It was only relatively recently that I happened upon the Evercade retro games console on Twitter. It immediately caught my attention as I am a fan of retro gaming in general. The concept of playing some of my favorite games on a dedicated handheld really excited me. I had to find out more.
The Evercade is a handheld console, capable of running a wide range of retro emulators. There are currently 12 announced games cartridges (that’s right—physical formats!) from the likes of Atari and NAMCO, with more in the pipeline. With this kind of nostalgia-fueled fun spilling down the front of our collective T-shirt, let’s take a look at what is on offer from the Evercade.
So, Who Is the Evercade for?
I thought it would be prudent to discuss who exactly will benefit from the Evercade, before launching into a full review. If you are an emulator fan and currently have an existing setup, such as a Bittboy Pocket Go or a device running RetroArch, and you are happy with your current method of obtaining your retro fix, then the Evercade probably isn’t for you.
The world of emulators can be a little complicated to a beginner. Various settings must be tinkered with to achieve the best results, not to mention the wealth of emulator hardware to peruse. This can prove daunting for someone who is just getting into emulation. I have seen a lot of chatter from emulator pros asking, “What is the point in this when I can get all of these games for free on my existing emulator?” Well, I’ll tell you.
The Evercade makes emulation and retro gaming accessible. There are no fussy menus to navigate. You don’t need to understand quantum computing to run Pac-Man. The games work smoothly straight from the cartridge. There is no switching between Atari 7800, to Genesis, to SNES. You literally just plug your cartridge in and play the game. It’s simple and undaunting for anyone who loves retro games but isn’t particularly techy.
The emulation of retro games is somewhat of a legal grey area, too. Is it actually legal to download a bunch of ROMS without so much as a nod toward the original developer? New retro gamers may not want to traverse this kind of legally questionable terrain. With the Evercade, they don’t have to. All of the games are officially licensed to Blaze Entertainment. No muddy legal waters here, officer.
Additionally, the Evercade console and its games are physical products. Where is the fun in downloading a ROM? Where is that nostalgic sense of opening a physical cartridge box and getting busy on Centipede? Sorry, but it doesn’t exist with downloaded ROMs. Tearing off the cellophane wrapper, pulling the box open, perusing the manual, loading the cartridge … all of these physical acts go a long way in adding to the experience.
And thanks to being a tangible product, the Evercade console, and the game carts, make an excellent collectible hobby, much like the Arcade1Up cabinets. A lot of what draws retro gamers to retro gaming is the collectibility of the games and devices themselves. I’ve never heard anyone say “Ooooh, look at that list of 30,000 ROM files!” However, I have heard people say, “Ooooh look at those shelves full of retro SNES games!”
So, who is the Evercade for? Well, everyone really, rather than only tech-savvy emulator lovers who are comfortable with handling the complications presented by unlicensed emulation. For anyone wanting to take their first step into retro video game emulation, this is a great choice.
The Evercade Console
I have to say, I really am in love with the Evercade console. Everything about it reminds me of something from my formative years. The white design, with flourishes of red, is reminiscent of Nintendo’s old Game and Watch series of handhelds (Ball, I’m looking at you).
The chunky molded-plastic chassis conjures recollections of playing a SEGA Game Gear, although the actual size of the console is more akin to a PSP. Obviously my Game Gear-playing hands were significantly smaller than my Evercade-playing ones! God, even the sound of the shoulder buttons reminds me of the unmistakable click of the directional microswitches in my childhood Powerplay Cruiser joystick.
The circular D-pad reminds me of standing and playing California Games II on the Atari Lynx, while my parents perused the boring white goods at whatever electronics superstore we were visiting that day. This is what is great about the Evercade console. Before it has even been powered on, memories of retro gaming experiences come flooding back.
The console itself measures approximately 182x83x22mm. So, while it isn’t the smallest of handhelds, it isn’t exactly unwieldy, either. At only 220g, it also feels light in the hands despite the robust plastic shell.
The screen is 4.3″ with a resolution of 480×272, which PSP users will feel comfortable with, as the screen on both devices is the same size. To the left of the screen are the D-pad and the menu button, alongside a power indicator and the left speaker outlet.
To the right are four transparent control buttons with their respective A, B, X, and Y labels underneath the clear button plastic. Below are the “Select” and “Start” buttons and the right-hand speaker outlet.
The top of the console features a left- and right-shoulder button, the power slider, and a mini-HDMI port for connecting the Evercade to a monitor. This is a great touch, as you can enjoy playing retro games on a much larger screen, should you wish to. Unfortunately, I was unable to test this function as I do not have the required mini-HDMI to HDMI cable.
The bottom of the Evercade carries the volume and – buttons, the micro-USB charging port, and the headphone jack. Kudos to Blaze for placing the headphone jack at the bottom. This completely negates getting tangled up in headphone wires like some sort of Norseman fending off The Kraken. I perhaps would’ve preferred to have seen USB-C compatibility for charging, but this is a minor quibble.
Blaze tells us that guts of the Evercade feature a 1.2GHz Cortex A7 SoC that is running a customized setup of Linux. Blaze has ported games from a wide variety of retro consoles, including NES, SNES, Genesis, and Atari. The console makes use of optimized emulators to run games. One example is the use of the Blast-Em Genesis emulator, which Michael Pavone, the BlastEm author, has ported over to the Evercade personally.
An Instant Games Library
You can treat yourself to an Evercade console and grab yourself a bunch of games at the same time, meaning you can just insert the cartridge, switch on, and play. If you grab the Evercade Starter Pack, for $79.99, you get the Atari Collection 1 cart with it. That means you instantly have 20 games in your collection.
If you grab the Evercade Premium Pack for $99.99, then you get Atari Collection 1, Interplay Collection 1, and Data East Collection 1. That nets you 36 games in total, so you’ve got plenty of hours playing there. At the time of writing, 10 cartridges are available, with two more announced and another yet to be announced.
The cartridges carry a price tag of $14.99, meaning you’re paying between $0.75 and $2.50 per game, depending on how many games are on the cartridge. Some, such as the Interplay Collection 1 cart, feature six games. Others, such as the NAMCO Collection 1, feature 20 games.
Something for everyone can be found on each cartridge, too. Blaze has carefully handpicked some of the best retro games from each respective developer. Straight-up retro arcade gamers will love the Atari and NAMCO Collections. Want some 16-Bit RPG action? Then the PIKO Interactive cart is for you.
There are also carts from developers like Mega Cat Studios, who make original games for older systems like Genesis and SNES, as well as for more modern consoles like the Nintendo Switch. Their first cartridge features 10 games, my particular favorite being the Genesis-released Tanzer (which is kinda reminiscent of the early Turrican games). In this way, buying the cartridges directly supports indie devs.
As mentioned, all of the games are very easy to access. You simply slide the cartridge into the recess at the back, and it loads instantly. Selecting games is simple, too, with no complex menus to navigate. You just scroll left and right on the menu screen, and select the game you want to play.
Controls in-game are generally not a problem, either. Although some of the games have slightly odd button setups, Blaze has taken comments on board and released a firmware update for button remapping so you can pick and choose what the buttons do. In general, though, controls are nicely responsive and pretty simple, too.
Plays Games Perfectly
Obviously I haven’t had time to play through every single game right up to completion. However, I have tested all of the games, and they work like a dream … even if your dream is the sadistically difficult Desert Falcon, available on the Atari Collection 1 for the Atari 2600, and Atari Collection 2 for the Atari 7800.
The screen is the ideal size to play games without straining the eyes. However, due to the screen resolution, some of the games are scaled a little oddly, depending on the resolution in use. Using a 16:9 ratio results in some stretched-out sprites. You are able to change the resolution between 4:3 and 16:9. However, these are the only two options available.
That said, I have applauded the simplicity of the Evercade and the ease of access for everyone. Adding in more menu options will send the Evercade console in the direction of a more complicated grey market emulator, so I’m not overly concerned about this. The games still play wonderfully.
The control quality is great, too. The D-pad is responsive and, due to its size, I found it makes playing the likes of fighting games a lot easier, where certain controller combos are required to launch special moves. It doesn’t stick in its recess, so build quality is fine. Fans of Sega’s control pads will like the cross-circle combo.
Likewise, the controller buttons are all well-constructed. They operate easily with perfect response time, and their smooth finish makes them pleasant to use. The shoulder buttons, too, are delightful, with a low action that won’t stifle your gaming efforts missing millisecond-crucial decisions. They also have that satisfying micro-switch click I mentioned earlier.
The battery life isn’t huge, so you might have to plug it in if your session is likely to last more than four hours (which is the quoted battery life). This isn’t a bother, though, as you can carry on playing while the Evercade is charging up.
You can also save the game at any point, via the menu button. Selecting a “State Slot” allows you to save a specific game’s data, with the ability to return to the same point by loading the appropriate save. This is great if you want to come away from a game but don’t want to lose your progress.
Sound is great, too, with all of the 8-bit and 16-bit soundtracks and sound effects all in place. (Tanzer has an AWESOME techno soundtrack, but this isn’t a retro game, per se, it is just based on 16-bit games.) Even the opening animation with its retro intro jingle is nostalgia-inducing!
Overall, games run smoothly and are responsive to button presses, meaning you don’t feel like you lost that all-important last life due to clunky controls. Blaze has done a great job of fine-tuning their chosen emulators, with everything focused on delivering a gaming experience that is as true to the original as possible in terms of gameplay.
Should I Buy One?
Absolutely! If you are a fan of collecting retro games, then the physical nature of the Evercade means it will take a spot on your collection shelves. The games are all well-ported to the Evercade, with nothing lost in the conversion.
With so many epic retro games out there, I, for one, am excited to see what games head to the console next, (I have high hopes that we’ll see a Bitmap Brothers collection at some point—we shall see.) In the meantime, I recommend grabbing one and seeing what the fuss is about.
If you would rather go down the grey market emulation route, then it is certainly worth considering checking out the Bittboy Pocket Go. Alternatively, if you want to play original cartridges on the go, check out the Super Retro Champ.