Just when I start to think gaming innovation is flattening out, something like this happens. And by this, of course, I mean the Playdate.

It’s a banana-yellow gaming handheld created by Panic. You might know them as the publishers behind games such as the award-winning Firewatch, and Untitled Goose Game. Yep, these are software people who roamed unexpectedly into hardware land.

June holding a Playdate
The Playdate is tiny and light, easily fitting into a pocket.

Panic says they wanted to do something completely different “because nothing’s surprising anymore, and surprises are great!” The whole project is an unexpected veer; it’s right out of left field, which is the best of fields.

And yes, that’s a crank. (No, it’s not crank-powered, though that’d be pretty cool.)

It’s weird and great and it has a crank

I just want to revel in the weirdness of this device for a moment (though I suppose I should’ve expected it from the people behind this.)

It’s unique in every sense, from form factor to software. This sort of thing is typically Kickstarter fodder; y’know, a slick-looking render that over-promises and eventually languishes until backers start tearing their hair out. That’s not the case here, not at all.

The Playdate is tiny, small enough to fit in your pocket. It has a crystal-clear black-and-white screen, three buttons, a d-pad, and a crank. While it has a distinctly retro, Gameboy vibe, this device is equipped with crisp, modern hardware.

As for games, Panic stays atypical, offering twelve originals, one per week. We can’t list them, because the titles are intentionally kept secret. What we can share is that they’ve tabbed some famous (infamous?) game designers, like Bennett Foddy, to develop their games.

These games aren’t going to be sweeping epics. They’re meant to be intriguing, whimsical, and light.

A Panic team member uses the Playdate
The crank isn’t used in all the games, but as inputs go it’s pretty compelling.

Let’s talk about the crank. Not every game will use it, but it’s a pretty unique input. The flagship title, Crankin’s Time Travel Adventure, uses the crank to control the flow of time, but it’s easy to imagine plenty of other creative uses for it.

As for specs, Panic says simply that the screen is outstanding, and the hardware is “real beefy.”

The Playdate ships in early 2020, and it’ll cost $149. Steep? Arguably, but remember that price includes twelve (12) games. The season starts from the moment you power it on. There may be more seasons, depending on interest, and it sounds like there will be an SDK for developers to their own stuff.

We think it’s beautiful, and we can’t wait to check it out in person. You can learn more about the Playdate here.