Is the Playdate the “Get Out” of video game consoles?
I know I’ve been fawning over the Steam Deck a lot lately, and I am probably looking forward to it as much as I did the OG PSP. I think it has the highest potential for any gaming device in a long, long time. At least for me! If you’re not a portable gamer, it is still a pretty great way to get into PC gaming for the first time since you can still just connect it to a monitor or TV.
But this week I got reminded of another odd addition to the gaming landscape, the Playdate.
The Playdate is the indie gaming console. It’s never going to run Assassins Creed or GTA. Maybe it will run DOOM someday, since that runs on so many things it’s an actual joke. The Playdate’s creators, Panic Inc. made a splash in the gaming world with their surprisingly fun offerings Firewatch and Untitled Goose Game and it looks like they are taking that success and building a platform for other indie developers with it.
The Playdates’ allure seems to be in its simplicity. A D-pad, 2 buttons and an analog crank is all the input you get. The screen is 1-bit grayscale. The end. It has WiFi to get new games and a USB-C port for charging, but that is where the modernity ends.
It reminds me of the original GameBoy (although much smaller) and I have high hopes for a very reminiscent experience. I want to be reminded of when I first got into games, before YouTube trailers and MetaCritic reviews. When every purchase was a gamble, the games were weird and sometimes unpolished. But everything at the time was fresh and new by definition. Where progressing from being a nobody to killing god in a Final Fantasy game was a surprise rather than a meme.
The games for the Playdate are released in seasons, much like content in many online games now. 2 games a week for 12 weeks, 24 games total in the initial run. How future games will be released is yet to be seen. Panic admits themselves that not everyone is going to enjoy every game. But from the sounds of it, the games will be interesting. Details on the games are pretty thin right now, but one that caught my eye was Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure. Help a robot get through his day, controlling the forward or reverse flow of time with the Playdates’ side crank.
There are games being made by the creators of Katamari Damacy, QWOP and The Curse of Monkey Island, all popular games known for their innovative mechanics, if not outright weirdness. This sounds like the perfect crop of people to help get the Playdate off the ground. From my perspective, it seems like Panic is working to democratize gaming beyond the PC platform. They are releasing a free developer toolkit so anyone with coding experience can make games for it, and the minimal design should both make it easier to design games for it as well as push innovation in the games themselves because the Playdate platform is restrictive by nature.
If I had one negative thing to say about it already, it’s the price. $180 is a steep ask for a device like this, when you can get a full Switch Lite for $20 more. This is almost certainly geared towards people like me, who grew up with black and white gaming with no backlighting and only a couple of buttons, who also have enough money by now to drop on something that might fully engage my nostalgia.
As we say so often on the show, only time will tell. If anything, I think the Playdate will be interesting, not just another iteration of the same we’ve had for years. And by giving individuals with a good idea a platform can help bring new talent to light who may have otherwise been lost in the sea of (lets be honest, PC gamers) trash indie games that are mass produced like mobile games, hoping to get a hit through sheer numbers.