Playdate: a crisp and original portable console that we could quickly get tired of (Game cult)


The first deliveries are approaching Playdate, the amazing portable hand-held console from the American publisher Panic. A very original and wildly crunchy little beast, but which we unfortunately risk quickly being bypassed.

She had been talking about her for almost three years. Announced in May 2019, Playdate, designed by the American company Panic (publisher of the latest darlings of the indie game that is Firewatch and Untitled Goosebumps) was originally supposed to see the light of day in the first half of 2020, then stack up on some of the delays that the gaming world, like technology in general, has become accustomed to in recent years. But the wait is coming to an end, at least for the very first who have reserved the machine, who started receiving it from April 18th. Our comrade Lucile “Luma” Malargé from game cult was also able to get his fingers in the console. Here are the highlights of his impressions.

A neo-Game Boy full of charm

As soon as it was announced, Playdate immediately attracted many fascinated eyes, due to its concept that went against the flow of time: far, very far from the race for technological sophistication, it presents itself as a kind of neo-Game Boy, with its small black and white LCD screen of 400 x 240 px. But its most striking feature, of course, is the small crank flanked on its right side, an unusual control interface that game developers are encouraged to use as they please. This strange appendix sets the tone for the state of mind of the machine: it claims to be a small concentrate of strangeness, of eccentricity. A console that you grab to enjoy a few small lab games, simple and short, but whose primary virtue will always be originality.

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On the physical level, it is at least a fact that when you see Playdate for the first time, it is very difficult not to immediately fall under it. Its soft lines and its particularly bright yellow color immediately communicate a very jovial mood. In the hand, the sensations given are also very good, although the small size of the console could pose some small problems with long-term comfort, depending on the morphology and sensitivity of each one. But the good surprise comes mainly from this famous screen, which pushes the nod to the Game Boy until there is no kind of lighting. But don’t worry: its readability is excellent, far better than the first portable consoles from Nintendo. And if it is certainly impossible to play in complete darkness, however, there is no reason to distort oneself under the direct light of a lamp to hope to see something there. On the contrary, the non-emissive nature of the screen even has the advantage of being more eye-pleasing, like an e-reader screen.

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A first season of 24 games, with variable interest rates

And on the content side, how is it going then? Again, quite unusual. Panic has made the rather smart choice to organize its excursion program in the form of “seasons”. The first has just started as of this writing, and will run for 12 weeks, with two new games coming out each week. Twenty-four titles in total can therefore be downloaded (via wifi connection) at no extra cost to all buyers of the machine. Regarding the following seasons, several matches have already been announced, but nothing has been set in stone in terms of the form they will have, the number of games they will contain, and above all the price they will be offered for. Panic indeed prefers to keep some freedom to adjust its plans after the success of the first season.

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Among all these games, there are 10 titles that our friends from Gamekult had access to for their testing of the machine. It is enough to note, perhaps without much surprise, that not all of them make extraordinarily thoughtful and inspired use of the crank. Among the best students seen from this point of view, we find especially Time travel adventurefrom Keita Takahashi’s fertile imagination (creator of Katamari Damacy). This platform game is even played exclusively with the crank, which is rotated in one direction or the other to advance or turn the time, thus allowing our character to cross a series of tables on a rhythm, causing him to avoid the many obstacles that stands in his way. A very ingenious use of the mechanism, but which is unfortunately accompanied by some frustrations: the precision that the game requires in some places is not really compatible with its display on a very small unlit screen.

Time travel adventure.  © Panik

Time travel adventure. © Panik

In the end, the most disturbing observation is that at present the most comfortable games are found and with the strongest taste to get back to the machine above all among those who use the crank in the most secondary way. , even anecdotal. The same is the puzzle in isometric view zipper by Bennett Foddy (QWOP, Getting over it), where the crank is only used to start previews of each move, completely optional. Regarding “match-3” Pick Pack Puphe invites you to just turn the crank to … stroke the head of the game’s eponymous puppy. So we do not get much out of it other than a little joke.

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Zipper.  © Panik

What is left after the curiosity effect?

In the end, in addition to the machine’s original appeal, we have to admit that its game has some trouble being more than friendly curiosities, admittedly sometimes exciting, but never enough that we can find enough to use more than one few hours there. And now, suddenly over Playdate hangs the serious risk that it very quickly ends up forgotten at the bottom of a drawer. Of course, it is not impossible that salvation will come from future games on the machine. And we are not just talking here about those to whom the big names in video games are associated – for example, a strong expectation has been created around March after midnightthe next creation of Lucas Pope (Papers, please, Return by Obra Dinn) – but also titles signed by all young creators for whom Playdate also wants to be a springboard. It is for this reason that Panic has strived to create an SDK as easy to use as possible, and to make it free to download by anyone.

Will this approach bear fruit? Players who have not yet gone to the cash register still have time to see: If you decide to place an order today, it is not until 2023 that you will be charged the $ 242 (ie $ 179 for the console + $ 27 transport to France + $ 36 in taxes, anyway!) Confirms the machine’s expedition.

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