Introducing Playdate: A strange, new kind of handheld

playdate panic handheld

For decades Nintendo has been the king of handheld gaming, but there have always been alternatives. Handhelds like Game Gear, Atari Lynx, and PSP have launched to varying degrees of success. The latest company to enter the fray is Panic. They’ve been developing software for Mac and iOS for years, and in 2016 they published indie hit Firewatch. Their next big adventure is a brand new device called “Playdate.”

Playdate: A new way to play

playdate panic handheld

This new handheld won’t be trying to compete directly with 3DS or Switch. Instead, Panic aims to carve out their own niche. Playdate is a small, yellow handheld device that will remind gamers of the original Game Boy. However, there’s more to it than just a D-pad and two buttons. One of the key features is a crank that can be pulled out of the right side of the device. This can be used to control certain games, but not every game supports it. The award-winning team at Teenage Engineering designed the hardware. According to Edge, it feels quite good in your hands.

It’s Game Boy-like, a D-pad and two chunky buttons sitting below a screen. It’s perfectly square, however, and remarkably slim. In the hands, it’s pleasantly weighty. There’s a softness to the matte plastic shell, which we can comfortably grip while clacking the shiny buttons. It feels like it costs money. Little wonder: the industrial design, Sasser tells us, is the work of revered Swedish electronics manufacturer Teenage Engineering.

Playdate will feature simple visuals. The screen is 2.7 inches, features a resolution of 400 x 240,  and displays in only black and white. The screen is not backlit, but Edge describes it as being extremely reflective. They were also impressed by its speaker, which was louder than expected.

A weekly playdate

Playdate doesn’t use discs or cartridges. Instead, players can download a new game each week for 12 weeks. Each Monday players will be alerted to the arrival of a new game by a blinking light. Panic describes the games as a mix of long, short, traditional, and experimental. They have only announced one game so far: Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure.

Panic intends to keep the rest of the games a secret up until the moment they launch. However, they’ve got some talented developers on board. Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure was created by Katamari developer Keita Takahashi. Panic has also recruited Bennet Foddy, Zach Gage, and Shaun Inman.

Playdate will launch sometime in 2020. The handheld comes with a price tag of $149, and that includes all 12 games. Panic refers to these games as “Season One,” so there may eventually be more. It’s unclear if future seasons would come with an additional price tag.

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Ben Lamoreux
Nintendo Enthusiast's Managing Editor. I grew up on Super Nintendo and never stopped playing. Been writing video game news, opinions, reviews, and interviews professionally for over a decade. Favorite franchises include Zelda, Metroid, and Mother.