It’s good to plan but surprises are nice too. We hear about new games all the time, getting ready for the release date and setting aside appropriate time depending on whether the next anticipated release is a shooter, arcade game, RPG, etc. Sometimes, though, it’s good to know that something is showing up even if its identity is a complete mystery. That’s the theory behind the release schedule for Panic’s forthcoming handheld, the Playdate. It’s a little yellow machine with a black and white screen and a hand crank on the side, and it looks to be a wonderfully odd little beastie.
First off, it’s important to put the console in perspective. This isn’t a Game Boy, and Panic isn’t trying to break into the mass market. It’s a fun little device for people who like this kind of thing, with a marketing plan that would never fly for a device expecting to sell in the millions. The basic idea is that the $150 entry price gets you the console plus the first season of games, one a week for twelve weeks, and only one of them has had much information revealed about it. The first game available on release is from Keita Takahashi, Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure, and it uses the hand crank on the side exclusively to control the flow of time for a robot trying to arrive to its date on time. It’s not a requirement that all games use the crank, so there will be titles using the classic plus pad and A/B buttons, but how many will be a mystery until all of Season One is released.
For the first season of games Panic reached out to a group of high-profile indie developers. In addition to Keita Takahashi there are confirmed games from Bennet Foddy (Zipper), Zach Gage, Shaun Inman, and more to be revealed later. Much of what comes after Season One is going to be defined by the reaction on launch, which is still a ways off. Today is the announcement with on-sale alert signup going live, but pre-orders don’t start until the end of the year with actual shipping beginning in early 2020. While the future of Playdate is murky, partly intentionally and the rest being down to reception, what we do know is that the system is designed with the ideas of playfulness and discovery, and the hardware should allow developers to create all sorts of quirky and fun little oddball titles.
While the guts of the Playdate are to be revealed later, Panic describes it as “real beefy”. The innards power a 2.7″ (68mm) 400 x 240 non-backlit LED screen, with the promise that the sharpness of the display includes no grid lines or blurring like on the classic Game Boy. Consumer-level black and white LCD tech has come a long way since 1996’s Game Boy Pocket, which for comparison had a screen resolution of 160 x 144. The actual Playdate hardware is a tiny little thing, almost perfectly square at 74mm x 76 mm x 9 mm. The handle of the crank tucks into a slot on the side, although even when put away it looks like the crank’s arm adds a bit more width to the unit. Either way, the whole thing is tiny, friendly, and very cute.
While still a way off before the pre-order goes live, you can sign up for notification at the bottom of the Playdate web site. Head on over and take a look, because however it turns out the Playdate at the very least promises to be unique.