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From Panic’s press release:

Today, after more than four years of work by a small and talented team, Panic is extremely excited to introduce Playdate, a brand new handheld gaming system.

Playdate is both very familiar, and totally new. It’s yellow, and fits perfectly in a pocket. It has a black-and-white screen with high reflectivity, a crystal-clear image, and no backlight. And of course, it has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB-C, and a headphone jack. But it also has a crank. Yes, a crank: a cute, rotating analog controller that flips out from the side. It’s literally revolutionary.

There’s more: Playdate includes games — a full season of them. The games will be delivered over-the-air, once a week for 12 weeks, and they’ll be a surprise: when the new game light flashes, you’ll never know what you’re about to play. Panic recruited some of the world’s best game designers — some well known; others under the radar — to make games exclusively for our system. Playdate isn’t just hardware: it’s a complete experience.

Mike Fahey, Kotaku:

When I received the Playdate announcement under embargo last week, I thought it was a joke. Panic is a company that makes web utility apps for smartphones and published adventure game Firewatch with Campo Santo. Now it’s jumping directly into game hardware with this strange little yellow box. It is a nice-looking box.

John Gruber, Daring Fireball:

Panic is almost cheating in a way because they’re tiny. The Playdate platform isn’t competing with the state of the art. It’s not a retro platform, per se, but while it has an obviously nostalgic charm it is competing only on its own terms. Its only goal is to be fun. And aspects of Playdate are utterly modern: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, apps and software updates delivered over-the-air.

Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch:

It’s different, all right. Bright yellow with a black and white screen and with no spot for removable media like cartridges, the Playdate is more or less self-contained, except of course for the charger and wireless connection. And it’s over the wireless connection that the games come: 12 of them, exclusives created by well-known developers like Keita Takahashi (Katamari Damacy), Bennett Foddy (Getting Over It) and Zach Gage (Ridiculous Fishing).

John Voorhees, MacStories:

Playdate’s hardware is not like anything currently available on the market, and Panic says the device isn’t meant to compete with other handheld systems either. Instead, the goal is to complement existing systems for those times in between using other devices when you want to play a game.

I was a fan of Panic’s last foray into video games with Firewatch, and I’ve been following along with their near-release Untitled Goose Game, but… actual hardware? Hardware that looks simultaneously cute, innovative, and fun? How interesting. I mean, just look at it:

playdate product image

Playdate is launching in 2020 for $149, and includes a “season” of 12 different games, with each title being released one week at a time. As a device meant to complement existing gaming systems, Playdate is intriguing; as a delivery service for new games from separate developers, it’s innovative.

If I’m skeptical at all, it’s because ultimately the games themselves need to be fun. I love thoughtful, well designed hardware, but if the games aren’t compelling then Playdate is destined to be a memorable niche product sitting on the shelves of enthusiasts that buy them. At $149 a pop, this won’t be something regular people buy on a whim, even if they’re gaming fans.

If you’re at all interested in Playdate itself (or just really good web design), go check out play.date and sign up to be notified when the units go on sale.