Evercade VS- System Review

Title: Evercade VS
System: Evercade
Price: $100
Release Date: Who Knows (NA), 12/2021 (PAL)


Prelude

Late this summer, we took a look at the Evercade, a handheld with special cartridges that played numerous retro compilations from publishers. I managed to join on in right on the hype train for the home console variant, the Evercade VS, and after some irritating delays due to port nonsense all around the world, I finally managed to secure one plus two of the arcade cartridges.

So, just how does the Evercade handheld translate to the big screen, and just how well are the initial Arcade cartridges? Let’s take a look and find out!

Presentation

Surprisingly, there’s actually quite a lot of differences here in the UI compared to the Evercade OS I had when I reviewed the handheld: in fact, the handheld is pretty much copying the OS from this very system now, with a super sleek 2.0 design that’s just a joy to use.

So, what does the VS provide upon booting it up? Well, after setting up the internet connection, (really only required for updates, which means this console is essentially offline outside of that feature) you get a pretty nifty UI that displays all the game boxarts in a grid format, with the option to sort them via title, player count, or release date, which is a huge improvement compared to the basic, horizontal layout of games from the older handheld firmware. You even have an options menu now for other things, such as screen size, scanlines, menu theme, and misc options including a secret passcode menu, and these allow you to customize the games in a few more ways than you could on the handheld.

I’m happy to say that pixel perfect and full screen mode look absolutely excellent on an HDTV, with stuff like SNES and Genesis games benefitting from the screen features the most, with NES being a close bit behind. However, there was a small gripe I noticed, and that comes from how there seems to still be a small blur filter applied to the pixels, which I noticed especially in Clayfighter. The image is still crisp, don’t get me wrong, but it seems that there is still some sort of minor barrier to the system providing a true crisp, pixel-sharp resolution, even though at a distance you almost certainly won’t notice.

There’s also the fact that the other systems look all over the place on this thing: Arcade is to be expected, since those machines all were of varying resolutions, and while horizontal games like Tumblepop look great, vertical stuff like Lock N Chase seem rather odd looking: the lack of a manual screen size option, or even a vertical mode (though this would mostly benefit the handheld, where these vertical games also look weird) really do make it tough to get these games looking right. There’s also the fact that Atari Lynx games look absolutely crazy on this thing, and while it was funny to try and play them in the full screen setting to see the hyper chunky pixels, it’s definitely clear these were made for handheld view in mind, and so I reckon stuff like Game Boy games that’ll come in future carts will have a similar display situation.

Luckily, I had no issues with the sound in any of the games I threw at this thing: they all ran and sounded just like they do on the handheld from the testing I did, and that means yes, Genesis emulation is still great and the arcade games sound good too. You wouldn’t believe how rejuvenating it is to hear some of the Johnny Turbo Arcade games like Wizard Fire properly emulated for once rather than the abhorrent, MAME-tier scratchy emulation given to us on Switch. No problems on audio here outside for very microscopic stutters whenever you save a state in a game.

Gameplay

Most of what I noted in the original Evercade review applies here, even with the UI redesign: you have more save state slots now, but the games generally perform the same, save for the addition of extra buttons on the new controllers, which feel pretty great: the face buttons are solid, the two new shoulder buttons are comfortable, (Though pretty much useless at the moment save for a few PS1 games on certain carts) and the d-pad is still excellent and very responsive for even tricky diagonal-heavy games like the fighters.

For the majority of released carts then, they just play absolutely great, and now that these console games are back on console, a lot of them feel right at home, with the RPGs in Piko 1 being particular favorites I see myself spending tons of hours on this thing with. Of course, multiplayer is a thing now too, and since the included roms never stripped them out, they’re ready from the getgo on any games that supported it, which is perfect for the arcade games, since most of the included titles are 2P Co-op!

Speaking of Arcade, I guess that’s the main point we should tackle next: alongside the VS, four arcade carts released, with my premium pack including two of them: Data East 1 and Technos 1. These include an assorted array of games, and listing all of them would make this review incredibly long, so let’s just go into how they generally play: in short, pretty awesome, with a few glaring gripes. As noted above, vertical orientation games are a bit odd on this thing, and while the provided screen options still make everything pretty visible, there’s a lot of blank parts of the screen, which the borders at least help mitigate a decent amount. But horizontal games look just as great as they do on handheld, so a bunch of the included games are great fun on the VS: Tumblepop, Double Dragon 2, Blockout, Breakthru, and many more are easy scorechaser recommendations from me.

There’s just a few gripes, one of which is something I think can be fixed, and is only a minor issue, and the other is a pretty huge bug with Data East 1. The bigger issue has to do with controls: on the handheld, while there weren’t any fully remappable controls, the provided schemes all worked well enough and seemed finetuned on a per console basis. But now that we’re dealing with arcade games with varying buttons, it seems the mapping is all over the place: two buttons games are fine, but then you have 3 button games like Double Dragon 3 which decides to map one attack button to Y, while jump is A… Making no sense whatsoever, and I couldn’t find a way to change this.

With the back two shoulder buttons being a thing, it’s a bit disappointing I couldn’t manually remap something to those two, especially since it would really help for the more abstract oddities like Block Out. There’s also no DIP Switch options either, which don’t really impact the games on offer here too badly, but if future arcade games with multiple versions, modes, and settings come into play, then I do hope they consider adding some options for thos ein the future.

And last but not least, a more irritating bug, and that comes from emulation: while I noticed no other emulation bugs with my new carts, I did notice a huge one, unfortunately on the game that hyped me the most for this arcade line: Chain Reaction, or Magical Drop, just flat out will not allow you to load a save state. Loading it will freeze the game, even as the audio continues to play, which is just… Baffling. Nothing I tried, on handheld or VS, even with all the updates has fixed this in the slightest, and it just frustrates me to no end that the game I looked forward to scorechasing the most is just not really practical to do it with, since high scores do not save upon a normal startup, as expected from some emulators, so not being able to do so with a save state is a bit irksome. Thankfully, I can confirm that all the other games on all 4 arcade carts seem to handle save states properly, so this issue should be easy to fix in a patch.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while the VS isn’t as polished as the handheld is now with 2.0, I still found the home unit to be immensely enjoyable, and absolutely a godsend for streaming these games for future retrospectives, or for playing local co-op. While there are absolutely still gripes I have with aspects such as the small blur that’s still intact, the bugs that exist, (including one of which I can’t believe was missed) and the lack of full button mapping, this is definitely a retro device I’m happy to have, and with super exciting compilations like Renovation heading my way in 2022, I’m more than eager to see what the future holds for this system.

Should you buy this though, if you already have the handheld? Hmm, I think the handheld still has better value in general with the new update, but if you’re wanting to play the arcade stuff in a more comfortable way and do local co-op, then this unit is an easy recommend, no doubt: being able to use 2 carts at once is also another benefit for backlog busting, and I see myself swapping between both units for quite a long, long while. There’s even some hidden games exclusive to the VS unit, though none of the ones I’ve tried yet have done much to wow me, with them just being nifty easter eggs at the most. Nevertheless, if you’ve been wanting to get into the evercade family, (Save for the two Namco carts, which are disabled on the VS due to BNEI’s partnerships with other console companies taking priority) this is the perfect place to start playing some cartridges!

I give the Evercade VS an 8 out of 10.

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