2022-07-06
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By Akriti Rana and Nimish Dubey

The world of handheld gaming has become pretty conventional. Portable gaming now is becoming more and more smartphone centric and consoles are taking a backseat. Big displays, bigger processors, high-end graphics with thousands of mAh of battery back up have taken over the gaming world, while the simplicity of a Game Boy that is only a Game Boy has been somewhat lost. The one console which is holding ground amongst a sea of gaming smartphones is perhaps the Nintendo Switch and even that is a fairly big console to be carried around in one’s pocket. 

Big is better? Well, Panic Playdate is cuter

While the world is moving towards a  “bigger is better” philosophy, there is a gaming newbie which is trying to challenge the idea. This new console in town is called Playdate and it is exactly as cute as its name sounds. It is a tiny (and by ‘tiny’ we mean ‘fit in the palm of your hand’ tiny), very yellow and very adorable gaming console. Created by Panic Inc. in collaboration with Teenage Engineering, Playdate is a gaming console which was first introduced back in 2019. And like many ideas that float over like soap bubbles over the densely populated Tech city, we assumed that it would soon pop into nothingness without really ever making it to reality. 

Fast forward to 2022, the petite, palm-fitting console is all set to hit the market. The Playdate comes with a small, 2.7 inch, black and white (!) , 400 x 240  e-paper display. Right below the display is a direction pad, and A and B buttons. There is a home button, a lock button, a USB Type C port and even a 3.5 mm audio jack.

Cranking up the whimsy

But this is all quite routine when it comes to consoles and the Playdate is anything but routine. Adding to its whimsy is a crank. Yes, you read it right! It comes with a physical crank which is not just a showpiece. It can actually be used as an added controller in certain games, so you can literally crank your way up (or even down) on the Playdate.  It is a really quirky combination of all things tech, retro, gaming and adorable which is likely to be right up a lot of people’s alleys. 

Panic keeps the element of extraordinary alive with not only what’s on the outside but also what’s on the inside. After all Playdate is a gaming console and while it’s adorable, petite looks may be what attracts one at first, it is what is on the inside, i.e, the games that will eventually decide its fate. 

Every game is a surprise (and free!)

When it comes to normal console games, we can simply go to a store (physical or virtual), pick the game we want from the library and get it. But that will not be the case when it comes to Playdate. Games on the console are going to be a surprise. This means you will not know what games you are going to get on the console until you get them. They will be released in seasons, with a new game arriving over Wi-Fi every week. In the first season, the handheld will get a total of 24 games with two releases per week. All of this will be included in the price of the console and these games will be automatically downloaded on Playdate. This also means, the games that get released on Playdate will be exclusive to its users only and will not be available on any other platform. 

Panic has already released a list of games that will be released on the handheld in the first season and has partnered with indie game developers like Zach Gade, Chuck Jordan and Shaun Inman. 

But the bigger question is whether this tiny handheld console will make it big in a gaming world that is set on following the “big is better” philosophy?

Cranky design, exclusive games

Well, there are a few things that work in the favour of this whimsical device. First and the most obvious one being its design. The design of the Panic Playdate alone is enough to make gamers not only curious but also interested in getting their hands on the device. Its miniature size and the bright yellow colour with a crank popping out of the side makes it as unique a   device as one can be. Most gaming devices look quite routine and those that have a touch of uniqueness to them only bring a touch of it – they do not pack it in spadefuls as the Playdate does. 

The second thing that works for it are the exclusive games that are available only to Playdate owners. There is no  gaming store where one can buy games for the Playdate. The fact that new games will be released every week on the console also keeps the element of surprise alive, which often is not the case with most other gaming devices. With other consoles and devices, you can play a game even before buying the device. Say, you can have played PUBG on another phone before you buy a gaming phone for playing PUBG specifically. This is not possible in the case of Playdate. Every game that arrives on the console is a surprise.  

The dark side of exclusive games

This actually is a double-edged sword and also something that can go against the long term success of the Playdate. Once the design hype dies down a bit, Playdate would need to build such a gaming portfolio that the audience that is playing those games makes it seem like a device worth investing in. In other consoles and gaming devices that come with some really popular games, it does not take a lot of convincing to get a new consumer on board.  But that might be a task for Playdate considering the games they release on the device will be a surprise. The exclusivity of the Playdate’s games also limits the chances of their becoming really big. Unlike a PUBG of a Call of Duty, which benefited from word of mouth and could be played on a number of different devices, Playdate’s titles will be limited to only those who have the tiny console. 

Another thing that might not work for Panic’s Playdate is the price. The console is on the expensive side and comes with a price tag of USD 179. Which seems a steep price to pay for something that is so small and unidimensional. It also does not have a Sony or a Nintendo standing behind it. The fact that Panic is already struggling to keep up with the demand might cause this gaming ship to sink before it even sets sail. 

Bright present, challenging future 

Having said that, it goes without saying that the Panic Playdate has certainly caught attention. It has managed to make the headlines without pulling too many marketing stunts or boasting about hardware specs and benchmarks. Its availability in India is not known as of now, and we would not be surprised if it did not come to India at all, given that the Nintendo Switch has STILL not been officially launched in the country. 

Its future is shrouded in uncertainty. But there is no doubt that the present of the Playdate is a bright one. It is a device that makes you feel nostalgic and takes you back to your childhood days even though nothing like this existed in the past in the first place. 

Now that is something. 

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