Teensy indie game console Playdate is a beautiful toy—but it could be so much more – The A.V. Club

Photo: Panic

Graphic: Allison Corr

Novelty is a wonderful thing; being a novelty, less so. And that, really, is the distinction that will decide the fate of the Playdate, the indie-minded new handheld video game console from Portland-based designers Panic and Swedish electronics company Teenage Engineering. The brightly colored, lovingly crafted, utterly charming handheld system is tiny; it is gorgeous; it is innovative. But it’s not clear yet whether it is also capable of going the distance in an increasingly crowded attention economy, or whether it’s doomed to be just, well… an interesting novelty.

First, some basics: Measuring at 76 by 74 millimeters (and a shockingly thin 9 millimeters thick), the Playdate fits fairly neatly into the palm of a hand. The elements of its minimalist control scheme (minus the big signature feature, which we’ll get to in a second) are all serviceable but not flashy: A slightly stiff directional pad and two face buttons, plus a lock button up top, and a menu button that sits to the right of the system’s gorgeously monochrome LCD screen. While it’s unsurprisingly light, given its size, the overall ergonomics of the system top out at that serviceable level; the overall size of it can make its controls feel a bit cramped in larger hands, and the sharp edges of the plastic occasionally dug unpleasantly into our fingers.

And then, of course, there’s the crank.

Much of the marketing around the Playdate has focused on the admittedly attention-catching decision to include a small metallic crank on the side of the device, which pops out easily, and can be used as an analog control for all sorts of different games. Its uses are varied enough to make us hesitate in labeling it as a mere gimmick… but, well, the word “gimmick” is appearing in this paragraph for a reason. In games that use it well—including Chuhai Labs’ surfing-themed Whitewater Wipeout, one of the first games Playdate owners will receive as part of the systems’ seasonal software distribution scheme—the crank can land somewhere in the neighborhood of genuinely transformative, evoking a rewiring of the basic relationship between the hands and the action on the screen. In other games, it’s basically a glorified text scroller, with functionality added seemingly because, well, you gotta use the crank somehow, right?

And that wide variance in the Playdate’s initial software library gets to the heart of both the biggest issues, and the massive (semi-tapped) potential of the system at launch. In addition to its innovative control scheme, the biggest selling point surrounding the Playdate’s $179 price tag has been the fact that you’re not just getting a cute addition to your device collection; you’re also getting weekly deliveries of games, two per week for 12 weeks, as part of the first “season” of Playdate content. The system goes out of its way to make these new deliveries feel like treats; its lock button glows a welcoming purple …….

Source: https://www.avclub.com/playdate-review-1848803707

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