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Everything Playdate's Crank Can Actually Do

The handheld gaming market has grown increasingly high-end over the years with convertible home consoles becoming the new standard of excellence. The Nintendo Switch and Valve Steam Deck are now going head-to-head for the right to sit in gamers' hands as the two most advanced handheld consoles available. While those might be the most popular choices, they aren't necessarily for everyone. There has also been a growing community of retro gamers looking for something a little different (preferably an option without JoyCon drift). Well, now there's a new portable in town.

Panic, the Portland-based gaming company behind "Firewatch," just began shipping the initial batch of Playdates. This boxy little handheld has a design vaguely reminiscent of the Game Boy, with nothing but A and B buttons, a d-pad, a menu button, a speaker, and a screen on its face. That wouldn't be anything special on its own, but the most unique feature sits on the side of the device. The Playdate has a built-in crank which serves as an analogue controller and can be used in a bunch of different ways. Here's what we know it can do so far.

Navigate menus

Panic stated on the official Playdate website that some of the titles that will release on the console will not make use of the crank's functionality. That said, the crank is one of the main reasons why most fans would be interested in the Playdate in the first place. It stands to reason that many buyers will probably want to take advantage of its functionality as much as possible – even outside of the actual games.

That's why it's nice that the crank can be used to cycle through menus (via IGN). Most of the games on the Playdate are incredibly small, (under a quarter of a gigabyte), so players will likely end up with a large collection downloaded onto the console over time. Being able to use the crank to quickly zip through the menus is likely to make the experience much more enjoyable for players than simply mashing the d-pad.

Cranking out tricks

The development teams creating games for the Playdate have already found some creative uses for the crank. IGN's Seth Macy described a couple of games and how they utilize its most well-known feature. The first title Macy mentioned was "Whitewater Wipeout," a surfing game developed by Chuhai Labs. It appears that users can use the crank to control the direction of the surfboard, steering it on the wave and spinning it while the surfer is in the air to get them to perform tricks. The second game Macy highlighted was "Crankin's Time Travel Adventure," which was made by uvula. This game apparently uses the crank to allow the player to control the flow of time. Spinning the crank forward advances time, while spinning it back reverses it.

Mark Ellis of the Mark Ellis Reviews YouTube Channel also tested out a few games. He played "Hyper Meteor" which looks a lot like "Asteroids." In this case, the player seems to rely on the crank to control the direction of the ship while using the forward button of the d-pad to control acceleration and smash space debris. He also tried "Casual Birder" which Ellis said uses the crank to focus a camera on birds that the player is trying to take pictures of.

More on the way

Those who pre-order the Playdate will have access to the season one game release schedule. That means that two games will be released automatically each week for the first 12 weeks after the buyer sets up the handheld for a total of 24 games. These are the same games that early reviewers had access to, but they aren't the only games that will be available on the console. Panic promises many more titles are currently in development from professional studios, but that's not all that players have to look forward to. Panic has made the Playdate SDK free for home developers to make their own games, which may also end up being shared or sold on the device in time.

It's impossible to say how these developers might use the crank for certain, but it's likely that many of them will want to take advantage of it since it is the console's defining feature. It seems to be just as versatile as other controller features such as touchpads and motion controls and therefore likely has just as many possible functions. There will probably be countless new crank-based gameplay mechanics which will come to light as new games for the device launch.