If you have managed to get your fingers in a Playdate or have one on the way, you are guaranteed a full “season” with 24 games delivered to your device within 12 weeks. And there are some amazing ones included – check out my full Playdate review to get a summary of my favorites. But there is also more to the device than just these games, thanks to side loading. Playdate maker Panic has made it very easy to get games onto your device. You can check the process here, but essentially just download a file – usually from a place like Itch.io – and then either load it on your device via USB or load them wirelessly by adding them to your account on Playdate internet page.
It is a fairly painless process and there are already some interesting, strange and fun experiences that you can try. Here are a few great games and apps to get you started.
By RNG Party Games
Bloom may actually be my favorite Playdate game so far. It’s a bit like if Stardew Valley was also a slice of life drama told primarily through text messages. You play as Midori, who starts a new flower shop via a roof garden instead of going to school, as her parents think. One half of the game involves growing and selling flowers, steadily and quietly making money to expand your space and buy better seeds. The other half has you stuck on your phone and responding to messages from your friends, partner, landlord and (gulp) parents. The scripture feels very genuine, to the point that I dreaded waiting for an answer from Midori’s father, but it paints a vivid picture of the challenges of starting a new life. Bloom also takes place in real time, making it the kind of game you want to check in on a few times a day instead of something to binge on.
Sketches, part, loose
Sketches, part, loose is a fairly straightforward collection of nonogram puzzles that involve filling space on a grid to create an image. (Some people may be more familiar with those below Picross name.) This iteration does not do anything dramatically different with the formula, but it turns out that logical puzzle style fits perfectly with Playdate’s low-fi, black-and-white screen. It feels like solving sudoku or crossword puzzles in a newspaper, just without the pen. Sketches, part, loose comes with 99 puzzles, but also has a built-in editor so you can make your own and share them with other players, so the future may depend on the kind of community formed around it.
A joke worth $ 0.99
A new platform means news games, and no one matches Playdate’s mood better than the appropriate name A joke worth $ 0.99. In the game, you use the crank to help hold a little guy with a bouncing butt in the air for as long as possible while also collecting stars that appear. Meanwhile, an incredibly catchy / disgusting theme song crashes into the background. But with each new star you get the next line in what I suppose is a funny joke, but I have not gone far enough to tell yet. That’s because this game is Flappy Birdlevel hard, and so far I have only managed to hear four lines of the joke. But it’s funny enough that I just keep jumping and failing.
Tetris to Playdate
In terms of hardware, Playdate is very similar to the original Game Boy if it came from another dimension, from the monochrome screen to the simple D-pad and two face buttons for controls. And a Game Boy is not complete without Tetris. This version is a barebones version of the iconic block-falling puzzle – but it gets the job done. There are no extra features, but it plays well and even allows you to rotate blocks using the crank. (I do not recommend this, but it’s fun to try.)
By Bipedal Dog
With its extra click buttons and built-in cranks, Playdate is a handheld gaming device that works like a great fidget device, the kind of thing that keeps your hands busy during a long meeting or phone call. Mash Gadget is not exactly a game, but it does add some game-like elements to your fidgeting. There is a mode that gives you the task of pressing the A button as many times as possible in 10 seconds and a safecracking mini-game where you turn the crank in search of three numbers. The modes are basic but strangely satisfying, and they remind me of something you would find on an old digital watch from the 90s.
By Visual Other
Image collection is a bundle of five strange puzzles that fit pretty well with Playdate’s retro aesthetics. The five games are all quite different – one is a sliding block puzzle, another is a digital bid for pachinko, and my favorite is a strange Rubik’s Cube spread out – but they all use the same cryptic symbols for different purposes. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the collection is that it does not explain anything; you need to figure out how each of the puzzles works before you can start solving them. Oh, and it has some excellent chiptune music that almost requires a pair of headphones.