Apr 18, 2022 - Technology

The Playdate is 2022's weirdest video game system

An image of the Playdate console against a blue green background.
Photo: Panic

The brand-new Playdate portable gaming device has more going for it than a striking yellow color scheme and a crank you can use to control some of its games.

Driving the news: Launching today, the Playdate is a mix of retro and modern with a clutch of unexpectedly pleasing games.

  • It’s also in short supply. The first wave of devices are shipping today, according to its designers at Panic.
  • But anyone who preorders one of the $179 machines today won’t get theirs until next year.

The details: The Playdate is a tiny block of plastic about 3 inches square, with a monochromatic screen that harkens back to Nintendo’s original Game Boy.

  • It has buttons and a crank, the latter used in some of Playdate’s first wave of games for stirring potions, swinging a sword, rotating a surfboard and, in at least two games, turning back time.
  • But the system’s most novel idea is its initial seasonal approach to game releases, doling out two new games a week — and at least one surprise — for 12 weeks, starting the moment an owner first connects the system online.
  • The season feels of the moment. On a Playdate, the update awaiting you as you check the device isn’t a bunch of emails, Instagram photos or depressing tweets. It’s small, often quirky new games that come digitally gift-wrapped.

Our impressions: Panic provided Axios with a Playdate running on an accelerated two-week season, which still made discovery delightful and let us pick some early favorites:

  • Demon Quest 85 — Gather the right high school friends and kitchen ingredients to summon specific hellish demons. Then chat with them.
  • Zipper — Rapid yet somehow strategic sword-fighting.
  • Questy Chess — You’re on an adventure to fight and slay bad guys, but you’re a chess piece.
  • But a catch: The device's dim screen is disappointing and leaves it unplayable in darker rooms, one Game Boy throwback experience best left in the past.

Micro interview with Panic’s director of special projects Greg Maletic, (very condensed):

Q: Some games were made a long time ago?

A: “Many were substantially completed as long as 2 or 3 years ago" [and have been updated since].

Q: Will there be a season 2?

A: "Whether we do so will just depend upon how Playdate customers react to this first one: its length, the game mix, etc." [More games are in development for purchase outside of the first season.]

Q: People who want to preorder today really have to wait until 2023?

A: “Unfortunately, yes. … This is largely due to trouble securing parts in the current market.”

Sign up for the new Axios Gaming newsletter here.

Go deeper