Since launching in May 2020, accompanied by a good selection of software, Blaze Entertainment’s cartridge-based, retro handheld console, the Evercade, seems to have been well received by the retro gaming community. Regular, often very exciting additions to its software library have kept interest (and hype) high in the community and there’s even been an accompanying home console – the Evercade VS – announced, which is launching in November 2021.
So how is the Evercade itself – and is it a worthy purchase? Let’s take a look!
The Evercade is available in two bundles, both of which are great value for money. Gamers who are more curious and less likely to be collectors are going to be attracted to the ‘basic’ Starter pack, which comes with the console and the Namco Museum Collection 1 cartridge (which contains eleven games to get you started). The much better value Premium pack, which contains the console and three cartridges, is far more attractive though – it only costs 20 quid more than the more basic pack, but the total of games it comes with rises to a pretty impressive 37 (with the aforementioned Namco cartridge included alongside Atari Collection 1 and Interplay Collection 1). It’s worth pointing out that – again, if you’re intending to be in it for the long haul with the Evercade, Funstock sell bundles that are amazing value and I’d highly recommend these once you’ve made your mind up about investing in the console. Though they may seem pricey at first, these higher value bundles contain a huge amount of software alongside the console itself and actually represent significant savings over buying everything individually. That said, even the most basic Starter pack is priced extremely reasonably – for the console and a selection of games, you’re only looking at a cost of £59.99.
First impressions are great; though Blaze Entertainment have created a number of retro consoles before, they’ve generally been fairly underwhelming. With shaky emulation in some cases, as well as being housed in unimpressive, cheap feeling hardware, their prior consoles being so hit and miss – with the emphasis mostly on miss, unfortunately – meant that hopes weren’t all that high for the Evercade. Yet it’s clear that a lot of thought and effort has gone into the creation of the Evercade; the packaging is appealingly designed and the console itself feels weighty and solid, with an excellent button layout and a nicely sized, bright screen. It charges via USB and only takes a few hours at most to reach full charge; it’s a bit of a pain that the charge light doesn’t seem to change colour or turn off when the console is fully charged though – and the onscreen indicator of charge level doesn’t show a percentage, just four bars of a battery indicating the charge level. That’s one of just a few minor nitpicks I have with the console, to be honest.
Though the screen resolution isn’t as high as it could be, for the types of games you’ll be playing on the Evercade, it is perfectly functional. One particularly neat feature is the mini-HDMI port; this allows you to connect the Evercade to a TV or monitor via HDMI and play your games on a big screen, with the Evercade itself as the controller. Though the output is only 720p, again it’s more than enough considering that most games you’ll play on the console are from the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. The lack of Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity (which could have been used for multiplayer titles) is only really an issue when updating the firmware, which can be a bit of a clunky process, but without digital downloads – which I don’t miss one bit – this ‘missing’ functionality does at least keep the cost of the unit down and make it much more accessible even for players on a lower budget. So the hardware itself is pretty convincing, that lack of connectivity aside, and thoughtfully designed overall. Win.
That’d be no good without a decent selection of software though. Intended as an officially supported rival to the glut of mostly-Chinese handhelds that now flood the video games market – and which can emulate near enough anything with little difficulty, at least until you get to consoles such as the N64 – the Evercade’s cartridge media, rather than digital downloads, is again a feature that appeals to collectors and old school gamers. Having access to thousands upon thousands of ROMs is all well and good when you have a handheld emulation device, but there’s definitely something to be said for having a more curated selection available – and one which can be admired on the shelf as well as enjoyed onscreen.
Though the Evercade launched with Namco Museum 1 and Atari Collection 1 being the biggest (and most familiar collections), the fear was that these would contain the same selection of games that have been released by both companies – on various devices and consoles for the last few decades – ad nauseum, but the really cool thing even with just these two cartridges is that they actually contain a selection of lesser known titles, alongside the more familiar games that everyone expects to see. In the case of the Namco cartridge, SNES-era games such as Battle Cars make an appearance as well as the usual suspects such as Pac-Man – and the Atari cartridge features lesser known Atari 7800 games with the wider selection of Atari 2600 games that we usually see. Other cartridges are from lesser known companies and feature some really obscure titles as well as some fondly remembered, more popular games; this is a big selling point for me – rather than just the same old games that everyone has played a million times, we now get to try out some of the stuff we hadn’t previously had available to us. And it’s all officially supported by the publishers too. Another win for the Evercade.
Even more impressive is that the software titles available now even have a large number of previously unreleased and even more ‘modern’ retro-styled indie titles, some of which released as recently as 2020. The Indie Heroes Collection 1 cartridge, for example, contains 14 recently-developed, retro-styled titles with a great deal of variety and hundreds of hours of gameplay; it’s astonishingly good value (and yes, I do intend to review each cartridge separately – so watch this space!).
The game menus can sometimes be a bit unwieldy for cartridges that feature large selections of games – there’s a single game on-screen at a time and they’re arranged in alphabetical order; it would have been nice to have more filtering or ordering options available, or at least the option for multiple games to choose from on an onscreen menu. Still, this is only a minor quibble and it’s hardly a dealbreaker. Another neat feature is the ability to hotswap cartridges – you don’t have to turn the console off to take a cartridge out and replace it for another, which means less time seeing the console boot up process and more time getting into your games.
Emulation is absolutely flawless and each game has its own, multiple slots for save states – so titles that may have been an absolute pain in the past due to lack of saves or passwords can now be played in shorter bursts and saved if necessary. It’s a great feature that helps with progress in titles where you may otherwise have been forced to continually go back to the beginning and restart. It also helps when you’re dipping in and out of games to see what’s on offer or try something else; you can do so without fear of losing progress.
Buttons are nicely responsive and solid, though some games – particularly Mega Drive-based ones – can have odd button layouts that will throw you the first time you play. It’s easy enough to get used to though (and a Firmware update allows button mapping too). The control pad is one aspect I’m not so keen on; it can feel a bit spongy and I’ve found in games such as Pac-Man and Dig Dug that it isn’t always that responsive – though, given the large number of other games I’ve played using the control pad without issue, I’m willing to concede that it’s likely those few titles that are the problem, rather than the pad itself.
Those clever, devious, beautiful bastards at Blaze have numbered each cartridge in the Evercade’s library, making it impossible for the more obsessive collectors to ignore even one title in the selection of cartridges available for fear of their collection looking incomplete. Well played Blaze, well played.
Luckily, I’d say that – of the currently available 18 cartridges – there’s at least a few games on every single one that’s worth picking it up for; though some offer much more value for money than others, either with sheer volume of games on offer or the higher overall quality of the titles on the cartridge, they’re all worth buying (and there’s some genuinely exciting collections on the horizon: Code Masters and Bitmap Brothers being highly anticipated and full of iconic titles, for example). It’s a disappointment that games such as Pac-Man or Dig Dug are NES versions rather than arcade, for example – and the same applies to many titles across the range that could easily have squeezed in the superior arcade versions without any difficulty – but these are on the way with the arrival of the non-portable, multiplayer-focused Evercade VS in late 2021. Lack of multiplayer functionality on the handheld is also a disappointment but an understandable one (as mentioned above, the lack of connectivity is a disappointment but has helped to keep the price point at a reasonable level); it’s also worth bearing in mind that this is also a problem that’s ‘solved’ by the Evercade VS.
The cartridge packaging also warrants a mention: hearkening back to the uniform box design of systems such as the Sega Master System – with its iconic grid-based design – but with much more thoughtful and appealing art than that comparison may suggest, the cases are another excellent touch. With manuals included (and sometimes even extras like posters and stickers), it really does feel like Blaze went the extra mile in bringing the Evercade to market.
It’s a shame there’s no portable cartridge storage, particularly when your collection starts to grow and you’re looking to take it out on the move with the console – so far, the only official case is a soft shell, zipped affair that only fits in the console and a few cartridges. This is definitely an area that’s crying out for a solution, given the console’s portable nature.
Despite the few issues I have with the console – the battery/charge indicator, the control pad feeling slightly unresponsive in a tiny minority of games and the lack of an on-the-go storage solution for your collection – I’ve found the Evercade to be a near-enough essential device for retro gamers and collectors. It’s well designed, incredibly good value for money and its growing software library, which is regularly bolstered with new releases, contains an amazing selection of well known retro games as well as lesser known titles and even newer indie games that are definitely worth checking out. HDMI support gives the console even greater appeal – and the tangible, physical game collection is a great throwback to times when we all had small stacks of cartridges in our game collections; a great alternative to the impersonal and easily overlooked digital game collections we’ve become accustomed to these days.
The Evercade is a lovely little console that won’t break the bank, even when – not if – you do buy into the physical software library and acquire every single cartridge for an aesthetically pleasing, thoughtfully curated collection of brilliantly emulated, excellent games. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
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