We tried the Playdate, the little yellow console that brings the crank to the history of video games

It’s unlikely you’ve ever used a crank to interact with a video game, except, in a pinch, if you’ve tried your hand at one of those fishing simulations they offer. joysticks with reels. The American publisher Panic (fire watch, Untitled Goose Game) however bets on this elbow-shaped appendage by implanting it in 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, will finally not be available until April 2022, and again, provided you have ordered it 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 (a pity for left-handers) can be extended or retracted thanks to a fairly flexible joint.

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

Its resolution, and thus the finesse of its graphics, may actually be four times that of the old Game Boy, but the monochrome aesthetic, as well as the 8-bit music and sound effects, are likely that awaken flashes of nostalgia in users. born in the 1980s.

The Playdate measures 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 the cartridges in the machine, there is not. Playdate may have one foot in the ’90s, but the other is firmly rooted in the 2020s. A Wi-Fi connection lets you automatically feed your catalog at the rate of two free games per week, which we “unwrap” as little virtual gifts when automatically downloaded. In all, Playdate will offer twenty-four games at the end of what its publisher calls its “First Station” – hinting that there should be others.

The first title tested is White water removal, in which the crank is used to turn a surfer’s board on a huge wave. The goal is to complete a series of acrobatic jumps to score points. This highly intuitive title sets the standard for the best console games: easy to pick up, but hard to master. The second title is just as charming but a bit chatty: the photo game casual bird watcher It disappoints us a bit, because it has a hard time getting over the homage to the role-playing games of the 90s.

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 installed. A variety that 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 in early April.

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

grind to win

After having tried about fifteen games, the provisional assessment of the toy library is quite positive. Only three or four titles were truly underwhelming, while a handful of concepts had deja-vu vibes without being off-putting, like the aptly named Executive Golf or arcade game hyper meteor.

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

the surfing of White water removalinspired by one of the minigames of california games (1987), is fascinating. We also came close to spraining our wrist with fin lifter, in which you have to operate an elevator that transports impatient penguins. the ingenious omazar it also offered us beautiful puzzles based on cylinders.

The obstacle course game time travel adventure It also offers a clever discovery: the crank allows you to advance or rewind the course of time. This reminds us of older cameras that were activated by making a similar gesture.

But the little metal appendage is not everything. Some creators only use it (also?) sparingly, like Bennett Foddy, the creator of getting over it et QWOP. Inside Zipper, the D-pad and the A and B buttons act as the main controls. The crank only serves to anticipate the movements of enemies in a game that offers bloody clashes in a palace in medieval Japan.

Simplicity and ingenuity are the hallmarks of the console.  No video game giant is at the helm of the project, and US publisher Panic has asked developers from the indie game scene to supply their console catalogue.

Make the most reluctant love video games

So far, this handheld console has proven to be very enjoyable for short, 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 pace of tetris that in the epic story of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. It is the opposite of the portable machines launched in recent months, be it Valve’s Steam Deck, a mini-PC with a full catalog, or the OLED Switch, a luxurious version of the famous Nintendo console.

Also read: Steam Deck: we tested Valve’s first portable console
read also Switch OLED model: we play the game of the seven differences with the new model of the Nintendo console

With its immediate grip and clever content, the little yellow square is even perfect for introducing video games to audiences more averse to the complexity of new console and PC games. Therefore, Playdate is ideal for challenging an older uncle, his parents or a child.

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

These expert gamers will be delighted to savor this portable console like no other and its small games with new concepts. For the rest, now we will have to wait until next year to get hold of this beautiful object that takes the crank to the history of video games.

Pixels notice:

We liked it:

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

We liked less:

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

It’s more for you if:

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

Not for you if:

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

Note Pixels :

400 pixels/240

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