My favorite little gaming handheld last year was the Panic Playdate, a tiny yellow crank-enabled pocket console with its own included library of weird indie games. Even though the Playdate launched last year, shipping delays and shortages have meant many people still haven't been able to get one. But the handheld just added its own on-console game app catalog with a bunch of new games… and along with it, a price increase for anyone who still hasn't preordered.
The Playdate cost $179 before, but the price is going up to $199 starting April 7. Preorders before then will get locked in at the $179 price. Price increases for products are becoming common right now (it happened to the Quest 2 last year). The Playdate's unique games (it comes with 24 of them) and tiny design still make it worth the price for a curious indie handheld fan, but it also pushes this experimental device to the same cost of more versatile handhelds like the Nintendo Switch Lite.
The season-based game library approach for the Playdate, which launched with its own catalog of included games that auto-download to the device two at a time, once a week, is being shifted up with the handheld's new Catalog. The games in the Catalog are sold separately, although two are free to download. The games are welcome additions: There are 16 to start, 10 of which are new. The other six are familiar hits that have already been available to sideload from itch.io, an indie gaming hub that's been a great source of other experimental Playdate games.
The game prices vary from $1 to $15. I'm just playing through them now, but I wish some of these games also had free demos to understand how they work. Taking a plunge on a $1 game is fine, but $15 isn't quite an impulse purchase.
Using the Catalog feels like an on-Playdate extension of the games I can already get through itch.io in many ways, but with a more curated focus. Itch.io is fun to browse, and has many games that are totally free, but is a more unpredictable mix of experiments and more polished products. Those games also need to be downloaded and then reuploaded through Panic's own website, which sideloads the games to the Playdate, while the on-Playdate catalog just adds them instantly. (The 4GB of onboard storage may seem small, but I've stored dozens of games already and still haven't used up half of it.)
What I was really hoping for was a true season 2 of Playdate games, but that's either not here yet, or the planned rollout for future games is changing. Either way, it's still a promising sign that future indie games will be easier to find on the Playdate, and that hopefully a steady flow continues. Also, hopefully, the Playdate will finally be easy to order. According to Panic, Wave 4 preorders are now shipping, but eventually the hope is that the handhelds aren't backordered at all. Valve fixed its Steam Deck supply issues; hopefully Panic will do the same.