Playdate Handheld Portable Gaming Console Review

“The Playdate is a creative, charming handheld for retro and indie game enthusiasts.”


  • Iconic design
  • Crank gimmick works
  • Creative games


  • Screen isn’t backlit
  • Narrow entreatment
  • Pricey for what information technology is

If WarioWare were a video game system, it would be the Playdate.

Created past
Untitled Goose Game
publisher Panic, the niche handheld takes the free energy of Nintendo’southward fast-paced “microgame” series and bottles it up into an unusual piece of hardware. It’south a pint-sized, banana-yellow Game Boy that merely runs games with uncomplicated black-and-white graphics and is controlled via two buttons, a D-pad, and a creepo. Yeah, a crank.

Like WarioWare and its five-second minigames, the Playdate’south limitations get its master entreatment. The developers creating titles for it are forced to think modest, inventing the kind of pocket-sized games that have been all simply driven to extinction as handheld devices get equally powerful equally PCs. It’s a return to gaming’due south primordial soup. Those who buy in are subscribing to an alternate dimension where game pattern branches off from reality thanks to a wacky control gimmick.

The Playdate is a delightful video game handheld that’southward perfect for the indie game enthusiast who values fun and creativity higher up all else. Though for those who don’t autumn into that category, it might feel a fleck like a pricey inside joke – one that deserves to have its pic in the dictionary correct next to the discussion “niche.”

Crank it upward

A Playdate sits next to an iPhone 12.

Just from a visual perspective, I fell in love with the Playdate the moment I unboxed it. From its bright-yellowish plastic to its square design, it’due south an adorable sight that instantly feels iconic. Even beyond its immediately gratifying aesthetics, I find myself impressed by the quality of the build. Its buttons accept a satisfying, plasticky click to them, its miniscule speaker gets surprisingly loud, and the battery lasts longer than you lot’d await. It may expect similar a cheap Tiger Electronics toy from the ’90s, but it’s simply interim that office.

The device’s defining feature is the creepo that protrudes from the right side of the system. The thin metal arm can exist turned in a full round move to control games. Information technology’s non a flimsy gimmick. The creepo moves smoothly with no resistance, simply never actually feels like its danger of snapping off. In one game, I spun it effectually in circles as fast every bit I possibly could with no fright. Every bit an added touch, the arm magnetically docks into the arrangement when not in use, keeping it snug and condom.

The Playdate's crank protrudes from the handheld.

There’s simply ane area where the handheld fails to evangelize: The Playdate’s screen isn’t backlit and instead uses a “super cogitating” display. When in that location’southward a skillful low-cal source over my shoulder, it looks fantastic. The black-and-white visuals come up in clear as day, with stark contrast that makes images popular. However, I’ve found it difficult to play in my flat unless I’yard sitting against a window during the daytime. If I’thou on my couch, I can barely encounter what’s on screen at all unless I tilt information technology toward the overhead lights and play at an unnatural angle.

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It’s a thoughtfully built handheld that takes its weird premise seriously.

I imagine Panic wanted to stay truthful to the original Game Boy here in non backlighting information technology, but it’s the one area where the high-concept design functionally backfires. I exercise have to admit that I have grown to enjoy the little ritual I’ve had to adopt to play it: Sitting on my bed, dorsum against the window, cat curled upwardly on my chest. Once again, the limitation leads to something special, though that 1 feels like an accident.

A few behind-the-scenes touches proceed the device modern, while still leaving the nostalgic spirit intact. The Playdate connects to Wi-Fi, which means it can receive system updates or download games wirelessly like whatever panel. I especially beloved that it includes an accessibility menu that lets players reduce flashing or flip the console’s display upside down. Details similar that push button it beyond the betoken of throwaway gimmick; it’southward a thoughtfully built handheld that takes its weird premise seriously.

Mega microgames

The Playdate isn’t your typical handheld system when it comes to games. There’s no shop where players tin take hold of new releases à la carte (though external games can be sideloaded onto information technology). Instead, those who purchase a arrangement are essentially subscribing to a service with their onetime purchase. Each histrion will go the same games delivered to them in seasons. For season 1, Panic volition digitally deliver two games a week for 12 weeks. Information technology’s less like buying a panel and more like buying an one-time Game and Picket with 24 games preinstalled.

Playdate’south library is like the globe’s best game jam delivered to you lot once a week.

That odd approach is part of the console’s unpredictable charm. I got a hitting of delight, like a child on Christmas, every time the device lit upward and told me new games had been delivered. That response seems intentional, as games literally appear on screen gift-wrapped. Players will take no idea what they’re getting every calendar week until they unwrap them.

A gamer plays Spellcorked on the Playdate.

The simply abiding with season 1 is that no two games are the aforementioned. One day, I’d receive a puzzle game where I had to guide a ball around a maze of circles using the creepo. The next, I’d get a full-fledged bird-watching run a risk games. I was e’er excited to play each game considering I truly never knew what I’d get.

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Some games are truly brilliant, using the controls in inventive ways.
Super Crush K.O.

developer Vertex Pop created a spin on
Hyper Meteor, where players turn their ship with the crank and heave into space rocks.
Flipper Lifter
is an addictive arcade game where players pick up penguins on an elevator and crank them to the correct floor. My absolute favorite game doesn’t even use the crank at all. Information technology’southward a lucifer-three puzzle game called
Selection Pack Pup
where players lucifer items into boxes and try to ship as many out at once as possible.

Demon Quest 85 appears on a Playdate screen.

I found myself charmed by about every title, even the ones that didn’t fully striking the mark.
is a tactics game about photographing cryptids, which is truly unlike annihilation I’ve played. It’due south thin to the signal of feeling like a design prototype, just I was even so happy to play something so creative. Similarly,
Echoic Retentivity
is an ingenious music matching game where players have to tune distorted audio loops to hear them clearly. Playdate’s library is like the globe’south all-time game jam delivered to you once a week.

Niche appeal

A Playdate and Switch OLED sit side by side on a table.

Non every game included in the batch of 24 is a winner, and Panic knows that, equally its website specifically notes: “Will you honey all of them? Probably not.” Indeed, a handful of the games ended up being duds for me, playing like an inside joke meant for young man designers. Hitting a bad week where y’all’re merely getting 20 minutes out of the device can be a bummer, merely that’s the lottery y’all’re signing up for. There were enough hits to proceed me entertained, but the curated nature of the project is certain to leave some early adopters disappointed.

That experimental border makes information technology hard to wholeheartedly recommend the Playdate, fifty-fifty if I personally honey it. At $179, information technology’south almost the price of a Switch Calorie-free. That’s a tough number to swallow because that then many of the games included in season 1 tin can be “beaten” in an hr or less (one is but a simple music-making app, for instance). It can experience like a very expensive toy at times, though many would argue that’s all a game system is anyways.

Panic has firm plans to support the device past season i. More games are in the works and its developer kit is readily available online for anyone who wants to use it. The company is also creating fun accessories for it, like a combination Bluetooth speaker/pen-holder attachment. I’m confident that those who buy one will have a fair amount to exercise with information technology through 2022 (though if yous haven’t pre-ordered one yet, y’all won’t get information technology until 2023). I merely don’t know how long-term that vision will be, as it’s difficult to imagine that its install base of operations will exist big plenty to attract developers for years to come up.

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The curated nature of the project is sure to leave some early adopters disappointed.

That’due south a problem for another time. For the here and now, I’m smitten with the Playdate. I joyfully played every single game that was delivered to me and I’ll most assuredly eat up everything else it tin can run. Granted, I’m the exact person this device is for — someone who could write an essay from memory on the works of Bennett Foddy. It’s a niche appeal, only if you’ve establish yourself bored past overly safety, big-budget games these days, the Playdate might be the cure yous need.

Our accept

The Playdate won’t be for anybody, but its intended audience will eat this charming piffling handheld up. Its unique crank control is already leading to some wildly creative video games, some of which are truly brilliant. At $179, though, it’s no small investment. To shell out for one is to sign an experimental contract with no way of knowing if it’ll pay off. Still, Panic earns some practiced faith here, delivering on its wacky premise with a consistently creative batch of games that make the Playdate more than a curious gimmick.

Is in that location a better alternative?

If y’all’re just looking for a skilful mode to play retro handheld games, the Analogue Pocket is a must-ain device. But otherwise, no, you volition not detect another tiny Game Boy with a crank that gets sectional games delivered to information technology every calendar month.

How long will information technology last?

The build quality of the device feels sturdy, though it’s really hard to gauge if the crank will hold up to heavy use long-term. In terms of season 1’s games, I’d reckon that players who try out everything will get around 25 hours out of it — though that’s dependent on how much you similar the games.

Should yous buy it?

Yep. If everything I said here sounds similar your loving cup of tea, I’m confident y’all’ll love the Playdate. Though if you’re non an indie or retro enthusiast, this device is very much not for you.

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Playdate Handheld Portable Gaming Console Review