Playdate by Panic: Everything we know (so far)

Sometimes we know about products ahead of time and sometimes, they just appear out of the blue. No one knows where they come from, or why they exist — all we know is that we want them. The Playdate from Panic is one of those things, and it has set fire to the imaginations of the Mobile Nations crew.

From what we know so far, the Playdate is a super cute handheld gaming device with plenty of hidden little features, including a hand crank!

What is Panic?

Panic is not normally a hardware company. It's a software company. arguably most well known as a co-publisher of the indie game hit Firewatch. It's also helping to publish Untitled Goose Game, an upcoming stealth title where you play a goose who wants to mess with people.

According to Panic, it's a company that is "...self-funded, and there's nobody to tell us what to do" so it asked the question over on its Twitter: "Why aren't we trying more new things?"

Now whenever you have a company that has that thought you get one of two things: something awesome or Skynet. Thankfully we didn't get an end-of-the-world AI.

What is the Playdate?

The Playdate is a new handheld gaming "system," but some of the minute details are a mystery. It plays games, we know that, and it has a little black and white screen where you can play those games. This isn't a Switch competitor and you aren't going to be playing Fortnite on it. Panic said that users will be able to play simple but engaging games that come out weekly, like a new comic book. What games will be released are also a mystery.

This feels very much like the old shareware games of the '80s and '90s where you would subscribe to a magazine and get a fun new game with each new edition. Now Panic did say that all the games will ship with the handheld at launch — it isn't a subscription it just has that feel — you just won't be able to play them all on the first day. It's a fun idea that would make "New Game Day" a joy. Considering that the handheld will cost $149, it's like the subscription is built right in.

What does the Playdate look like?

It looks like an industrial control box, but in a good way. The split ring rivets on each corner give it a really solid feel, and the speaker grill adds to that industrial look. We're unsure of the build materials, but it looks to be made of plastic. It's incredibly tiny, measuring in at around 74-by-76-by-9mm with a 2.7-inch display.

From a technical standpoint, and from checking out the renders, it looks like the Playdate will be charged through USB-C. It also has a 3.5mm headphone jack so you can play in private with your headphones in. The rest of the handheld sports a power button on the top, a D-pad and two game buttons, as well as a mysterious button in the top right corner. I'm going to guess it's the menu button? It also has what I think is a microphone underneath near the USB-C slot.

Oh, and it also has a crank.

Wait, did you say a crank?

Yes! No, it doesn't power the device — that's left to mundane battery power — but instead, it's a unique style of controller. As you can see from the tweet below, the crank can be used to control some of the different games — not all of them will use it, according to Panic. In the example, called Crankin's Time Travel Adventure, you use the crank to control a robot traveling through time. With the crank, you slow time so the butterfly, which presumably hurts you, can fly overhead safely.

The crank was the idea of the team Panic asked to help it make the Playdate, Teenage Engineering. This company is based out of Stockholm and normally makes beautifully engineered audio equipment.

What about the games?

Because of the black and white, seemingly low-resolution screen, the games have a wonderfully retro feel to them, reminiscent of the original Game Boy by Nintendo. We haven't seen a lot of gameplay so far, but Panic has brought in multiple designers to work on 12 games for the Playdate. This will constitute Season One and owners won't be charged extra for them.

The first game that'll be released is the aforementioned Crankin's Time Travel Adventure, which was designed by Keita Takahashi, the main brain behind Katamari Damacy. According to Panic, other games have been designed by, Bennett Foddy (Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy, QWOP), Zach Gage (SpellTower, the Getting Over It iOS port) and Shaun Inman (The Last Rocket).

This adds to the excitement I'm feeling. It means every "New Game Day" will give us a new game that is completely unique compared to the game that came before it. Variety is important if you want something like this to succeed and it seems like Panic knows that.

I want it now!!!

So do we, but we can't have it just yet. You can sign up to receive information about it from Panic and it will be available in "early 2020" and will cost $149.

As Panic notes, the $149 is not cheap, but it isn't expensive either. For something that is clearly fun, unique, and exciting, I think $149 is a good price to pay.

James Bricknell

James is a lover of all things new and shiny. From 3D printing to Nintendo he stays current with all the technology that will lead us into the future.