Nostalgia for retro games has boomed in recent years, with an increasing number of compilations, miniature consoles, home arcade cabinets, and more. But in an industry that continues to focus more and more on digital games, part of the pursuit of nostalgia has been dampened by the reduced emphasis on physical games. That's where Blaze Entertainment's Evercade comes in. Originally released in 2020 as a handheld that played physical carts, the Evercade is now a dedicated home console. The Evercade VS is an affordable and impressive home console that plays cartridges filled with classic console, handheld, and arcade games in 1080p.
Evercade VS vs. Evercade
The original Evercade is a well-designed portable console that even has the capability of connecting to your TV to play in 720p. It was missing one key feature, though: multiplayer. The Evercade VS, as the name suggests, remedies that by providing two- to four-player multiplayer for supported games. But even if you aren't going to play much multiplayer, the Evercade VS' increased resolution makes it superior to its little brother for TV play.
Though the two platforms have these major differences, they are unified in one key respect: Nearly the entire Evercade cartridge library is playable on both the handheld and the VS (Namco Museum collections only work on the handheld). Save states are stored on the cart, so regardless of which platform you're using, you can pick up your game right where you left off.
The Evercade VS has a simple design that helps it look like a retro system. It's a sleek white rectangle with rounded edges that's not much larger than the mini consoles from Sega and Nintendo. The VS takes cues from the NES by having front-loading cartridge slots located under a sturdy hatch. I say slots because one of the neat things about the VS is that it features a dual cartridge system. The actual Evercade carts are compact and match the white design of the console with box art on one side and the name of the collection alongside the back.
The VS connects to a TV or monitor via HDMI and is powered by microUSB (block not included). It has four USB slots in the front for controllers. Depending on which model you get, you'll either have one or two controllers in the box. With a software update, you can use the Evercade handheld as a controller. The VS also supports other USB wired controllers as well as wireless options from 8BitDo and other third-party companies.
Even though the official controllers are wired, I preferred using them over third-party wireless controllers. The Evercade VS controllers are wonderfully designed. The D-pad is rounded, giving you precise eight-directional control. The face button layout mirrors the Xbox controller and they have a cool translucent look. Despite being a compact controller, the VS has an ergonomic design that remains comfortable throughout hours-long gaming sessions. While not every game uses them, the VS controller has four shoulder buttons--two on each side. Though it would've been nice for the back shoulder buttons to more closely resemble modern triggers, all of the shoulder buttons still feel natural to press despite their relatively thin size.
As a console that aims to make players feel like they are having an authentic retro gaming experience, the Evercade VS absolutely hits the mark.
An eclectic library
The most unique aspect about the Evercade VS is its support for officially licensed cartridges. More than 20 carts are available now, with each cart costing a very reasonable 20 bucks. It varies widely by collection, but cartridges come with anywhere from two to 20 games. The low-end of that range is an outlier though, as that specific cartridge contains a pair of modern games: Xeno Crisis and Tanglewood. The majority of the cartridges come with at least 10 games, which gives you a lot of value on each cart.
One of the coolest things about the growing library is that it includes plenty of games that aren't available (legally) for a remotely reasonable price. Blaze has partnered with a bunch of different companies to bring back some lovely retro games from studios such as Interplay, Piko, Jaleco, Technos, Data East, Code Masters, The Oliver Twins, The Bitmap Brothers, and more. In addition to developer-focused collections, Evercade has carts dedicated to classic systems, including Atari, Atari Lynx, and Intellivison.
You'll find a ton of classics in the Evercade library, including numerous beloved Namco Museum titles like Pac-Man, Galaxian, and Dig Dug. Other well-known standouts across the Evercade library include multiple Double Dragon games, Super Dodge Ball, Worms, Burger Time, Asteroids, and Centipede. But for me, the main draw was playing retro games that I never had the chance to play as a kid, including entire platforms like Atari Lynx and Intellivision.
While the vast majority of the collections focus on games that are 20-plus years old, as mentioned already, the Evercade library has some modern games that were developed to fit the aesthetic of retro titles. For instance, there are two collections focused on Pittsburgh-based developer Mega Cat Studios. I found multiple games in those collections that I adored, including cool platformers like Dev Will Too and puzzle games such as Old Towers and Super Painter. The Evercade also has a neat Indie Heroes collection that includes gems such as the modern Game Boy horror game Deadeus and charming platformer Foxy Land.
Blaze aims to eventually have a catalog of 50 cartridges, which would create a truly expansive library. Even right now, the Evercade boasts more than 250 games, including 8-bit, 16-bit, and 32-bit titles.
Part of the charm here is the carts and boxes themselves. Each cart comes in a thick plastic case that mirrors the box design of old-school games. Games even come with manuals and select titles have bonus inserts like stickers. Blaze has numbered each of the games, so that you can easily arrange them on your shelf in chronological order by release date. It's a nice touch that really nods to the "collector" aspect with the Evercade. With the VS, Blaze has released arcade-themed carts, so now there are two sets of collections with separate numbering systems.
The Evercade is aimed at those who may be a bit bummed about the digital present as well as the exorbitant prices of original hardware and cartridges nowadays, and the presentation of everything from the carts to the artwork to the boxes feels authentic.
It just plain works
If you've played any of the miniature consoles of recent years–Sega Genesis, SNES Classic, NES Classic, etc.--the Evercade VS' straightforward menu system will feel familiar. After popping a cartridge into the console, cover art for each game displays on screen. Clicking on a game tile pulls up a screen with a description of the game, the controls, and how many players it supports.
By default, the console arranges all of the games from both carts (if you have two loaded) in alphabetical order. You can tinker with the menu to only show one cart's collection and sort by release date or number of players.
Once you boot up a game, you can access the emulator menu at any time by pressing the big square button in the center of the controller. This is where you store and load your save states, check the controls of each game, and adjust display settings. In terms of display settings, you get a decent number of options, including original aspect ratio, pixel perfect mode, and full screen. You can add subtle or strong scanlines to mimic a CRT TV and tinker with the bezels to show different designs such as the company logo or game box art.
The Evercade VS emulation software is missing a few features that are found in some other retro consoles and modern emulators. It doesn't have a rewind or slow-motion feature, and button mapping isn't game specific. This means you have to change the layout on the dashboard, and it'll apply to every game. While not a huge deal, it would be nice to be able to remap controls for each game individually.
While the VS does support a wireless network connection, it's just used for software updates. It doesn't feature online multiplayer or leaderboards–at least not at this time. Still, Blaze has released numerous firmware updates for the handheld Evercade since release, so the VS could get some new features over time.
The Evercade VS is definitely reasonably priced. The $100 Starter Pack comes with one controller and a Technos Arcade cartridge. But the better deal is the $130 Premium Pack, as it contains two controllers and two carts, the aforementioned Technos cart as well as a Data East Arcade collection. Of course, most people who are interested in the Evercade VS will likely want more cartridges over time. At 20 bucks a pop, the Evercade offers great value, but this is a retro console you could end up spending $500 or more on if you buy into the collector aspect of the Evercade VS. Still, when compared to the price of original hardware and cartridges, the Evercade is an absolute steal.
The Evercade VS has been available in the UK since late last year, but the US release date was delayed due to the pandemic. You can preorder the Starter Pack or the Premium Pack at Amazon ahead of the VS' February 11 launch in North America.
The bottom line
The Evercade VS is a wonderful little retro console that has a great design, an excellent gamepad, and a growing library of physical cartridges that span across every genre you can possibly think of. It brings back the joy of retro gaming in physical form, which makes it ideal for collectors and those who are nostalgic for decades-old classic games that are hard to find for reasonable prices nowadays. The Evercade VS is essentially plug-and-play, and experiencing both beloved classics and forgotten gems in 1080(on a physical cart!) is quite charming. Its cross-save compatibility with the original Evercade handheld is a nice touch. Even if you already have the Evercade handheld, the Evercade VS is worth picking up.
Steven Petite spent around 50 hours playing and tinkering with the Evercade VS. The console and various cartridges were provided by Blaze Entertainment for the purpose of this review.
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