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Playdate Review : To Make An Interesting Console Again Was As “Simple” As Adding This Curious Crank | Tech Reviews

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Playdate Review : To Make An Interesting Console Again Was As “Simple” As Adding This Curious Crank | Tech Reviews

 

 

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We are in the era of photorealism and maximum FPS. We have crazy looking games that move with absolute fluidity, the most capable hardware and gaming devices that I could only dream of when I started playing ‘Collin MacRae Rally’ on PS1. However, there have been no novel console releases beyond the Steam Deck and the Nintendo Switch .

That is precisely why the Playdate is interesting and exciting . This kind of Game Boy with a crank (with which we have been messing around for a while ) is a breath of fresh air and indie in a sector that has been waiting for news for a long time. The concept is great, the execution is superb and the future could be bright, and it is this “can” that should not be lost sight of when analyzing it. That is what concerns us today: here is the analysis of the Playdate .

Playdate technical sheet

PLAYDATE
DIMENSIONS 76 x 76 x 9 mm

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86 grams

SCREEN 2.7-inch SharpMemory LCD

400 x 240 pixels

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1-bit

30 FPS (default)

50fps (maximum)

PROCESSOR 180 MHz Cortex M7
RAM MEMORY 16 MB
L1 HIDDEN 32 KB
STORAGE 4 GB
CONNECTIVITY WiFi 2,4 GHz

Bluetooth (not activated for now)

BATTERY 14 days standby

8 hours of gameplay

OPERATING SYSTEM PlayDate OS 1.10.0
CONTROLS D-Pad

A+B

hand crank

SOUND mono speaker

headphone jack

Microphone

OTHERS three-axis accelerometer

USB Type-C port

PRICE $179

Design: and this crank?

We begin by talking about the design, which is undoubtedly one of its differential points thanks to that curious crank that we have on the right side . The console is completely square, although the corners are slightly rounded. It is a striking slightly orange yellow color and unnoticed, what is said unnoticed, will not happen.

It is very small (76 x 76 millimeters), thin (nine millimeters) and light (86 grams). It is not noticeable in the pocket nor is it tedious to have it in your hand for a long time . In fact, it fits perfectly in the palm of the hand, as we can see in the images. It is made of plastic, obviously, but it shows well worked and does not slip at all.

In the corners we have some perforations that are two things. On the one hand, they can be used to pass a thin rope and carry the console hanging from the neck (if we want, nobody is going to force us). On the other hand, on the back they seem to be the screws that fit the cover with the chassis. We have not tried to open it for obvious reasons, but it can be good news for changing the battery in the long term or repairing a component.

On the front, the device offers us a D-Pad (the crosshead of a lifetime), the A+B buttons, a menu button that we will use to lower or raise the volume, open the settings or take a screenshot) and the speaker. The speaker, which is mono, sounds surprisingly good and very loud , so much so that I personally recommend not turning the volume all the way up.

At the bottom we have the USB Type-C charging port, the microphone (which we don’t know exactly what it will be used for, but it will surely end up being an interactive input method for certain games) and the headphone jack. We also have Bluetooth connectivity, but at the moment it is disabled .

At the top we find the unlock button (which we will press twice to wake up the console when it goes into standby). This has a small notification LED that warns us, among other things, when there is a new pack of games available for download.

When there are new games to download, the notification LED will notify us.

And on the right side we have the crank. Oh, the crank, what a fantasy of an invention . On the one hand, the right side has a small hole where the upper part of the crank is stored. Just pull back to remove it. The upper hinge has and offers good resistance to closing and, in addition, it is engraved on the upper and lower areas to fit the crank and leave it fixed in the folded and unfolded positions. According to Panic, its durability is two million cycles , which may seem like a lot, but depending on the use we make, it may not be that many.

The crank seems resistant and robust , but it is, without a doubt, one of the main critical points of the console. There are games that can only be controlled with the crank, so if it breaks, you’re done enjoying them. In the same way, there are games that exploit it less. It will depend on the title and the developer in question. In our test unit we have not had any problems with it, but it never hurts to be forewarned.

We’ll use the crank to navigate through the menus (although we can use the buttons, of course) and to play games. Panic had the great idea that the clamping area also rotates , so that we do not have to let go of it at any time while we play and rotate it. We always hold her. It is a good implementation and a detail that, although it will go unnoticed, it is worth commenting on it.

It is also interesting that the console detects the position of the crank and offers us feedback in the form of sound . In the same way, we have sound feedback when moving it in games and in the menus, giving the feeling (false, but there it is) that it is a more analog handle.

Regarding the ergonomics of the console, I find it comfortable to use to play with the D-Pad and the buttons. Despite its size and completely smooth edges, the console fits well when held with two hands and does not get in the way . With the crank, however, we are forced to hold the console with the left hand and move the crank with the right, and that causes a certain tremor, especially in games that squeeze it the most.

Screen: lights and shadows

And now that we know the device from the outside, let’s talk about the screen. The Playdate offers us a 2.7-inch Sharp Memory LCD panel with 400 x 240 pixel resolution and… monochrome. By boat soon, we can read this paragraph and think “Excuse me? We are in 2022, this is very vintage” and we will not be wrong. The reality, however, is that the screen is a joy in (almost) all aspects .

The panel has 173 pixels per inch, more than enough resolution to play games that are not exactly looking for photorealism. The menus and texts look and read correctly thanks to a well-adapted interface , and the animations are delicious. All games move at 30 FPS by default, but they can reach 50 FPS knowing, yes, that the console is not a gaming PC.

The screen is surrounded by a frame three millimeters thick that does not bother. Does it contribute? Little beyond aesthetics, but it would not have hurt to reduce it slightly to take better advantage of the front. Be that as it may, we return to the same thing: Playdate does not seek to offer an immersive experience like the one we can look for in a game for smartphones, for example. Overall, the screen is of sufficient size, resolution, and sharpness .

To say that it is not tactile is to say the obvious, that is not the problem. The problem is that it doesn’t have a backlight . Instead, the device features a reflective panel which has its pros and cons. Pros: Looks luxurious in good light (in fact, the better the light, the better the visibility) and can be used outdoors without any problem.

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The problem with the screen is that it does not have a backlight, so there is no need to play at night or in the dark.

The cons or rather the con is that forget about playing at night without a light source . At times, I have felt like when my mother gave me the Game Boy Advance with the ‘Pokémon Sapphire’, playing on the sofa focusing the console on the living room lamp. It’s a real shame, but I understand that space is what it is and that you can’t have everything in this life.

Performance and games: surprises and uncertainty

But we are talking about a console, so let’s talk about the games, their performance and all the doubts around them. First, the gross specifications, which are not really going to decide whether we buy the console or not. We have a 180 MHz Cortex M7 processor , 16 MB of RAM, 32 KB of L1 Cache and four gigabytes of non-expandable internal storage. For context, the Game Boy Color had 32KB of RAM and an 8.38MHz CPU.

The operating system moves very smoothly and at no time have we had jerks of any kind. It is a simple interface, with just the right and necessary adjustments and very focused on downloading the games, updating them and playing, without worrying about excessive adjustments . The problem, yes, is that neither the games nor the operating system are in Spanish. For now and until further notice, only in English.

On the main screen we have the games. You will see that there are two sections, “Season One” and “Settings” (we have three because we have a section with more games for press, but now we return to that). Clicking on the games we will launch them. Clicking on “Settings” we will open the settings. To move through the menus we can use the crosshead or the crank.

There we can access WiFi (which we will use to download games and updates to the OS and titles), modify the lock screen (put the analog, digital or world clock, but without the option to keep it off), the auto-lock (three minutes, no more options), accessibility options, time, device metrics and system metrics (format, update, etc.). Interestingly, there is no way (that I have found) to turn off the console completely .

At the moment, we have not found a way to turn off the console completely.

And then we have the games. How do the games work on Playdate? In various ways. On the one hand, we have the games that Panic gives us. Every week for twelve weeks, Panic will give us two surprise games (if you want, because the complete list is here ). These games will be downloaded to the console automatically and, when we start it, we will have to “open” them manually as if it were a gift. Very curious and funny, really.

What will happen when all the games promised in that Season One are delivered? Well, it is not known. We do not know if Panic will release more free games or if the thing will be left only in the hands of third parties. What we do know is that the console allows side-loading , that is, you can download a game and install it on Playdate as if it were an APK on Android. Precisely one of the first games to do this is ‘Bloom’, which costs $9.99 and can be purchased on itch.io. They’re also going to launch Catalog, which appears to be some sort of game store.

Developers can use the Panic tools to develop their games (if anyone is interested, the SDK can be downloaded here ). This is obviously designed to create a scene of indie developers who bring the console to life over time and that is precisely the problem and what generates the most doubts.

On the one hand, by “not knowing” which games Panic will give (I insist, you can find out if you want, but the trick is to be surprised every week) you can’t know if you’re going to like them . Even knowing what they are about, it may be that out of 24 games you like one, two, six or 20 or that you don’t like any of them. You grope and leave everything in Panic’s hands.

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On the other hand, we know that one of the pillars of the console is to be a meeting point for independent developers. It is true that the console has generated interest, to the point that units ordered from now on will be delivered in 2023 due to excess demand (and lack of production capacity), but the reality is that the future of the console depends, precisely, on indie developers betting on it .

What will happen if, finally, they don’t? What if, after a while, only a handful of indie games have come out that haven’t generated the necessary traction to continue playing the console? That we will be left in the hands of Panic, whose long-term plans are simply unknown . The problem is that the future of the console is either very good or very bad, either full of games or doomed to be a $179 paperweight.

That said, we have been able to access four games during this time and our favorite, without a doubt, has been ‘Time Travel Adventures’ because it is, precisely, a title that makes superb use of the crank . If you want to try the console and the crank, start with this one because it is a fantasy. If you want to try a little more history, ‘Casual Birder’ is very cool and if you want to end up pulling your hair out, ‘Whitewater Wipeout’ will enchant you. I haven’t been able to understand the controls, as happened with ‘Boogie Loops’.

That’s what I mean when I say you either love or hate games. I can see myself playing ‘Time Travel Adventures’ and ‘Casual Birder’, but I can’t see myself spending hours on ‘Whitewater Wipeout’ and ‘Boogie Loops’. That means that the games that they give me next week I may or may not like. If I like them, great, if not, well… a week when I don’t have anything interesting to play.

We are not going to analyze each game because, on the one hand, we have not been able to access all of them and, on the other hand, because we do not want to spoil the surprise for you. We simply issued the warning that the games are, without a doubt, the main unknown of the console in the long term and it is something that we must keep in mind before launching into it.

What I would like to point out is that games that abuse the crank, such as ‘Whitewater Wipeout’ or ‘Time Travel Adventures’, can make the console shake more than necessary in our hand. In the surf game it is particularly evident.

Battery: a lighter

We finish this analysis talking about the battery. Panic has not revealed the battery amperage of its console, but thanks to the breakdown of iFixit we know that, originally, it had 741 mAh. And we say “originally” because one of the reasons for its delay was, precisely, a problem with the batteries . What exact capacity does it have? We don’t know, but we do know what to expect from the battery.

In standby mode, the console promises 14 days of autonomy . After all, it is a one-bit screen that barely consumes. The standby mode is when we have it at rest, with the clock on the screen and without playing. 14 days is more than enough to forget about charging it, although it is true that, seeing that the panel does not have a backlight, we could have expected something more.

As for the autonomy playing, it will depend on the title, but we can expect more than seven hours of play . Playdate promises eight hours, so not too bad. However, Playdate is designed for casual games and, in the absence of a title that catches and is a well of hours (we are all thinking of a Pokémon fork, yes), it is likely that most games will be short for a while dead.

Playdate, Fadvices opinion

At this point, and after having tested the console in greater depth, we came to the same conclusion that we reached in our first impressions. The Playdate is a well finished console, curious, fun and with spectacular potential , but its future is too uncertain.

The crank is great when it is exploited in conditions, although somewhat uncomfortable depending on which games and contexts. However, our unit has shown quite a bit of resilience during the time we’ve had it. I have no doubt that at some point there will be a video on YouTube of a machine being turned around to see how many turns it can take, time to time.

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The concept of the console is sensational, but the game distribution system raises questions . Having the (voluntary) uncertainty of what games will come out and if we are going to like them, what will happen once the promised 24 games are released and knowing that, furthermore, the useful life of the console will depend on the indie developers who launch their games in the platform can generate some rejection.

And that would not be “a big problem” if the device cost 50 euros, like Nintendo’s Game & Watch. However, it costs $179 , which puts it on a par with a Nintendo Switch Lite , for example. It is a fairly high price for the amount of doubts that are still in the air.

As a device, the Playdate is spectacular. If we are positive and trust that there will be a genuine interest in releasing games on the console, we can expect great things from it. If we are negative, the first thought will be that in 12 weeks it is possible to have a nice paperweight without new games. Only time will tell.

In any case, it is a device focused on a very specific type of user and a very precise niche of developers . Nothing happens if the device is not for you. In fact, it probably isn’t. As an exercise in independent development it is spectacular, as a console for the masses, not so much. And that is, at the same time, its greatest virtue and its greatest problem.

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Hocainehttps://fadvices.com
A full time tech enthusiast with a passion for writing. Religiously follow everything new happening in the tech world and share my two cents with my audience here.
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