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Panic Playdate Taught Me That Nintendo Should Remake the Game Boy

Retro handheld games have caught my attention, and no one does it better than Nintendo

Panic Playdate, Analogue Pocket and Game & Watch on a red background
Analogue Pocket, Panic Playdate, Nintendo Game and Watch: now do Game Boy Classic already.
Scott Stein/CNET

A handful of games have hypnotically obsessed me this year: Wordle, a few VR games, Madden, The Stanley Parable, Settlers of Catan. I'm also almost always carrying a little yellow crank-enabled thing in my pocket called the Panic Playdate that plays tiny black and white games. 

Like, Tetris or, in this case, "Playtris." The Panic Playdate and its indie games have been something I've been picking up a lot more frequently than the Nintendo Switch over the last few months. Maybe that's because it slips so easily into my pocket. It can go with me as easily as a pair of AirPods. It's a little fidget comfort thing.

The Playdate's many black and white indie efforts include titles inspired by Game Boy games. One or two on indie gaming hub are even loving adaptations of Game & Watch titles. As I keep playing it, I think: Why can't Nintendo drop a few Game Boy classics onto this? Or why doesn't Nintendo just make one of these retro-feeling handheld devices on its own?

Read more: Analogue Pocket and Panic Playdate, compared

This isn't a new thought. I've wanted a Game Boy Classic ever since Nintendo started making its self-contained mini NES. Nintendo has come close, releasing a few reinvented Game & Watch handhelds over the past few years, and the idea is similar. 

Why do this if the Nintendo Switch is already handheld and has tons of available retro games? It's a matter of scale: The Switch is comparatively huge compared to the Panic Playdate. Something like a Game Boy could also be a lot simpler and refreshingly minimal. I don't know. I just know I'd love it. I'm not the only one.

Nintendo seems to have stopped its mini console efforts, and former Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé, who was at Nintendo when the NES Classic was released, feels those mini consoles were a stopgap. Nintendo might also possibly release classic Game Boy games onto the Switch Online retro game subscription service. But that's not new, vintage-style hardware. Still, Nintendo did make those stand-alone Game & Watches recently so… is there a chance?

Another gaming handheld, the Analogue Pocket, has also kindled this fantasy. It's a fully capable Game Boy that actually works with original cartridges (and does a lot of other things, too). The Analogue Pocket is bigger than the Playdate yet smaller than the Switch, but it needs original cartridges to work. Also: Like the Panic Playdate, it's an indie handheld system that's extremely hard to buy right now.

Miyoo Mini and Panic Playdate game handhelds on a wooden table

The Miyoo Mini V2 (left) next to the Panic Playdate (right): the Super Small Handhelds.

Scott Stein/CNET

I've gone on vacation overseas with the Panic Playdate (and a Switch), but I love that I can just grab the Playdate whenever. Yet another handheld convinced me recently: My brother-in-law's Miyoo Mini V2. It's also extremely small and can play emulations and ROMs. Nintendo's missing an opportunity here. There's a reason why gamers like us end up loving super-small handhelds.

Yes, it does sound like I'm arguing for more handheld gaming gear in a world where phones and Switches (and Steam Decks) already do a fine job handling a lot of games at once. But I miss that real black-and-green Game Boy display. It's been fun to play games on the reflective black and white screen of the Panic Playdate. It feels like a Kindle in being a device dedicated to a single function. 

Pop 20 preloaded games onto a little Game Boy. Call it a museum piece. Let these games, which are hard to find and play right now without hunting down cartridges or emulators, have a proper home now. I'll call it a fish tank for my Game Boy memories: a little gaming memory box. I've never wanted a classic Game Boy more than now, and I've already played the other gaming handhelds that prove the love is real.