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Playdate, the game console with a crank, will open pre-orders next month

Playdate, the indie portable games console with a monochrome screen, a weekly game delivery and a crank alongside the usual D-pad and buttons, will be up for pre-order next month.

Developer units of the quirky console originally went into production in December 2019 with a view to a 2020 release date. But the pandemic upended those plans and it will instead be shipped out towards the end of the year, Panic, the company behind it, said during a 15-minute update video broadcast yesterday evening.

Panic also said that the handheld will be a little more expensive than originally planned: $179 (~£126) instead of $149 (~£105). While nobody would view a price hike as reason for celebration, there’s good reason for this: the number of games has doubled, going from a season of 12 games to 24, with two titles automatically downloaded to your Playdate every week. Presumably to allow for this, the flash storage has also doubled, rising from 2GB to 4GB.

Undoubtedly, part of the appeal of Playdate is the element of surprise for players as each new game is delivered, but the company did reveal the title screens for 21 of the 24 titles that will be delivered to the handheld for Season One. You can see them all below.

That isn’t hugely revealing in and of itself, but Panic does have some renowned indie game developers working on titles for the Playdate, including Bennett Foddy (QWOP, Getting Over It) and Zach Gage (Good Sudoku, Really Bad Chess). While not scheduled for Season One, it was also revealed that Lucas Pope, the designer behind two of the best PC games ever made, Papers, Please and Return of the Obra Dinn, will be making a game called Mars After Midnight for the handheld, too.

We have reached out to Panic to ask a little more about how future seasons will be priced, as well as how it aims to cope with demand for the console. The good news, however, is that the machine shouldn’t ever ‘sell out’ as such. 

“Don’t worry, Playdate shouldn’t sell out on pre-order day,” said Panic co-founder Cabel Sasser in the video. “Our plan is to keep orders open and send Playdates out gradually as we get them from the factory. Of course the sooner you order, the sooner you’ll get yours, but we’re not going to close the door on you.”

Panic also revealed a unique accessory, just in case the core concept wasn’t unusual enough for you. The company will be selling an optional charging dock which charges Playdate, and doubles up as a Bluetooth speaker and pen holder. You can see the pen sticking out the top (yes, it comes included).

Playdate will go up for pre-order next month, with a week’s warning so keen early adopters can get in nice and early.

So crazy it might just work?

It’s hard not to be utterly charmed by Playdate. From its cute yellow design to deliberately going against convention in so many ways, you can’t help but hope that every game is a winner and Panic sells bucketloads of units.

Nobody expects it to sell bucketloads, of course, but truthfully it’s hard to know exactly what the limit is for Panic’s baby. Word of mouth is a powerful thing, and the promise of additional seasons certainly gives it legs. It’s come a long way from the 12-game unit that was originally pitched, even if that does mean a $30 price increase.

The crank control method, though not used on every game, also offers a little protection to the product. There’s less risk of games being ported elsewhere if they rely on a control input that no other machine offers, after all.

Nintendo is unlikely to be worried about the knock-on effect to upcoming Switch game sales, but there’s something very Nintendo about the product and its unique control method that may just capture the imagination regardless. 

But as Nintendo well knows, not every quirky innovation can be as successful as the Wii remote – sometimes you just end up with a Virtual Boy.

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