A new handheld gaming system is about to enter the market, and it's not the sort of thing that gamers might expect. Developed by Panic Inc., publishers of Firewatch, this pint-sized portable gaming console is called the Playdate. It's a remarkably small system with an assortment of unusual features: A monochromatic LCD screen, no backlight, and perhaps most interesting of all, a tiny little crank that's used as an input option for games.
There's almost nothing typical about the Playdate. Compared to modern mobile devices, the Playdate is downright diminutive, measuring only 74 x 76 x 9mm (or just shy of three square inches at a thickness of 0.35 inches). Its 2.7-inch LCD screen is black-and-white only, and it doesn't have a backlight, either. From the images we've seen so far, it seems there are just four total buttons, one of which appears to be power button, plus a single directional pad. Topping the whole package off is the crank, which can be folded and tucked away into a special slot, presumably for added mobility.
The details only get stranger from here. According to details featured on the Playdate website, the device is a digital-only console, featuring no discs or cartridges. However, users won't have to worry about managing digital game downloads, because there are no additional games for them to purchase. The Playdate offers access to a "season" of games that unlock over time after the device is first powered on. The first game is available immediately, and the other 11 (of 12 total games) will unlock each week after that.
Beyond the striking look, which was created by the Swedish designers at Teenage Engineering, the Playdate is also slated to feature some rather unusual games. The first of them is called Crankin's Time Travel Adventure, and it's been designed by Keita Takahashi, whom fans may know as the creator of Katamari Damacy. The game follows hero Crankin' on his way to a date with Crankette, and players must use the crank to control the flow of time backward and forward while evading various obstacles.
Panic says that games for the Playdate "will remain a surprise until magically delivered to your device." Once unlocked, the game will remain on the handheld essentially forever. The team is open to the idea of adding in more "seasons" as well, but Panic wants to see how well the Playdate does with gamers before making a final decision.
The Panic Playdate may be one of the most unusual handheld gaming consoles we've seen in a decade or more. It's not often that a hardware developer specifically opts to defy tradition, after all. While it's possible to ask why the Playdate was made, perhaps it's better to ask, "Why not?" After all, the market for ultra-portable consoles is wide open now that the Vita is dead, and Nintendo has poured its focus into the Switch, which isn't exactly designed to fit into normal jean pockets.
In essence, the Panic Playdate is a modern, ultra-portable handheld console that doesn't require paid subscriptions, discs, stores, logins, or microtransactions. It's a very simple thing, and yet it's also very funky, defying convention seemingly just for fun. The device will cost $149 when it launches, and Panic intends to begin shipping in the early parts of 2020.