the name. This would give the system a social element as everyone would be discovering these games at the same time. Unfortunately, as manufacturing difficulties and supply chain issues delayed the release of the device, Panic decided to trickle out shipments of the Playdate instead, and unlock games for each player based on when they got their system. That’s disappointing, but hopefully when they release their next set of games, the original idea will work as intended.

Samuel McConnell is a games enthusiast who has been playing games in one form or another since 1991. He was born in northern Maine but quickly transplanted to Wichita.