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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

The Playdate Season 1 Graduating Class: Handing out superlatives to all 24 games

One of the things that made the Playdate so immediately appealing was the "Season 1" concept that Panic pitched with the launch of its handheld console: a series of games that all Playdate owners would get sent to their devices every week, delivered in pairs.

That's 24 included games over 12 weeks from a variety of developers from all over the world. Originally, the games were meant to be synchronized for all console owners, meaning on the same day and at the same time every week, all Playdate owners would receive the same games. This would create collective excitement about each game, building conversation and hype around them as everyone was experiencing them together in real time.

Stock issues got in the way of that dream, and now, instead, all new Playdate owners get the Season 1 games rolled out to them weekly from the day they register their systems.

Even without that simultaneous release calendar, the Season 1 experiment is an incredible success. All 24 games showcase what the Playdate is capable of, how the limitations of the handheld can still produce incredible experiences, and are set at the best price point: free.

We think all these games deserve love, so we're handing out yearbook-style superlatives to the graduating class of Playdate's Season 1!

(Games are ordered in the order they were delivered to our Playdate. We played all of the first season's games for a minimum of a half-hour.)

An animated GIF cycling through screenshots of all 24 games in Playdate's Season 1. Each of the images is described in each game's subsection below!



Casual Birder

Most Likely to Spark a Hyperfixation

The key art for the game Casual Birder. A person in a seagull-themed hat and big round glasses stares on in awe at a bird flying past in the sky. They hold out a Playdate-like camera to take a shot. The game's title emerges from the clouds.

Developed by: Diego Garcia, Music by Max Coburn

Genre: Bird collecting adventure game

Crank usage: Crank used to scroll through inventory, to focus camera, and for various tools

An in-game screenshot of Casual Birder. A big burly man with a ponytail is helping unload a moving truck for a character who stands off to the side with a cap and big round glasses. The big burly man says: "Do you even know anything about bird photography???" A small bird sits on a bench to their right in front of the house the character seems to be moving into.

It wouldn't be a Game Boy-like handheld without a creature collectin' game where a world of people are all dedicated to one thing. In this case it's bird photography, and competition to be the best runs fierce. In Casual Birder, you play as a newcomer to Bird Town who is immediately tossed into the world of competitive birding when the town bullies, the Pearly Eyed Thrashers, mock you for using your phone to take pictures of birds and literally knock you out for it.

Casual Birder is all about snapping photos of birds, which you do by pulling out your camera phone that you focus at different lengths using the Playdate's crank. The crank is also used to change your active item from a circular inventory. It's got that classic Game Boy adventure game style, where you use a variety of items to lure certain birds out into the open, and it's a charming adventure that'll last between 1-2 hours. Good start, Season 1.

Whitewater Wipeout

Best Sports Sim

The key art for the game Whitewater Wipeout. A surfboard can be seen sticking out of the sand and a sunrise is peeking over the waves. In 90's extreme sports style, the game's title can be seen in the middle of the scene.

Developed by: Chuhai Labs

Genre: Surfboarding arcade score chaser

Crank usage: Crank used to aim the surfboard on the waves

An in-game screenshot of Whitewater Wipeout. A person is surfing into an oncoming wave and the amount of lives the player has left is represented by a surfboard in the upper left.

As a kid, I used to love California Games on the NES. You would just run through a series of Californian sports (footbag, surfing, and frisbee throwing among them) and, if you were a child, like me, you fumbled your way through them and rarely actually succeeded. Whitewater Wipeout emulates those vibes perfectly with its intense surfing, high score-chasing action.

In Whitewater Wipeout, you use the crank to aim the nose of your board and try to build momentum and speed by riding up and down the wave to pull off tricks in the air. Fail to get the nose of your board back down when you land and you wipe out. It's hard as nails, but there's a nice progression to learning its mechanics that celebrates genuine skill in a way I appreciate. And it's the perfect pick up and play experience.

This is what real surfing looks like, right?

Crankin's Time Travel Adventure

Most Likely to be Late to Class

The key art for Crankin's Time Travel Adventure. A robot person sits on a couch, snoozing away. His body is made up of ovals, his head is a square, and atop his head is a triangle. A crank sticks out of his back.

Developed by: uvula (Keita Takashi and Ryan Mohler)

Genre: Time-traveling obstacle dodger

Crank usage: Crank used to control the flow of time, controlling Crankin in the process

An in-game screenshot of Crankin's Time Traveling Adventure shows the end of a level where Crankette punishes Crankin for being late. She is kicking Crankin in the crotch and his shocked expression says it all. They're both made up of ovals for their bodies, Crankin has a square head and Crankette has a circle head. They stand between two trees against a background of clouds.

Time travel in video games still feels like an underused gameplay mechanic. We've got Blinx, Outer Wilds, The Forgotten City. All classics. But none have quite utilized the timey-wimey system in the way uvula has with their time-controlling puzzle adventure, Crankin's Time Travel Adventure.

The setup is simple: Crankin is a sleepy robot and is always late to dates he sets up with his beau, Crankette. He's got to rush to make it before she gives up on him, and so, you as the player help him to avoid obstacles by using the crank to control time and help him dodge things like rampant pigs, butterflies, and lil' poops with feet, so he can make it to his date.

This game is entirely controlled with the crank and is all about forcing Crankin into specific animations that keep him away from these obstacles. It's silly, it's got a simple but surprisingly deep gameplay system, and with over 50 levels, there's lots to love.

Boogie Loops

Most Musically Inclined

The key art for the music creation tool Boogie Loops. Five different characters, from left to right: a panda, cactus, pizza slice, bunny, and another panda, are dancing in synchronicity. Spotlights hit them and the game's title, made up of various music-related shapes, stands above.

Developed by: May-Li Khoe and Andy Matsuchak

Genre: Music creation tool

Crank usage: No crankin' here

Boogie Loops is an interesting release in the Season 1 experiment for what it represents in the lineup. I see Season 1 as a showcase of what's possible on the machine, and Boogie Loops is a showcase of what applications can look like on the platform. This Mario Paint-like music creation tool is exactly what it sounds like on the tin. You place notes on a track, you choreograph a dance with the five mascot dancers you assign to each song, and you mess around with each song's BPM and tone.

I'm not much of a musician, but you can take a listen to the short loop I managed to put together above and let me know if I have a future in music production. I love seeing unexpected things like this on the Playdate and hope to see more non-game functionality implemented into the device over time!

Lost Your Marbles

Class Clown, Best Limited Crank

The key art for Lost Your Marbles. Simple bubble lettering against a simple dot patterned background.

Developed by: Sweet Baby Inc

Genre: Choice-driven marble-manipulatin' visual novel

Crank usage: Bottom half of crank alters the levels to send marble flying

An in-game screenshot of Lost Your Marbles. It shows the player's marble hitting into a lightbulb with a moon inside of it that reads "Watch" underneath. The player is making a choice for the prompt: "Interpret Spiky Jon's future?" The arena the maze is navigating through is full of rectangular obstacles.

I love the Playdate. Where else do you get a choice-driven marble game visual novel? Where else do you get a game where a person's mind is scrambled because she brings her dog to work where her cat scientist boss freaks out and messes up an experimental piece of tech in the process? Video games are good, man.

Lost Your Marbles is a visual novel where every choice you're asked to make takes place in a marble arena. There, three choices are laid out in front of you in the form of lightbulbs you can send your marble flying into to be chosen. You use the bottom half of the crank to manipulate the map, Monkey Ball style, and try to get the best choice possible. The better the choice, the harder it is to get to. This is exactly the kind of game I was hoping to find on the Playdate and it's a delight.

Pick Pack Pup

Best and Goodest Boy

The key art for Pick Pack Pup. An adorable puppy sits with its paws up on a package, tongue wagging, and floppy ears pushed down by a cap. They look on longingly off to the side where the game's title can be read.

Developed by: Nic Magnier, Arthur Hamer, and Logan Gabriel

Genre: Match-3 corporation simulator

Crank usage: Crank used for scrolling through comic-like cutscenes

An in-game screenshot of Pick Pack Pup. A variety of items can be seen in a six by six grid. Things like puzzle pieces, diamond rings, light bulbs, and game controllers. Amidst these items are a series of strangely shaped packages, packed by bringing different item types together. The player's cursor sits on one of the packages and small text that reads "Ship" is above it. The right fourth of the screen has a pup with a cap and in a shirt watching on, along with meters for that level's goals above them.

We're only six games in and we've got our first takedown on the capitalist hellscape we live in with the Amazon-satirizing Pick Pack Pup. This match-3 game has you playing as a pup who's got a new gig packaging orders for a big corporation, one they slowly realize isn't quite the dream it's made out to be.

Pick Pack Pup's match-3 styling is neat, with every 3 or more objects you mash together turning into a package that takes up space on your grid and needs to be "shipped" out to score you points. The more packages you send at once, the better. You'll get timed challenges, themed item challenges, and more. Seeing the Playdate as a more worthwhile replacement for the phone game experience, I can see myself losing hours to Pick Pack Pup.

Flipper Lifter

Best Customer Service Simulator

The key art for the game Flipper Lifter. A penguin emerges from unseen water with stars sprakling around it. The game's name is shown in bubbly writing to the side against a lighting gradient.

Developed by: Serenity Forge

Genre: Arcade elevator sim

Crank usage: Crank up and down to send elevator up and down floors

An in-game screenshot of Flipper Lifter. In a multi-floor building, penguins wait at various elevator doors. An exclamation mark shows players where the next penguin wishes to be shuttled and a timer in the upper left shows how much time is left in the level.

There's something to be said about the Playdate's intuitive design. Not unlike the Wii, there are a ton of games that just immediately make sense because of the hardware. Flipper Lifter is one of those games. In Flipper Lifter, you serve as the manual elevator operator for a series of spaces that penguins inhabit, shuttling them back and forth to the floors they need to get to. You use the crank to bring them up and down. It's simple.

As the levels progress, new obstacles appear, like the need to shuttle left and right to deliver penguins to floors in two columns, and the simple mechanic finds some unexpected challenge. It's short, sweet, and has a high score-chasing vibe, and damn does it feel bad when the penguins yell at you for taking too long.

Echoic Memory

Best Listener

The key art for Echoic Memory. An amorphous shape serves as the backdrop for the game's title, which has an echo-like visual effect with the same line getting fuzzier and less specific as it fades into the background.

Developed by: Samantha Zero

Genre: Audio-based memory game

Crank usage: Crank to clean up corrupted audio

An in-game screenshot of Echoic Memory. The main screen is split in four, each with a small disc in the center and a rotatable crank in the center of each disc. There is a round light in the upper left and a square button in the bottom right. Along the right edge of the screen there are three identical electronic components meant to be the player's lives. At the bottom of the screen a text box from a character named ECM-1010 has spit out gibberish.

Echoic Memory is one of those games that's fascinating regardless of platform, and yet it still utilizes the crank in a memorable way and makes the most of its placement on the Playdate. In Echoic Memory, we've got our second corporation satire of the season. You work as a QA person for an audio company whose hardware is secretly used to listen in on customers to collect data to be sold.

Your job is to troubleshoot these machines by matching a diagnostic audio clip with one of the audio files stored on the device. It's all about memorizing short music loops and using the crank to clean up the audio when it's corrupted beyond repair. Crank until it sounds normal again and match it up. It's got an interesting story, a fun crank mechanic, and a great twist on the memory game. Thumbs up.

DemonQuest '85

Most Likely to Bring About The End Times and Break Up Sweethearts

The key art for the Playdate game DemonQuest '85. It depicts a horned demon with giant wings crouched with an arm ready for a swipe. In front of the demon is a knight in full armor, holding up a shield to deflect the swipe and with a sword at the ready. They seem to be in a cave of some sort and the game's title, in old timey font, lines the bottom of the image.

Developed by: Crooked Park

Genre: Demon summoning simulator

Crank usage: No crankin' here

An in-game screenshot of DemonQuest '85. Three teens sit in an attic, the one in the middle's eyes have become voids and their mouth is left open. A demon is channeling through them and saying "Dost thou not think? O, who would thou favor magician?" The player's options in response are "Cimeies. He has the rightful claim to the throne." and "Glasya-Labolas. If Cimeies lost the throne to him once, he'll lose it again."

Another game that's crankless, and yet I came away as excited about this one as any other in the pack. DemonQuest '85 is the story of a high-schooler in possession of a how-to-summon-demons book. Using the information in the book, you'll solve the issues of your classmates, position the demons politically, and otherwise make the world yours. There seem to be multiple solutions to each demon summoning, and the choices you make have ripple effects on your classmates.

It's a simple puzzle game where your main goal is to read the book, determine the appropriate gift for the demons, the appropriate summoning music, and which of your classmates would most benefit from said demon's abilities. It's got some great, detailed character art. And the evolving gimmick of seeing your classmates' lives change with the demons is so good.


Best Use of Circles

The key art for the Playdate game Omaze. A dial-like circle with a smaller circle within it.

Developed by: Gregory Kogos

Genre: Circle-based maze puzzler

Crank usage: Crank to move around maze circles

An in-game screenshot of Omaze. There are a series of circles connected by small openings wherever the circles meet. On the left is a smaller circle within the left-most circle. In columns to the right from there, there is a dial in the middle of a circle that auto-rotates the player's circle and a series of obstacles that eat up 75% of a circle the player must avoid. On the right is the exit circle.

When it comes to handheld games, especially ones that use a 400x250 pixel resolution, simple is best. Omaze embodies that perfectly with its simplistic maze-like puzzling. This game sees you using the crank and one button to move a tiny circle through a series of larger, interconnected, obstacle-laden circles. That's it. Get to the end of that series of circles to advance, and do that 20 times in each of the game's four worlds and you've won. You've got obstacles like auto-rotating devices that counteract your cranking, aggro enemy circles that kill you instantly, and barriers you've got to work around.

It makes great use of the crank, it doesn't overcomplicate things, and it provides a decent challenge to boot. There are even a few boss battles hidden throughout. Definitely worth a go around.

Hyper Meteor

Best Weak Points

The key art for the Playdate game Hyper Meteor. In simple blocky text with a geometric line pattern next to it is the game's title against a plain white background.

Developed by: Vertex Pop

Genre: Asteroids-like

Crank usage: Crank to aim your ship

An in-game screenshot of Hyper Meteor. A small white triangle space ship with sparkles coming out of the back of it, is piloting around a series of meteors. Each one has an obvious white weak point that the player can drive into. The bottom bar shows the hit combo, the lives, what level you're on, and your score. This is all against a geometric background.

A few of Season 1's Playdate games serve as genuinely clever adaptations of arcade classics that make use of the Playdate's special hardware. Hyper Meteor is one such game, offering a take on the arcade classic Asteroids, where instead of shooting down your space rocks, you use the crank to pilot your ship into their big white weak points. You use a button to push your ship forward, you have bombs to clear the screen as needed, and it's all about going for high scores.

We're definitely in the keep-it-simple section of the season, and Hyper Meteor may be my favorite of the straightforward games so far. Getting used to the crank-based ship controls takes some time, but once you've got it, flying through these asteroids — or excuse me, meteors — is a joy.


Easiest Foddian Game (Just Kidding)

Key art for the Playdate game Zipper by Bennet Foddy. Along with the text (title and developer name), there is a samurai with a ponytail and one arm outstretched wielding a blade, with another shadowy enemy figure with weapon raised in the background.

Developed by: Bennett Foddy

Genre: Tactical samurai action

Crank usage: Crank to look into the future to see how you and your opponents' moves will play out

An in-game screenshot of the Playdate game Zipper. Within the shadows of a castle's walls, a samurai stands next to reeds in darkness on a grid walkway. There seems to be a trail of blood behind him. There's a timer of "life" in the upper right and a "READY!" signifier in the upper left to show the game's ready to begin.

I'll admit that I went into a lot of these games blindly. So, yes, when I saw there was a Playdate game from Bennett Foddy, the creator of such games as Getting Over It and QWOP, I expected some fiddly hardcore platforming-adjacent game that used the crank to make things even harder. What I got instead? A tactical samurai game that featured its own version of Foddian difficulty.

In Zipper, you move a samurai a limited number of squares at a time; if you are within range of an enemy, kill them in one move. The idea is to "zip" around the world on your way to killing off the castle's guards, all under a move-based time limit as your hero is bleeding out and each step is one step closer to death. Enemies are just as capable at killing, so it's a constant battle to position yourself well for both offense and defense. Death means starting at the beginning again, so it's got that challenge, and you use the crank to see your opponent's moves in relation to yours to plan ahead. Foddy done it again.


Most Likely to be on a Nokia

The key art for the game Snak. A snake sits curled up and smiling with an apple to eat as a snack. In the distance behind it, a giant apple monster approaches with a gaping mawy full of sharp teeth. On the left, the game's title can be seen with an apple presumably having eaten the "e" in snake to make it snak.

Developed by: STFJ

Genre: Snake-like

Crank usage: No crankin' here

An in-game screenshot of Snak. A long snake sits in the middle of a large room with apple monsters with giant mouths approaching from all sides.

Back into the purposefully simple sphere comes Snak, a take on the classic pack-in mobile game Snake: a game about eating apples, contending with a growing body, and avoiding bumping into walls and yourself as much as possible. Snak is meant to be simple but explores how different the game could be with the addition of one button and shifting one core system.

In Snak, you can jump over your trailing snake body. And here, the apples are finally fighting back, too. That means you're contending with your single goal now actively trying to fight back against you. They latch on and climb up your slithering body, and you can stop them by looping back on yourself and jumping to eat them off of your body. STFJ's goal was to make a game that you could pick up 15 years later and still understand and enjoy. And if Snake's ever-present place on cellphones is any sign, it'll do just that.


The Tin Foil Award

The key art for the Playdate game Sasquatchers. Amid a heavily forested area full of trees, a moon highlights the iconic silhouette of a sasquatch. The game's title, in a pulpy comic book style, sits above the scene.

Developed by: Chuck Jordan

Genre: Tactical RPG cryptid hunter

Crank usage: Crank to aim your camera in 3D space

An in-game screenshot of Sasquatchers. It showcases one of the game's photographs. This one captures two of the game's team members and a cryptid, a sasquatch named Penelope. The team member in the foreground has a big beard, big muscles, and a sleeveless tee. A camp tent with tech coming out of it is right behind him. An interface display showcases the amount of views and likes the photo received.

Sasquatchers has one of those "how has no one done this before" setups that makes it an exciting experience no matter the platform. It's a tactical cryptid-hunting RPG where your goal is to snap photos of mythical creatures for views and likes, all while surviving your encounters.

It's a top-down tactical experience, not unlike Advance Wars or Fire Emblem, and its use of the Playdate crank is brilliant. At any point, specific team members can take either a photo or a selfie, and it puts you down into a first-person view where the crank is used to line up the photo just right. Move it too much and contend with motion blur. Focus up on one cryptid too much and lose out on crucial points. It's a fun addendum to a tactics experience and a brilliant display of how the crank can amplify things we already know.

Inventory Hero

Most Likely to Cause Anxiety

The key art for the Playdate game Inventory Hero. Out of a pack on the ground comes bursting out a ton of fantasy adventure items. Axes, swords, cans, helmets, potions, and more. The game's title also bursts out of the bag.

Developed by: Panic

Genre: Idle RPG inventory manager

Crank usage: No crankin' here

An in-game screenshot of Inventory Hero. A strangely equipped warrior is running toward a giant crow with a giant backpack full of goods. They're running past a village and forest. Below that, six large inventory slots with various items with different stats underneath. On the left, the player's equipment and stats are showcased.

We've run into the first game from none other than Panic, and it's Inventory Hero: an anxiety-inducing idle RPG game where combat and adventuring are not your worry, but managing your inventory REALLY is. It's fascinating that the first Panic game seems to not use the crank in any way whatsoever, but probably works well to show folks that the Playdate is a home for all kinds of games.

Inventory Hero is a game you can easily get overwhelmed in, as items fly out of enemies and into your limited six inventory slots constantly, and you're trying to hold onto the most valuable things, equip the best armor and weapons, and keep your health up. It's a polished experience, there are some fun inventory gimmicks (rabbits take up slots and multiply), and it's easy to hop in and out of.


Biggest Overachiever

The key art of the Playdate game Spellcorked. A giant swirling potion bottle sits behind the game's title and some sparkles.

Developed by: Jada Gibba, Nick Splendorr, and Ryan Splendorr

Genre: Potion shop sim and Cooking Mama-like

Crank usage: Crank to operate specific tools (e.g. crank to turn the pestle to grind ingredients in a mortar and pestle)

An in-game screenshot of Spellcorked. It shows the ingredient processing phase, as you see coffee beans in a mortar with a pestle just above waiting to crush the beans. A meter on the left shows how the processing changes the quality of the ingredients. A pop-up window reminds players to "Use the Crank!"

Spellcorked might just feature among the best synergies between the physicality of operating the Playdate and the actions happening in-game. This potion shop sim has you crafting potions using a variety of magical ingredients. You'll be using the crank here to operate a variety of hands-on tools, like a mortar and pestle, an alembic, and more.

It's all about learning about the ingredients on hand and how processing them in different ways changes the potion's eventual endpoint. The goal: you're shooting for high Welp review scores. Spellcorked might be one of my favorites in all of Season 1, if for no other reason than the fact it uses the Playdate fully. You even tilt the bad boy to pour your potions into bottles! That's sick!

Star Sled

Smoothest Drifter

The key art for Star Sled. A ton of sparkling stars come together to form the outlines of the words Star Sled. In the middle, a giant sparkling star twinkles.

Developed by: Panic

Genre: Spaceship lasso star-wrangler

Crank Usage: Crank to smoothly pilot your ship

An in-game screenshot of Star Sled. A tiny star ship with a trail coming out from behind it is circling around a diamond shape with a sparkling star hidden inside it. A ton of these diamond obstacles dot the space around the ship and you can see other stars on the edges of the screen. There are interfaces for your score, the time left in the map, and the number of stars left behind.

Now we're talking, Panic. Star Sled features one of the most satisfying uses of the crank and might be the game I return to the most when it's all said and done. In Star Sled, your spaceship is constantly moving forward and shooting a laser lasso out behind it. Your job is to encircle sparkling stars in each level with your trailing laser beam, using the crank to steer your ship. It's got an incredibly smooth drift-like handling style that sees you skirting around corners and creating tight circles around stars with reckless abandon.

Star Sled is another "simple crank but incredible execution" game that I'll gladly shove in people's hands whenever people finally accept my Playdate party invitations.

Saturday Edition

Most Likely to be Gushed About All Year

The key art for the Playdate game Saturday Edition. On a black rectangle, Saturday Edition is spelled out in a bunch of dots like stars in the sky.

Developed by: Wild Rose

Genre: Point and click adventure

Crank usage: Crank makes the character dance randomly

An in-game screenshot of Saturday Edition. It shows a man standing in a fairly empty mall. He's wearing a long trenchcoat and a small hat. He sits outside of a luggage store and a clothing store. An escalator separates both stores.

When you've been covering games as long as I have, you eventually develop a "good game radar" that can tell you pretty quickly whether a game's gonna be something special or not. Saturday Edition had that bad boy wailing mere minutes in.

It starts with talk of a man abducted by aliens who only returns to Earth after a shift in power on the alien planet. It continues into a visit to heaven where this man bribes his way in by fixing a keypad at the pearly gates, and finally kicks off the story back on Earth showing how the man deals with returning home after all that time. It's old-school point and click action with a ton of great gimmicks to make it handheld friendly. And the only use of the crank is to make the guy dance randomly... so, yeah. I might be talking about this game all year long.

Executive Golf DX

Most Likely to Promote Procrastination

The key art for Executive Golf DX. In a variety of corporate-adjacent typefaces, the games title can be seen against a background featuring golf balls.

Developed by: davemakes

Genre: Chaotic mini-golf

Crank usage: Crank to aim shot trajectory

An in-game screenshot of Executive Golf DX. From atop a coffee maker, a golf ball's shot trajectory can be seen aiming up to the next office floor and at a whiteboard. Desks, computer setups, office chairs, and printers can be seen on both visible office floors.

We love a golf game. Something about taking something as stuffy and upper-class as the game of golf and turning it into something chaotic is so enjoyable to me. The Playdate feels perfect for its own version of that. In Executive Golf DX, you play a side-on game of mini-golf, but instead of shooting for a hole, you're looking to make your way up an office building.

You use the crank to aim the trajectory of your shots and despite that precision feeling like it might make the experience easier, it's actually surprisingly difficult. Toss in unpredictable golf power-ups — low gravity, ricochet balls, and heavy balls among them — and you've got the Dark Souls of golf games. (Never done one of those before.) I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me wanna start mini-golfing in the house.

Questy Chess

Best Pipeline into Real Chess

The key art for Questy Chess Role-Playing Chess Simulator. Against a black background, the game's name, the studio's logo, and a simple white pawn mirroed by a strange looking diamond-headed pawn underneath the pawn.

Developed by: Dadako

Genre: Chess-based RPG puzzler

Crank usage: Crank to manipulate the world through terraforming tools

An in-game screenshot of Questy Chess. On a grid, there is one white horse chess piece surrounded by black horse chess pieces. Dots show the potential paths of your horse piece on the grid. Patterned squares representing water and trees can be seen along with a path of arrows that seemingly would push the player forward.

I appreciate chess. It's one of the oldest and most widely played games, it's mechanically sound — but I don't have the brain for it. That said, games that take those core chess movement rules and implement them into anything other than a traditional chess board suddenly make it so much more accessible to me. Questy Chess takes those rules and puts them into an RPG adventure where you play as a pawn trying to fight back against a computer attempting to upgrade to Chess V2.

Crank use is limited, at least in the first chunk I played, with its only use being to manipulate the terrain of the map by shifting tiles up and down when you land on a "terraform" button. But the gimmick here is a fascinating exploration of chess's mechanics in a new puzzling format and it may hook me enough to start actually playing chess proper.

Battleship Godios

Best Game of Catch

The key art of Battleship Godios. The game's title makes up the bulk of the design, with the shape of the letters in Godios making up the shape of a giant spaceship. Two balls bounce off of it. Text reads: "Insert Coin TPM.CO Softworks 2016-2020"

Developed by: TPM.CO Softworks

Genre: Hardcore rewinding shoot-em-up

Crank usage: Crank to scrub through a "recording" of your play to save yourself from dangerous situations

An in-game screenshot of Battleship Godios. A small spaceship is seen dodging out of the way of lasers that have bounced off of the ceiling of the tight corridor it is flying through. A giant mothership, made up of a ton of tiny pieces, is shooting these lasers.

Battleship Godios is a fascinating release thanks to the pedigree of its developer, an MSX dev who's been working in the industry since 1985. Taking those old-school ideas and bringing them to life on the Playdate with Battleship Godios showcases the creative potential of the handheld.

As a traditional shmup, Battleship Godios shakes things up with a ricocheting bullet concept —that pulls from games like Breakout — where you have to catch the bullets you've shot to keep them loaded. You use those bouncing shots to break down a big mothership's armor to hit a specific weak point. It's a hard game and you will die often, and that's where the crank comes in.

The crank is used to scrub back and forth through a "recording" of the level you're playing, allowing you to undo errors in your play and set yourself up for success when trying again. As a former emulator rewind-a-holic, I want this crank feature in all games, please.

Forrest Byrnes: Up in Smoke

Most Procedural Platformer

The key art of Forrest Byrnes Up in Smoke. Old school comic book-y lettering for the title takes up most of the frame but a tiny adorable fire watching park ranger mascot can be seen at the bottom of the image, holding a shovel with a big smile on his face.

Developed by: Nels Anderson

Genre: Procedurally generated "licensed" platformer

Crank usage: Crank to dig up treasures and to pull buckets out of wells

An in-game screenshot of Forrest Byrnes' Up in Smoke. A firewatch park ranger is seen standing on a cliffside with a shovel in his hand and a big smile on his face. A raging wall of fire is encroaching from the left side of the screen. In front of Forrest, there's a well with a child at the bottom of it. And off to the right there's a tree that Forrest can chop down. A mountain range can be seen in the background.

The Playdate keeps yoinking out fascinating concepts with its games, and Forrest Byrnes: Up in Smoke might be one of my favorites. Conceptualized as an in-universe "licensed game" for the Forrest Byrnes mascot, first seen in 2016's Firewatch which Panic published. The game employs procedural generation to create a seemingly endless platforming experience with simple mechanics.

I bet you didn't have a procedurally generated platformer on your Playdate bingo card. It's a fairly simple platformer that sees you rescuing children from a blazing forest fire that keeps you moving forward constantly, but thanks to some incredible animations and character-full pixel art, it leaves an impression.


Best Adaptation of a Classic

The key art for b360. The game's title is surrounded by action lines and the b is shaped like a classic pong-like paddle floating above a large circle with a smaller circle within it.

Developed by: Panic

Genre: 360 degree brick breaker

Crank usage: Crank to spin your paddle around each level

An in-game screenshot of b360. The screen is broken into two halves. The left side shows your core stats, the name of the galaxy you're in and the level you're on within that galaxy. On the right side, you see a paddle with a ball attached to it circling a scene of obstacles and bricks to break.

To wrap up Panic's contributions to Season 1, they've got one of the best versions of that "classic game reimagined for the yellow square" genre we've been running into with their brick-breaking game b360. This game sees you clearing screens of bricks, not unlike classics like Breakout, but in a full 360 degrees around an anchor point in the middle of the stage. I'm sure there's got to be one of those out there in the world after all this time, but none of those games have a crank do they?

The crank controls your paddle's rotation — and sure, it's simple. But there's a reason why games like Breakout endure, and even to this day, the idea of a paddle and a ball destroying a screen full of blocks is appealing to folks if mobile game ads are any sign. b360 is already one of my favorites in the brick-breaking genre, and I will chip away at the game's 100 levels over the next year.


Most Likely to be Beaten Immediately After Article is Done

The key art of Ratcheteer. A sleeping child in a miner's outfit can be seen napping against a giant backpack. A lantern dimly lights the scene and a wrench can be seen off to the child's side. The game's title with a wrench used for the letter C in the title is floating in the darkness.

Developed by: Shaun Inman, Matthew Grimm, and Charlie Davis

Genre: Action-adventure, full-on Zelda-like

Crank usage: Crank used for Ratcheteer's spin attack

An in game screenshot of the Playdate game Ratcheteer. In a dark room lit up by three individual light sources, you can see the entrance to the building, a man working on a robot suit, and a forge. The rest of the room is hidden in darkness. The players interface shows a lantern and a wrench as their items.

While there's no way I could pick out an absolute favorite, Season 1 wraps up with one of the most promising games in the pack: the Game Boy-era action-adventure game, Ratcheteer. This Zelda-like adventure is one of the most truly Zelda-like games I've seen in the indie space. It might be the handheld format, it might be the monochromatic art style, it might be nostalgia, but it just feels like a Zelda game in the ways so many others never quite capture.

Ratcheteer's special twist comes in the fact that you play as a young child living in the dark tunnels of the world underground, and you have to light up the world with your lantern and swing your wrench as your replacement for Link's sword. Even the crank use — when spun, it triggers your character's familiar spin attack — is a great addendum to the gameplay that feels natural and unobtrusive to a more traditional gaming adventure.

I had to stop myself from playing through the whole thing in one sitting to make sure I wrote this up, but uh... I might be going back in as soon as I say my farewells here.


I cannot overstate how incredible it is that Panic worked with all of these developers to provide such a wide variety of games that showcase all parts of their new handheld — crank or not — for free for all new users of the device.

When it comes to the idea of pack-in games, the Playdate has everyone else beat, and we cannot wait to see if the watercooler dream of sharing Season 2 in real time with gamers comes to fruition. And even if it doesn't... we've got 24 games to tide us over 'til the end of time.


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