Crank Up a Playdate Handheld With Hundreds of New Games

The Playdate handheld games console is fun, weird and kind of unlike anything else you can buy right now. It’s a charmingly simple throwback to portable gaming devices like the classic Game Boy, while still being packed with modern features.

New gaming consoles don’t come along that often, and since launching last year, the Panic Playdate has racked up great reviews. So, here’s what you need to know about the hottest new video game handheld.

What is the Panic Playdate?

The Playdate is a small yellow games console developed by Panic, a Mac software developer and games studio that published “Untitled Goose Game” and “Firewatch“—two of the biggest gaming cult hits of the past few years.

At 3 inches tall, 2.9 inches wide and just .35 inches thick, the Playdate is easily small enough to fit in your pocket or bag. Like the classic Game Boys that inspired it, the Playdate is designed to go everywhere with you. This way, whether you’re sitting on a bus, waiting for someone in a café or just killing time before class, you always have a game to play.

Control-wise, the Playdate has a D-pad and two buttons: A and B. It’s also got an analog crank that some games use as an additional control. While simple, they’re more than enough for some fun, wild and unique games.

Despite looking like something from the early 2000s, the Playdate has pretty modern specs. Its battery lasts for about eight hours of gaming, and it will stay in standby mode for two weeks. When it’s flat, you charge it over USB-C. It’s got Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (though it has yet to be enabled by a software update) and a high-contrast, high-definition black-and-white screen.

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What games does the Playdate have?

Like everything to do with the Playdate, the games library situation is unique and quirky.

As a new handheld console from a small company, the Playdate has a more limited selection of games than the major consoles like the Xbox One and PlayStation 5. You won’t find any big-name franchises like “The Legend of Zelda,” “Elder Scrolls” or “Madden”—though you will find games inspired by them.

When you buy a Playdate, you get 24 games as well—but you don’t get them all at once. Called Season One (which suggests there will one day be a Season Two), two new games are sent to your Playdate every week for 12 weeks. This is all part of the appeal of the Playdate: Instead of being bombarded with options, you get the chance to try out every game as it’s made available to you.

Aside from the included games, you can download free and paid new games from the Playdate Catalog or independent stores like Installing them on your Playdate is easy, and, all told, there are more than 400 games available—enough for months of entertainment.

How do I get a Playdate?

The last release of the Playdate is completely sold out, though it it’s available for pre-order for $199. It’s expected to ship late this year and will include all of Season One’s games. If you can’t wait, you may be able to pick up one secondhand on a site like eBay.

Can I develop games for the Playdate?

The reason the Playdate already has a few hundred games is that anyone can develop one. Panic has released a full set of developer tools, including Pulp, which works through just a web browser. If you’ve ever wanted to make a video game, it’s the perfect platform to start off with.

Similarly, if there’s a kid in your life who loves games and wants to know how things work behind the scenes, developing a game is something you could do together.

Should I get a Playdate?

The Playdate looks like a retro gaming device, despite being brand new. If this appeals to you—and you want to try some of the unique games available on it—go right ahead and pre-order one.

While you’re waiting for your Playdate to ship, you could check out some classic Nintendo and PlayStation games you can play online right now, see what other new independent games are available or play one of the biggest releases of the year: “The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom.”

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Product features and availability may have changed and are subject to change.

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