Lately, I find myself reminiscing about the era when digital playthings looked like toys. You may rightfully question my nostalgia about Tamagotchis, handheld LCD games, and the purple, handle-loaded GameCube, but my line of work revolves mostly around testing products with mature aspirations. Sometimes, I want companies to lighten up and put the “fun” in “functionality.”
That bias contributes in some part to my interest in the Playdate, a $179 portable gaming system that errs on the side of childish, low-powered fun. I’ve spent three weeks testing the system’s “near-final” hardware ahead of preorders opening up on 1 pm ET on Thursday, July 29, and I can confirm that it’s indeed fun to look at. Luckily, it’s also fun, simple, and accessible to hold, play with, and share with every friend that I can.
Later this year, the Playdate will reclaim the ground once dominated by Nintendo’s ’90s “Play It Loud” Game Boys. This handheld looks like something you’d pull out of a Yo Gabba Gabba monster’s pouch: squat, thin, banana-yellow, and ready to be tickled with a twist of its built-in rotary crank. But make no mistake—the Playdate’s creators at the game-publishing firm Panic have taken this device’s fun very seriously, and the results have surprised me (especially in one key aspect).