I have been waiting for my Playdate for a very long time. Excited by the prospects of the little crank that could, I pre-ordered one as soon as they were available; however, I wasn’t fast enough and got put into Wave 3 for the shipments. I pre-ordered my Playdate and a cover on the 30th of July, 2022, at 4:02 AM. Eighteen months later, I have my hands on a unique console, and I’ve begun my Playdate journey.
So what is the Playdate? You may ask. Well, it’s a handheld game system created by Panic, the publisher behind games like Untitled Goose Game and Firwatch. However, Playdate isn’t a handheld game console where you play games that you could on your phone, PC or PlayStation. It’s a console built where all of the games are uniquely designed for it, and the “gimmick”, if you want to call it that, is the crank that flips out from the side of the console. It also has a d-pad and two buttons. The screen and system are breaking all modern norms beyond that, with a sleek black and white screen that isn’t backlit; I was reminded of my childhood moments after booting it up and having to turn my back to the sunlight or move towards a light source. But it isn’t all retro; there’s a UCB-C charging cable, a long battery life, Bluetooth support, surprisingly loud mono-speakers and a stereo headphone check, and Wi-Fi to hook the Playdate up to your internet to be able to download games. Because when it comes down to it, the Playdate is all about the games, and how Panic delivers those to you is why this is a journal entry of many more to come.
When I received my Playdate in the mail, I unboxed it and booted it up to find two games were installed on the console and ready for me to play. But that’s all I had access to for the first few days until two days ago when the console downloaded another two games ready for me to unwrap.
Playdate releases its ‘Season 1’ games two at a time, across twelve weeks. It’s a neat idea, and it doesn’t matter if you get your Playdate next week or a year from now; you’ll have the same experience as everyone else.
With the release schedule of the games in mind, I’ll be posting a new journal entry every week, where I’ll be giving my thoughts on that week’s new games.
Out of the box, Playdate has Whitewater Wipeout by Chuhai Labs (Cursed to Golf) and Casual Birder by Diego Garcia (Swap Sword) installed and ready to play. I got to spend a few days with these before getting my Week 2 games, which is just the way it worked out based on when I got my Playdate.
Rating: One thumb up, one thumb down
Whitewater Wipeout is a simple surfing game where you try to survive on the waves for as long as possible and rack up the highest score. It’s a decent first Playdate game as it uses the crank for complete control of the surfer character, but this is also hard to get your head around at first. My first few attempts had me wiping out seconds into the game. Moving the crank either forward or backward will rotate the character, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll be swinging towards the top of the wave, swinging the crank a complete 360 and having the character do a twist in the air — the problem is landing straight and not wiping out.
Whitewater Wipeout is a decent game to have on the Playdate and be able to pull out of your pocket to show off the console, it also fits with the 80s inspiration and simplicity of the Playdate itself, but I don’t plan on spending much more time in it.
Rating: Double thumbs up
Easily my favourite of the two launch games, Casual Birder takes inspiration from Earthbound and other talky RPGs. Your goal here is to capture photographs of all the birds in the game. You’ll have to talk to characters in and around town and solve puzzles to get birds into a location where you can snap a pic of them. In this 2D game, the crank is used as a focus-puller in Casual Birder. When you open the camera, it appears on the screen, and you can move it around with the d-pad, but you use the crank to adjust the focus and get your picture right.
The writing in Casual Birder is fun and light, with the art direction lending a surprising amount of character to this game. I haven’t finished Casual Birder just yet, but this was the game I enjoyed playing the most on Playdate in my first week.
Week 2 adds the heavy cranking game Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure by uvula (Keita Takahashi, Ryan Mohler (Katamari Damacy), Matthew Grimm and Shaun Inman and the music creation of Boogie Loops from May-Li Khoe and Andy Matuschak. I can’t feel disappointed with this week’s games as I’ve been really enjoying playing Crankin, however, I do feel like Boogie Loops is a waste of a slot and something I won’t touch again.
Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure
Rating: Double thumbs up
As the first game from Katamari Damacy designer Keita Takahashi since 2019’s Wattam, there’s a pedigree to Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure. Fortunately, it’s very good and the perfect game for the Playdate that only fits with the console’s sensibilities and makes good use of the crank, but it also is a great game to carry in your pocket for quick play sessions.
In the game, you play as Crankin, who starts every level waking up in his house late for a date. Moving the crank on the console forward will move Crankin backwards or forward across the screen towards his date. The game introduces the simplicity of the levels’ puzzles slowly, but they can quickly get complicated. In one of the earlier levels, you’ll move Crankin through a handful of flowers which he’ll stop to smell, and then reach his date. On the next date, there’s a butterfly near the flowers, and if Crankin makes contact with its game over (I’m not sure why, but it doesn’t matter), so what you have to do is line Crankin up with the flowers, so he’s smelling it, paused in time as the butterfly moves past. Another level has you simply needing to outrun a hoard of pigs which means moving the crank of the Playdate at a ridiculous speed in which I nearly felt uncomfortable turning it, but the console survives.
Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure is easy to get into a loop of ‘just one more level’ or try the same level again and again as you get closer to solving the puzzles. It’s perfect for pick-up and play sessions and a great puzzle game with a mechanic that wouldn’t work with a traditional controller.
Rating: Double thumbs down
This bit-tune music sequencer isn’t a game, but a tool for creation, which would be fine if I felt it was exciting to mess around in, which I don’t. By moving the on-screen cursor around with the d-pad, you can mess with the loops and sounds, but there’s no use of the crank here to even scratch, loop, rewind, or add DJ-like effects to the music, which I thought would be a given.
I’ve only messed around with Boogie Loops for ten minutes and will not be opening it again. If this tool works for anyone, it will only be a small handful.
Stay tuned for the Week 3 update and what I think of the next two games.