Let’s Get Cranking
I’ve never experienced a system launch quite like the Playdate’s. There really hasn’t ever been one. I received my Playdate within the first week the systems were shipping out, but even now, wave one hasn’t completed arriving at eager early-adopters’ doorsteps. A recent check seems like we’re around halfway, but even the first wave is only about twenty percent of the systems currently ordered. People who purchased the device before release won’t be getting it until next year. It’s definitely a strange situation.
Even for those who already have our systems, though, the Playdate is strange. You don’t boot it up and have a selection of games to choose from. Instead, everyone who starts their Playdate for the first time will have access to two games: Whitewater Wipeout and Casual Birder. That’s a pretty slim “launch lineup” for any platform. Even a recent small launch selection like the Switch consisted of thirteen games, including digital titles. There is a way to get a few more games, which I’ll get to, but for official titles that you can get solely through the system, the options are limited.
From the moment you turn the Playdate on, though, you’ll experience a ton of personality. The setup is full of charm, quirky sounds, and an introduction to the system’s most unique feature: the crank.
For players who still don’t get the appeal of the crank, it will become evident quickly, if it ever will. Like the rest of the Playdate, it feels super solid. While the system is light and small, it never feels overly fragile. Its slick surfaces are rounded, which can be extremely helpful in absorbing any drops, and it just feels good in the hands, even for someone like me with somewhat large mitts. The Playdate is small, though. I’ve included a size comparison here in the article, alongside a few things players might recognize, such as a DualSense controller, an Amiibo, a Vita, a 3DS XL, a GBA SP, and a Retroid Pocket 2. This should help you figure out if you’re willing to deal with the size, which works for me, but if my hands were much bigger might start to become an issue. The crank moves smoothly when you turn it, with just the right amount of resistance. It won’t move on its own; anywhere you stop is where it stays, but you also don’t feel like you have to work to move it. This allows for it to be smoothly used when you play games, navigate the menus, or do anything else.
Once you get through setup, you’ll find those two games I mentioned. While I’ll have more on them in the coming days, I’ll say for now that the introductory titles make for an excellent introduction to the system. Whitewater Wipeout is the perfect pick-up-and-play game for just a couple of minutes here and there, and it uses the crank really well. Once you get the feel of playing it figured out, you’ll have the sensation of playing the Playdate down. Meanwhile, Casual Birder is a more fully developed game, showing that the Playdate can offer more than just brief experiences.
You’ll get two more games each week until you receive the entire 24-game lineup for season 1. These will download in the background if you are online, or if you happen not to be when they come in, you can go into the games lineup and manually download them once you’re back online. Keeping the system connected will make this a smoother experience, though.
While you’ll have a consistent feed of new games coming, only having two games to play at a time may not be ideal if none of the early titles quite grab you. I admit that I haven’t played my Playdate as much over the last week and change as I usually would during my first week with a new system. Third parties can sell their own games, which you can sideload either with a cord or even digitally through the Playdate website. There are a bunch already available on itch.io if you can’t wait. Some are free, while others are pretty cheap. I have my eye on Bloom personally.
We’ll have a review of the Playdate coming in the next few weeks as the full experience becomes clearer, and I’ll be going more in-depth on individual games as well. For now, though, I can say that my first date with the system has been a positive one; I look forward to going out again.