I've Got a Playdate With Panic's New Retro Handheld

Old school design, brand new experiences

Key Takeaways

  • Playdate looks to blend retro game design with new experiences.
  • The sleek, handheld design taps into the nostalgia of spending hours playing on an old Nintendo Gameboy.
  • Weekly game releases means users get a new surprise every week.
The upcoming Playdate handheld gaming console.


Panic’s upcoming Gameboy-like system looks to deliver a slice of retro gaming style, but without burying you in the nostalgia that comes from replaying the games you grew up on—and I’m totally here for it.

Retro gaming has been making quite a comeback as of late, and while getting to replay old-school titles that helped shape gaming is fun, you also can miss out on the feeling and emotion that comes with those remakes if you didn’t play the original. That’s why new systems like Playdate—a small yellow Gameboy-like device from Panic—are so exciting, because they blend the old-school graphics and visuals of those classics with brand-new experiences.

"Playdate presents an interesting entrant as it is designed as a retro-style device with retro-style (but entirely new) games," Scott Willoughby, a game developer and chief operating officer of Brainium, told Lifewire in an email. 

"This may have limited appeal to nostalgia players looking to relive familiar games (they ultimately care more about the software than the hardware). This is more of a game design challenge: how do you make engaging, new games within the interface and graphic constraints of this new device?"

Presenting the Appeal

There are many reasons why I’m excited about Playdate and what it’s bringing to the table. For one, the overall design of the handheld is just fantastic. It looks sleek and beautiful, and as Willoughby pointed out during our conversation, it’s the type of hardware that just begs to be held.

The design, itself, is reminiscent of the old Gameboys that Nintendo used to ship, which also happens to be one of the gaming consoles that I hold closest to my heart just because of the long hours spent playing games on it.

The games also are exciting, as they offer that retro-style that comes with the small, black-and-white screen, while also bringing the appeal of playing games that you’ve never seen before.

Throw in the new stereo dock that Panic recently announced, and the package starts to get even more enticing as a simple retro-gaming console with a flair for new design. The crank—which Panic says will be used to control some games—is also a very interesting addition and one that I’m intrigued to see in action for myself.

All around, the product is extremely appealing because of how much it caters to that old-school feeling. But, it isn’t entirely a retro gaming machine, as you won’t be diving into nostalgia-filled trips of your favorite classic titles. With Nintendo and others already offering a plethora of retro consoles, though, is that really a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Celebrating Every Week

The other reason I’m excited about Playdate is the way that Panic is delivering the 24 games included with the console’s first "season." The idea behind it all is to deliver new games to users each week. The most exciting thing here, though, is you won’t know what you’re getting until it arrives on the console.

It’s kind of like getting a birthday gift every week. You know it’s coming, but you just don’t know what it is. Of course, Panic has already detailed some of the games that we’ll get to play, including titles like Casual Birder, Executive Golf DX, and Pick Pack Pup, but the company hasn’t given many details on what most of these games are.

The Playdate Dock announced on June 8.


That helps add an extra air of mystery to the Playdate, and it’s honestly something that I’m in for, especially in a day and age where it feels like we’ve come to expect developers to hand-feed us complete details about new games before they come out. Not knowing exactly what I’m getting myself into just makes me more excited to start playing through the Playdate’s games.

Mixing retro game design with new experiences is a perfect way to showcase the things that made classic gaming titles so euphoric while also delivering new titles for old school and new school gamers to enjoy.

"As the first generations of gamers have given birth (literally) to the next generations of gamers, the desire to share the games they came up on with their kids has re-exposed gamers (both new and old) to the joys of classic retro games," Willoughby explained. 

"This has both inspired tons of new retro-style (simple controls, lo-fi graphics, 2D designs) games but introduced huge demand for access to classic libraries. It’s a perfect alignment of nostalgia, generational sharing, and accessible development tools and publishing platforms for new game designers."

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