Now that the Playdate handheld console has begun to ship, and is still taking orders for future units, it felt like it was time to come together and have a chat about it.
The Playdate is a handheld video game system by Panic that features a small suite of 24 custom-made games. The console itself features the now-standard d-pad and A+B button combo, but it’s the crank on the side that sets it apart. You could be forgiven for thinking the crank is used to power the device. It isn’t. Rather, the crank is used as an extra controller input in several of its built-in games. The goal is to recapture the retro simplicity of the GameBoy in a modern device and prove that simple, effective games can still be a draw for a core gaming audience. The Playdate’s point of difference is that it doesn’t give you access to all 24 games right away. Instead, it operates on a seasonal model, rotating two new games onto the device once a week.
Did Kotaku AU get one?
Sadly no, we were not lucky enough to secure a model for launch. My indecision over whether to throw an order down now has me waiting until 2023 for a preorder fulfilment. I have to imagine that the long wait time is now going to turn a few punters off throwing down an order. Let me know if you’ve been caught in a similar boat and how you feel about it. Would you prefer to wait for a follow-up model in case of unforeseen issues? Are you a disappointed early adopter? Let us know.
Plenty of folks did manage to secure one and we’ll start this edition of Community Review by looking over those.
The critical consensus
It seems like precious few outlets in Australia were able to get their hands on one of these devices. The most prominent review is from Press Start Australia. Shannon Grixti writes that he liked the device, praising the simplicity that ultimately drew him in. I can understand Shannon’s perspective here. As Shannon rightly says in his review, we now spend so much time downloading or updating 100GB games that simply turning a device on and play has become a novelty. This is where the Playdate’s strengths lie. This is how it instantly captures the hearts of ’80s and ’90s kids when they see it. Anything to get a little of the era of Insert Cartridge, And Play back.
Overseas, IGN’s Seth Macy called the device “a delight.” Gamespot’s Steven Petite had nothing but nice things to say about the device’s overall build quality. Game Informer’s Matt Miller gave the device a B+, stating that its charms quickly wore thin as factors like the lack of backlight became serious deficiencies.
So, right away, a consensus is beginning to form. What surprised me was the number of reviews from tech sites that don’t cover games as a primary beat.
Gizmodo US’s Andrew Liszewski got hold of the unit for a review. That piece later appeared on our sister site, Gizmodo Australia, and we shared it on our main page earlier this week.
CNET’s Scott Stein loved the glee with which the Playdate breaks modern hardware design conventions entirely in the name of fun. Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech found the system to be a wonderous little thing, undiminished by an issue with crank hitching that every owner should be aware of. The Verge’s Andrew Webster liked that the Playdate’s willingness to be weird was what gave it such a point of difference. Julian Chokkattu at Wired gave it a 7/10, once again complaining of the eye strain caused by the lack of a backlight.
Indeed, the backlight seems to be the thing that many critics couldn’t get past. While certainly era-appropriate and an on-the-money throwback, the GameBoy’s lack of a backlight was an attempt at power saving. Unlike the GameBoy, the PlayDate runs on an internal battery charged via USB-C. It’s one thing to ape the designs of the past. However, if that actively hurts useability, then is it ultimately worth the complaints to follow? Only Panic can speak to that.
Have your say
With that, it’s over to you, dear reader. Did you manage to secure a Playdate for launch? If so, we’d love it if you shared your thoughts and impressions in the comments below! If you weren’t able to get one, what drew you to the device in the first place?