Today, in Europe, we’re at the polls, trying to stem the tide of far right, populist politicians. On Sunday, we’ll find out if we’ve done enough to kick back against the bigots, Islamophobes and anti-immigration zealots. In the meantime, forgive me if I put more than the usual amount of hope in a little yellow box called Playdate, which was announced today.
Playdate is a new handheld console and comes from Firewatch and upcoming Untitled Goose Game publisher, Panic. The announcement came as a happy, bright yellow surprise with some greeting it with the raise of a cynical eyebrow, whilst others clapped their hands with glee. I’m in the latter camp.
The tiny yellow console features Gameboy style AB buttons and a D-pad, but also comes with a crank on the side. The crank is an analogue controller, rather than a means of charging the battery, which would have been cool too. I’m really interested to see how developers use the crank, which seems like the most hipster addition to a microconsole ever.
One of Playdate’s many curiosities is that it comes with 12 games, as part of the launch price of $149. The website confirms that they are working with indie developers, Bennett Foddy (QWOP), Shaun Inman (Retro Game Crunch), and Zach Gage (Ridiculous Fishing), but there’s no mention of the games they’re creating.
The only named game is Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure by Katamari Damacy developer Keita Takahashi. It will be available to play at launch, with one game released via WiFi each week until the end of the 12-title season. There is a mailing list to find out about developing games for the Playdate, so there must be more seasons coming up. However, there’s no indication of how much subsequent seasons will cost.
When it comes to the spec, the tiny machines comes with a 2.7-inch, 400×240 resolution, low-power LCD screen. All the games will be black and white, but Panic promises a premium experience, rather than a return to Gameboy graphics. It would have to at $149.
Of course there are concerns. Panic is a software developer and has never built hardware before. It’s a tiny, low res console that comes preloaded with 12 games, with no guarantee of another 12. You could be just buying a tiny yellow gizmo that will never have more than 12 games on it, until the inevitable homebrew community hacks it and makes it their own (even that sounds kinda cool, though). And do I have to mention the cautionary tale that is the Ouya? I don’t really because the internet is all over it.
Despite those obvious concerns and the fact that it’s not cheap, Playdate intrigues me. Ultimately, it’s not aiming to be the cheap alternative to games consoles or a Steam box. It’s a craft item that taps into that need for pleasing objects that do one thing really well. With the pedigree of developers already making games, Playdate looks like it knows its market and is doing everything to press those indie hipster buttons.
I’ve been looking for a games console I can use on the go. The Switch is the obvious answer, with access to a growing library of indie games. But it’s quite big and the games are more expensive than they would be on Steam. Whilst it’s not a replacement for a Switch, Playdate might just be the whimsical travel companion I need. It slots into a pocket or handbag and comes with what I hope will be a few inventive experiences. Plus it’s yellow and there’s a crank. I mean, come on!