PAX West 2019: Hands-On Time with the Playdate Handheld Gaming System from Panic

Back in May, software developer Panic, Inc. sort of broke the internet when they unveiled a quirky new handheld gaming system called the Playdate. Since Panic is a software company they actually teamed up with Swedish consumer electronics company Teenage Engineering to produce this bit of hardware, and boy to they have some different ideas. The one that’s front and center is that the Playdate features a tiny crank which can be used for gameplay in addition to its d-pad and two face buttons. The way games will be released for the system, at least at first, is also rather unique. There will be 12 games in the first “season" of releases that come included with the price of the handheld itself, and they’ll be slowly released each week over the course of about 3 months. While several of these games have been announced already, many more of them are a complete surprise and will remain that way until they release. I never thought I could be excited about a game release strategy, but here we are.

Panic has also courted an absolute superstar list of some of the most revered game developers in the industry to create quirky little experiences for Playdate. People like Zach Gage, Bennett Foddy, and Shaun Inman all have titles in the works, as does Keita Takahashi, the creator of Katamari Damacy. It’s Takahashi’s game Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure that was on display here at PAX West 2019, and it was an awful lot of fun. You use the crank to control time for the main character Crankin, but it doesn’t control time for the rest of the world, so you use this to your advantage to try and avoid obstacles and hazards. It’s tricky to explain but makes sense when you see the game in action in our hands-on time with the Playdate below. Pre-orders for the Playdate should be going live sometime before the end of the year, with a release planned for early next year, and in the meantime you can get notified about any news regarding the system by signing up for their mailing list on their official website.