It’s hard to believe but we’re coming up on the 4 year anniversary of Panic first introducing the world to the Playdate, their quirky handheld gaming system. Announced in May of 2019 it immediately caught the attention of many, ourselves included, due to its very against-the-grain nature compared to pretty much any other gaming system around. Unfortunately it wasn’t long after that the Covid pandemic kind of crippled the entire world, which was especially difficult for a small company that was trying to produce its first ever piece of hardware. Supply chain issues and the inability to travel really ground Playdate’s momentum to a halt, especially for a device that used several non-standard parts. It wouldn’t be until April of last year that Playdate units began finally arriving in people’s eager hands.
The bright side to all that is that the Playdate really was worth the wait. The quality of games included in their Season 1 release was truly outstanding, and really ran the gamut of different genres and experiences. I loved the Playdate in my review from last year with my only real gripe being the non-backlit screen. Beyond the official Season of games sanctioned by Panic there was a burgeoning community of Playdate enthusiasts who were making all sorts of crazy and clever games as well, and that community has only grown since the system’s release about a year ago.
Having basically unlimited options for new things to check out on the Playdate has been really exciting, but it’s also been kind of frustrating. This is mostly due to discovery as there’s no main source to find Playdate games. Itch.io has kind of evolved to become the unofficial hub to find new stuff, but the quality of the games that you do find is ALL over the place. There’s not really any good way to tell from a glance whether something is somebody’s “hello world" first ever game that’s nothing more than a bare-bones Asteroids clone or if it’s the next Cave Story or Stardew Valley. The Hello Playdate Podcast has become a wonderful resource for Playdate game discovery, but it’s still harder than it should be in order to find the great stuff you should be playing on Playdate.
Well today Panic has unveiled a massive new update to the Playdate that will hopefully help address these issues. They’ve created something called Catalog which is more or less an on-device and web-based app store for Playdate. On launch today Catalog features 16 titles, all hand-picked by the folks at Panic. Most games are paid, however there are 2 new games which are completely free to everyone and are considered “bonus games" for Season 1. Those games are Reel Steal and Recommendation Dog. Panic’s digital event today is only about 13 minutes long and it features tons of info about Catalog and today’s batch of games, as well as a few other Playdate-related topics, and it’s probably worth just watching the entire thing if you have a few spare minutes.
As stated in the video, Panic is close to fulfilling all remaining pre-orders for the Playdate, and according to a press release they’ve now shipped more than 25,000 devices to date. Unfortunately due to current inflation and ongoing pandemic-related issues, Panic is going to need to raise the price of Playdate from $179 to $199. That includes the device itself as well as the 24 games in Season 1, plus the 2 free bonus games announced alongside Catalog today. The good news is that if you already have a pre-order in the price won’t go up, and in fact if you’ve been on the fence about pre-ordering at all they’re giving everyone a one month window to get a pre-order in at the lower $179 price point. That means that as long as you pre-order before April 7th you’ll lock in the $179 price.
There was also a quick update on the Stereo Dock accessory for Playdate, which is more or less “it hasn’t been forgotten about and is still in the works." Hopefully pricing and release timing for that will come in the near future. But really the big news today is Catalog and the start of what will hopefully be an awesome new source to discover new Playdate games and software. If you own a Playdate be sure to update your software to check out Catalog on the device itself, or you can see the full library of games including screens, info, and pricing on the Playdate website. If you’re a developer that wants to submit your game for Catalog consideration there is a link at the bottom of that page with more information about that.