Title: Evercade Handheld
Price: $99.99 (3 Game Bundle)
Release Date: 2020
Hey, this is something new for the site, my first ever system review! Yes, despite all the time that has passed since SFG started, I have never reviewed a system: that sort of stuff was kept for unboxings or Unscripted Memories on my Youtube. But here today, I have a system to review, since well, I bought it + games, so let’s make the most of this!
Released by Blaze in the early part of 2020, The Evercade aimed to be a new handheld system with interchangeable cartridges, not unlike the older handhelds of the past. However, instead of being a system focused on new games to try and take on Nintendo’s Switch, Blaze decided to make the Evercade go the plug and play route, by having each cartridge be a curated selection of retro titles from assorted publishers, while even allowing some modern homebrew for retro systems to make the jump!
I had heard of this when it was announced and then when it launched, but initial reviews kinda turned me off and made me a bit nervous, mainly due to reported problems with the button mapping and HDMI sound output, along with other general problems such as a cartridge death grip. Being burned extremely badly by the Retro Bit Generations, despite that system’s seemingly solid lineup, I was very, very wary of any retro compilation systems and thus hesitated to get on board, and had even asked for a review unit a while back to see if I could be won over.
However, what got me to finally buy one were several factors: For starters, I found out some really, really good games were put on these carts and seemed to emulate well, making it a bit tempting, and the ultimate catalyst was the announcement of Renovation Collection 1. People who read my Antstream review know that I love the Valis series and Telenet games, and my review of that service noted that I was happy with the amount of MD Telenet games available. Well, now a bunch of those games are coming to a physical cartridge next year, so what better time to jump in than now, especially with an interesting looking console version set for November, along with a wave of arcade cartridges!
Being that this is a game system I’m reviewing here, the presentation not only applies to what works on the inside, but also how it feels and looks on the outside, too! Right away the system impressed with a super sturdy and well designed outer box, covered by a cool slipcase that shows art from the games included in the three pack-in compilation cartridges: Atari Collection 1, Data East Collection 1, and Interplay Collection 1. Removing the slipcase and opening up the box, you get the usual basics for a system like this, which are a manual, the console itself, and a charging cord, in this case, micro-USB.
Since I got the $100 triple pack via Amazon, the aforementioned three compilation carts came in the box as well, so I might as well discuss what to expect from a usual Evercade release! Each game includes a short full-color manual, highlighting each game on the respective compilation with some basic trivia and control info. One detail in these manuals I didn’t expected, but was super happy to see, came from how it outright credited individual staff and team members from the original game, to let you know exactly who were the minds behind an included title, if possible. Considering how a lot of these retro reissues lump the creators under typical brand names, I was super happy to see this minor, unneeded detail put in the manuals, as it showed to me that while they didn’t need to do this at all, the people behind the Evercade went the extra mile to help make the manuals a bit of a history lesson with love and care rather than just a standard control sheet.
The game boxes are pretty nice too, and the size reminds me of my DS games, if a little bit slimmer, and the cartridges are held clamshell style akin to that system and the Sega Genesis. Surprisingly, I thought I’d have petty issues with the fact that every game has the fat ugly PEGI rating staring you in the face on the box art and cartridge, (this is European, after all, but it works just fine on US power outlets) but much to my delight, the rating and info for the carts are only shown on the front; you insert them with the front facing towards the system, so on the outside, you get this really cool perfect fit, with the cartridge back having the number and name of the collection, but nothing more, leading to the whole white system looking like a completed puzzle when a game’s inserted, which just makes for a really cute extra detail that again, they didn’t need to do, but did anyway clearly out of passion and fun.
Now onto talking about how this system looks from a UI point of view. Turning on the console, you get a basic startup animation, albeit with a general jingle, and then you’re either shown your cartridge, or just given a screen ordering you to insert one. Each cartridge uses the same sort of menu, listing all the games with replicas of their boxarts, and a screenshot, so it’s fairly basic on the UI front. In fact, you can even remove the cartridge on this game select screen, and put in another one without needing to turn the system off. In a way, it makes the carts seem like fancy SD cards, due to the nature of when they can be hotswapped.
When it comes to emulation options, there really isn’t many. You can adjust the brightness levels, do some limited button remapping, (but not uniform across all games, oddly enough) and stretch the screen to 16:9 if you want to torment your eyes, but otherwise the menu doesn’t have much to offer, which isn’t too terribly bad considering how it still has save states and the default pixel resolution is pretty good, though it’s not quite as crisp as it could be, and it makes me wonder if a very tiny blur filter is applied to the games: Considering how 1:1 PAR would make these games look absolutely stunning, it is a bummer you can’t go that far with the resolution.
There’s no menu music or anything of the sort either, just menu sound effects that you really should turn off ASAP. I am happy to say though, that every last game I played on this device had 100% perfect sound emulation, which definitely is a good thing in the case of the Sega Genesis titles. Nothing sounded off-key or delayed, and everything just felt as it should, a rarity for these sort of devices.
So, with the packaging and UI/Emulation out of the way, how does this thing play games? Luckily, the Evercade has a very comfortable form factor to it, looking a bit like a whitened SNES controller with a screen in the middle of it. It has all the buttons the SNES does, so you have the diamond configuration and two super clicky and satisfying shoulder buttons to play around with, along with the typical start and select buttons.
Easily the biggest and most pleasant surprise of the layout comes from the D-Pad, which feels extraordinarily comfortable in a way I just can’t pin down. It is akin to the Genesis/Saturn D-pads as most other reviewers have compared, but to me it honestly feels a little better than those two D-Pads. Something about the round shape and the squishy reactive nature just makes it feels so good for both 4-way and 8-way games, leading to precision that’s solely missing on the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. Not once during any of the games I played did the D-Pad ever give me a bad or missed input, which just goes to show how well made this simple part ended up being, much to my surprise!
With a flick of the power switch and the bootup screen going through, it’s time to see just how these cartridges play out, and if the overall experience is worth giving a spin here rather than via other outlets such as numerous compilations that contain some of the games included in these carts, though a lot of them are seeing their first physical reissues via these cool collections!
One bummer I immediately noticed with my unit, came from what seems to be a dead pixel on the left side of my screen. It’s typical for LCD lotteries to sometimes throw a dead pixel your way with a system, but I had hoped it wasn’t such, and I could fix it somehow. Thankfully, Evercade support came in quickly to try their best to offer aid with a pixel pusher program, which pretty much gave my evercade screen seizures in hopes of it unsticking the pixel. Alas, it didn’t work out, meaning that in my case, I did get stuck with a singular dead pixel, and since I didn’t want to send all the cartridges back to try again, I just ended up dealing with it since said pixel is on the outer border of the games. Still, keep in mind that tidbit if you go and get one, and thankfully the support is fast and effective if you have any problems.
Besides that, I had no further technical issues with the device or cartridges, and when it comes to the latter, they’re absolutely great and easy to swap out, as I noted earlier. Going with the original 3-pack at first, I soon made it go from 3, to 4, to 5, to eventually 8 of the ten launch titles! Each cart being $20 each makes them a very easy value, and if even only one game on a cartridge is familiar enough to you, then I say it’s worth the buy to play that and anything else you might discover from a cart, such as me with the Piko Collection 1! The one game I had my sights set on with that cart was 8 Eyes, a very niche Castlevania clone on NES that, while not terribly great, has a lot of fun ideas and is such an obscure gem that I just had to buy the compilation to play it again, since my original NES copy is nice and stored away.
However, while I found myself enjoying 8 Eyes itself just as I did many years ago on a hand-me-down NES, I ended up deciding to give the other 19 games included a shot, and you know what? I found some damn great gems and new favorites. Dragon View is a super neat action RPG with sideview and first person elements, Water Margin is a surprisingly solid belt scroller from Taiwan, Tinhead is a cute mascot platformer, and NSO-familiar Nightshade is a really funny adventure game! Those alone would make the $20 worthwhile, but the fact carts like those have more games that are usually of decent to high quality, indicate to me that there’s something for everyone on these cartridges, and I found that to be the case with all eight I own.
When it comes to the playability of these cartridges, everything I noted earlier holds true. The D-Pad feels excellent, the control schemes are pretty solid, and every game emulated at the proper speed that it was supposed to, indicating a high care for accuracy. Really the only bummer I had with a cartridge came with Atari Collection 1, since the lack of system wide button remapping meant that I stupidly kept bumping the X key to reset the 7800 games more times than I’d like to admit, and I really wished there was a way to just disable that button entirely and just rely on the menu to handle that sort of stuff, since Ninja Golf managed to be super fun, despite me not really caring as much for the other games on the cartridge.
But still, everything just worked great for pick up and play purposes. I could throw the data east cart in and play Magical Drop II’s amazing SNES port, before swapping to the fun NES port of Burgertime and discovering a new gem with Midnight Resistence. Then I could switch to the Technos cart and enjoy childhood favorites Super Dodge Ball and Super Spike V Ball, before trying Super Double Dragon for the first time ever. Whichever cart I threw on this thing, I had something I liked, even if it was a totally unheard of game to me, which was just amazing, and makes me honestly want to buy more carts on a whim just to see which treasure trove titles I can add to my backlog of doom.
Really, at the end of the day, the only thing I’d like to see tweaked on the evercade as a whole would be full system-wide button mapping for all platforms. Currently you can only really do that for Genesis games, and even then it’s a limited amount of presets, while systems like the 7800 and NES would benefit from the option to customize the controls a bit more. I also heard the Worms cartridge includes a PS1 game, but without R2/L2 it’s not possible to even use all the buttons, so a way to remap them to your liking would be especially nice if we got future PS1 gems. (Tail Concerto, anyone? I can dream!) Otherwise, I found my near month with the system incredibly fun, and I’ve even taken this on restaurant trips in place of my switch solely due to the pick-up and play nature giving me hope that I may actually be able to beat these games in my spare time! Definitely a thing I’m happy to see, and one that really impressed me.
In conclusion, Evercade won over the skeptic in me, and now I’m hooked on this thing: this device is what I wished stuff like the Retro-Bit Generations would have been: a curated collection of hidden gem games with great emulation. When the Piko Collection manages to contain tons of hidden gems from them that won me over, rather than awful games like Alfred Chicken and Creepy Bird they put on the Generations, that’s when you know a company has learned from their mistakes, and considering the promising variety of games coming soon, I am very, very excited to see what the future of this handheld has to offer.
Do not let the look fool you: this is a retro gamer’s dream handheld, and screen lottery aside, it is absolutely worth a buy if any of the available or upcoming cartridges contain a game worthwhile to you, and it’s a great way of experiencing fun niche gems, too! If you’re really just into retro gaming to try and see what hidden gems you may be able to uncover, then this system has twenty cartridges easily ready for you to go nuts with that potential, and I just cannot wait to see the future of this system, since I am hooked!
I give The Evercade Handheld System a 9 out of 10.