We tested the Playdate, the little yellow console that brings the crank into the history of video games

We tested the Playdate, the little yellow console that brings the crank into the history of video games

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It’s unlikely that you’ve ever used a crank to interact with a video game, unless, in a pinch, you’ve tried your hand at one of those fishing simulations offering joysticks with reels. The American publisher Panic (Firewatch, Untitled Goose Game) nevertheless bets on this elbow-shaped appendix by implanting it on its first console, the Playdate.

Getting your hands on this little yellow square was harder than expected. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and component shortages, the console, initially announced for 2020, is not finally available until April 2022 – and again, provided you have ordered it from the month from July 2021.

Big pixels and 8-bit music

The Playdate has something to appeal to design enthusiasts. It is robust and compact. Its thickness is almost the same as that of a smartphone, and its surface is comparable to four squares of a large bar of chocolate with hazelnuts. The crank fixed on its right side (too bad for left-handers) can be deployed or retracted thanks to a fairly flexible joint.

With its canary yellow color, the handheld console is eye-catching. This happily counteracts the screen’s shades of black and gray. The absence of colors is an aesthetic choice: this new-generation portable console tries to reconnect with the spirit of the video game dinosaurs that are electronic games in calculator format (like Nintendo’s Game & Watch).

Its resolution and, therefore, the finesse of its graphics may in fact be four times higher than those of the old Game Boy, but the monochrome aesthetics as well as the 8-bit music and sound effects are likely to arouse flashes of nostalgia for users born in the 1980s.

The Playdate is 7.4 cm wide and 7.6 cm long (when the crank is folded).  Its thickness is 0.9 cm.

A connected machine

Do not look for the notch where to put cartridges in the machine, there is none. The Playdate may have one foot in the 1990s, but the other is firmly rooted in the 2020s. A Wi-Fi connection allows it to automatically feed its catalog at the rate of two free games per week, which the we “unwrap” like small virtual gifts when they are downloaded automatically. In total, the Playdate will offer twenty-four games at the end of what its publisher calls its “first season” – hinting that there should be others.

The first title tested is Whitewater Wipeout, in which the crank is used to rotate a surfer’s board on a huge wave. The goal is to complete a series of acrobatic jumps to score points. This very intuitive title sets the tone for the console’s best games: easy to learn, but difficult to master. The second title is just as charming but a little talkative: the photographic game casual birder disappoints us a little, because it struggles to exceed the homage to the role-playing games of the 1990s.

The first days, however, like the crank of the Playdate, we had the impression of going around in circles: we will have to wait four weeks, and therefore eight games, to see a good variety settle in. A variety to which the Playdate will be able to claim more quickly if you decide to download other games, in addition to those of this first “season”, thanks to the USB cable: two development tools were made available free of charge by Panic at the start of April.

The battery of the machine holds the charge much better than a Smartphone or a Switch.  It would discharge only after eight hours of activity, specifies the manufacturer.  Power is supplied via a USB-C cable.

grind to win

After having tested about fifteen games, the provisional assessment of the toy library is rather positive. Only three or four titles were really disappointing, while a handful of concepts had the air of deja-vu without being unpleasant, like the aptly named Executive Golf or arcade game Hyper Meteor.

The most memorable memories are associated with the act of spinning, either frantically or at a rolling pace. We have even often been tempted to play while singing “And me during that time, I was turning the crank” from the Wazoo group.

The surfing of Whitewater Wipeoutinspired by one of the mini-games of California Games (1987), is mesmerizing. We also came close to spraining the wrist with Pinball Lifter, in which you have to operate an elevator that transports impatient penguins. the ingenious Omaze also offered us beautiful puzzles based on cylinders.

The obstacle course game Time Travel Adventure also offers an ingenious discovery: the crank allows you to advance or reverse the course of time. This reminds us of the oldest cameras that were activated by making a similar gesture.

But the small metal appendage is not everything. Some creators only use it (too?) sparingly, like Bennett Foddy, the creator of Getting Over It and QWOP. In zipper, the D-pad and the A and B buttons act as the main controls. The crank is only used to anticipate the movements of the enemies in a game that offers bloody confrontations in a palace of medieval Japan.

Simplicity and ingenuity are the hallmarks of the console.  No video game juggernaut is at the helm of the project, and the American publisher Panic has called on developers from the independent game scene to supply the catalog of its console.

Make the most reluctant love video games

For the moment, this portable console has proved to be very pleasing for brief and intense games. If we take the beloved Game Boy as a point of comparison, our favorite experiences in the first batch are more in the groove of Tetris than in that of the epic story of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. It is at the antipodes of the portable machines released in recent months, whether it is the Steam Deck from Valve, a mini-PC with a plethoric catalog, or the Switch OLED, a luxurious version of the famous Nintendo console.

Read also: Steam Deck: we tested the first portable console from Valve
Read also Switch OLED model: we played the game of the seven differences with the new model of the Nintendo console

With its immediate handling and ingenious content, the little yellow square is even perfect for introducing video games to the public who are the most reluctant to the complexity of new console and PC games. The Playdate is therefore ideal for challenging an old uncle, his parents or a child.

But for the time being, paradoxically, only the most knowledgeable players will be able to play it – those who have managed to order one of the rare first copies put on sale in July 2021 – and those who are ready to spend 200 € for it (at which it is you have to add 25 € of shipping costs and an optional case at 20 €), which is the price of certain “classic” consoles that are infinitely more powerful.

These expert players will be happy to savor this portable console like no other and its little games with new concepts. For the others, it will now be necessary to wait until next year to obtain this beautiful object which brings the crank into the history of video games.

Pixel’s review:

We liked:

  • turn the crank in one direction or the other to manipulate machines, characters or objects;
  • a very cute console that you take everywhere;
  • the originality of the toy library.

We liked less:

  • with shipping cost, this console shipping from USA is more expensive than some Nintendo Switch models;
  • certain titles that are too talkative;
  • everything is in English;
  • be a little frustrated, initially, with the slow release of games.

It’s more for you if:

  • you like fast and intense games;
  • you are looking for new concepts;
  • you are an inveterate nostalgic.

It’s not for you if:

  • you don’t like 2D games;
  • let alone those in black and white;
  • you are left-handed;
  • you have a sprained right wrist.

The Pixel Note:

400 pixel/240

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