Unboxing and Trying Out the Creative Toy Playdate Handheld Console

I bought this peculiar gadget last year and almost forgot about it. A few days ago, I received an email notification that it had been shipped, and it arrived quite quickly.

This gadget is made by Panic Inc. and serves as a creative platform for indie games. In other words, it features a collection of specially designed independent games and cannot run games from any other platforms.

The hardware itself is unique as well. It has an e-ink display that is black and white, with a strange aspect ratio of 400×240 in a 5:3 ratio.

The most distinct feature is the crank on the side, which is used for gameplay controls. Therefore, it’s more of a small platform relying on creativity.

The packaging is exquisite and very compact. The protective case, which is essential for normal use, is sold separately. Without it, the device cannot be properly used. The overall price is around 200 US dollars.

On the back, there is an introduction emphasizing the platform’s crowdsourced independent game development nature. The development kit can be downloaded from the website at any time.

When opened, it reveals a simple design, with sharp and precise cuts on the edges. The machine has a matte texture, and all the units are yellow, giving it a unified visual identity. The creator constantly emphasizes the idea of having fun! It seems to encourage a playful mindset when using the device, so don’t take it too seriously.

There are four small holes on the back of the device, and the protective case has four pins that magnetically attach to the holes. It becomes an integral part of the machine, not just an accessory. As I mentioned earlier, the device has sharp edges, and it’s not enjoyable to use without the case.

Charging is done through a USB-C port, and it charges very quickly. The battery life doesn’t seem significant, but since it uses an e-ink display, power consumption shouldn’t be a major issue. The screen doesn’t have a backlight but is still sharp and detailed enough to be comfortably used in normal indoor lighting conditions.

After turning it on, it needs to connect to the internet for updates and activation. The games are pushed to the device from servers, so if the servers go down, you won’t be able to play. Each device is tied to an account, so it’s better not to buy it second-hand.

The server connection is unstable, and the speed is slow. I’m not sure if it’s due to my internet connection, but the system upgrade was interrupted four times.

Currently, there are only two games available. The official website states that there will be a total of 24 games, with two new ones being pushed every week. It’s unclear how they will be monetized, as all the games are currently free. It’s also uncertain what will happen to the old games once new ones are released. Given the limited storage space, it’s still an unknown factor.

The first game is a skateboarding game mainly designed to showcase the crank’s rotational control.

The second game is a Japanese-style RPG that tells the story of an outsider in a bird-watching town. After playing it briefly, I discovered two major issues. Firstly, it doesn’t have a scrolling feature, meaning that when you reach the edge of the screen, the entire screen is redrawn to enter the next area. I’m not sure if this was done intentionally or due to hardware limitations. Secondly, I couldn’t find a save function. The game saves automatically, but it only saves at certain points, and it’s unclear when those points occur. For example, if you switch to another game and come back, you may find that the game has rolled back to a previous point without saving, which is quite puzzling.

Overall, it’s a very peculiar toy. If you don’t consider it as a gaming device, you might find it interesting. The handheld size is very nice, even smaller than the Game Boy Advance SP. That’s what a handheld console should be.

Additional note:

I found the place to download games. The official website pushes the games, and players can choose from a selection that includes the two games originally installed on the device. I’m not sure if this is to showcase the gaming capabilities. Consequently, users can choose and download games according to their preferences. Currently, a total of four games can be downloaded.

Each game is not large, and the total storage space is 4GB.

The download speed is extremely slow, indicating that the server may not be the best. However, the game download hasn’t been interrupted; it’s just progressing slowly.