With the Playdate console by Panic, portable gaming is about to get one of its periodic boosts. Nintendo, unchallenged king of the pocket device, is readying a new version of its 84-million-selling Switch, and Valve’s recently announced Steam Deck promises to put the power of a gaming PC into an ultra-compact device. These are the big launches, but there are also niche releases for those who admire the art and style of much earlier videogames. We’ve already admired the retro-tinged lines of the Analogue Pocket and now there’s another old school challenger.

Playdate console boasts retro-gaming with a contemporary twist

Available to pre-order late this month (from 29 July 2021), the Playdate console is a gaming device with a twist – it includes a hand-operated crank to serve up unusual and eccentric gameplay experiences. 

Playdate pocket console by Panic with its optional cover
The Playdate pocket console by Panic with its optional cover

The Playdate is deliberately different. You won’t find any AAA titles or familiar franchises on its compact black and white screen. Instead, the emphasis is on indie developers, off-beam gaming experiences and quirky control methods – with that folding crank providing a very tactile, albeit unusual, way of interacting with the action.

It won’t be for everyone, but there’s no denying that the bright yellow Playdate is a thing of compact beauty. Barely a centimetre thick, the square device has rounded edges, solid-looking buttons and control pad and high-quality metals. There’s Bluetooth, a microphone, a small speaker and a headphone jack, and a promised eight hours of playtime. 

Playdate pocket console by Panic with its optional cover
The Playdate is incredibly compact and has a black and white screen

It comes as no surprise to find that the industrial design was handled by Swedish firm Teenage Engineering – it shares the playful, colourful aesthetic of the brand’s own audio products. The Playdate was developed by American software company Panic, and the promise is that buyers will get access to a fortnightly drop of new content, eventually building up to a library of around 24 original games, all of which promise to be pleasingly quirky.

And if that’s not enough, the makers are offering a free SDK (software development kit) for you to make and distribute your own games. 

Playdate pocket console by Panic with its optional Stereo Dock
Playdate pocket console by Panic with its optional Stereo Dock

Finally, there are some pleasing extras. A simple protective cover is available from the outset. And given that the low-fi screen never turns off – it simply converts to a clock – Panic is also bringing out the Playdate Stereo Dock, the ultimate desktop accessory. Clip on your slender yellow square device and it’ll charge it up while boosting the Playdate’s sound output with an extra Bluetooth speaker. There’s also a built-in pen holder.

Panic is making the most of the display’s old school resolution (400 x 240 pixels) with an interface that takes you back to the glory days of the original Apple Macintosh. Playdate promises to be a cult object straight out of the box. §