Evercade EXP- System Review

System: Evercade EXP
Price: $159.99
Release Date: 12/15/2022


Prelude

Similar to my review of last year’s Evercade VS, and the original handheld before that, I’m gonna go through how this system feels, how it handles some recent releases, and if there are any sorts of quirks or problems you should know to see if this upgrade is worth doing or not!

Truth be told, when this got announced back in June of 2022, I was a bit confused. The normal Evercade felt fine enough to me, outside of how some stuff could have been updated via firmware updates, (most of which have slowed down due to the weird nature of having to flash the system with a PC every time) and I couldn’t really get the need to upgrade to a newer model: sure, the L2/R2 buttons on the VS pad weren’t on the OG handheld, but almost nothing really required them. Far as I believed, the price of the OG meant that it was a perfect entry point, so announcing a new handheld that was a lot more expensive seemed pretty strange, all things considered, especially without any sort of upgrade deal for old handheld users. Then a Capcom bundle was announced to be built into the unit itself, causing the price to make a lot more sense, along with how the Tate Mode feature seemed to be more than the throwaway gimmick I wrote it off to be, especially in the age where throwing a Switch into a Flip Grip is a great way to play vertical games.

Well, the EXP finally launched, and after spending a good amount of time with it (thanks to a long weekend caused by snow) I’m very happy to say my doubts of this unit were proven wrong, for the most part. Let’s dive in and see how this holds up, and what sort of new additions it brings to the table!

Presentation

Just like the original handheld, the Evercade EXP comes in a box with a fancy slipcover, opening up to reveal the system itself, the singular pack-in cart (Irem Arcade 1), and a jumbo-sized manual for the built in Capcom Collection, this manual being akin to a brochure flipbook, being rich in detail for the included games, while also containing info such as mechanics for Breath of Fire and the movesets for Street Fighter II! Otherwise, there’s just a USB-C Charging cable.

Plugging the system into any USB-C charger you have at your disposal, (I personally use my Switch Lite charging brick) the system charges up to around 2-4 hours of gameplay, from my personal experience. The system itself feels very nice, having a comfortable texture on the unit that makes it easy to grip, with a D-Pad far superior to the already decent ones used on the original and VS models, The face buttons in particular are really great, and absolutely lead to comfort gaming, with the only buttons feeling off being the L1/R1 buttons due to their slim size.

Turning it on, the UI on the EXP is almost identical to the one from the Evercade VS, allowing you to sort games on your inserted cart by Title or Release Date, with a very clean interface. However, I did notice in my evening bedroom setting that there is a very distinct and noticeable light bleed on the bottom left corner of the screen, which can be quite a detracting experience for some if you play in the darkness.

As of a recent update, a bonus menu has been added to the game launch menu, just containing a Coin Limit option for arcade games at the moment, but it seems like this is where button mapping, DIP Switches and other new planned additions are to come later down the line, which are very welcome and overdue.

With the usual menus and such from the VS, there are a few new menus available as “Bonus Content”, one containing a catalog of secret, built-in games discovered via passwords or button combos, (mostly simple minigames, though there’s at least 2 full games to mess around with along with those 3 basic titles, for a total of 5 secret games) and the most significant, and arguably the reason the EXP costs as much as it does, The Capcom Collection.

Unlike every other Evercade set or compilation so far, The Capcom Collection is fully digital, built-into the EXP itself. This has been a bit iffy for some in the Evercade community who like the physical cartridge aspect, since this means that Capcom titles are unavailable for the VS, locking out the multiplayer and co-op features in the compatible titles, which is a lot of them. Yes, here we have an assortment of Capcom arcade games already available via the Capcom Arcade Stadium sets, along with four home console titles, one of which is seldom reissued in the form of Breath of Fire, and the other three being Mega Man 1, 2, and X.

So, how’s the general emulation on the EXP, and in the Capcom collection? Well, as of the most recent update, it’s incredibly solid, save for some minor nitpicks. Visually, these games look outstanding, with all three display options being bright, colorful, and free of the minor blur filter I complained about back in my VS review. (In fact, the VS even got updated to support nearest neighbor in 4:3 mode, and games look stunning there, too!).

Each of the display options get the job done, and the widescreen option especially comes in handy for the EXP’s new gimmick: TATE mode. Yes, with the press of a button on the bottom of the unit, the screen rotates to the left, displaying crisp visuals for vertical arcade games, and even allowing the usage of new A/B buttons placed on the left side of the console for optimal play. (In fact, the Menu button is now moved to the right side of the system, which has tripped me up a few times when i go to instinctively press the menu button where the original handheld had it, only to push these two A/B buttons!)

For vertical oriented games such as Vulgus, Legendary Wings and Commando, this TATE Mode is an absolute joy to play, being an incredibly comfy and quicker method to play these games vertically, rather than buying a Switch and a Flip-Grip and changing options in those aforementioned compilations, and the display options look great in this mode for these games! Technically, any game can display in this mode, but for horizontal games stretching them in a vertical aspect ratio is definitely bizarre, so I obviously don’t recommend it in those instances.

As for the other aspects of the emulation, well, the input lag is very well handled, with very low amounts of it, leading to me having a great time going through the Mega Man trio in particular, and the responsive controls are on-point. Audio emulation in the games is generally fine, though the most recent update to the console seems to have shifted the pitch of every game played on the unit by a very, very small amount: I’m talking microscopic, to the point I only noticed in the Renovation Collection and on Legendary Wings due to how much I played those pre-update, but this error is indeed there, and most notable in games with distinct sound effects. Oddly enough, this pitch error does not appear to impact Cathedral as that’s a native game, and I hope this is quickly reverted back to how the games should sound.

The built in NES games also appear to sound muffled, which is odd considering NES games on other carts sound just as audible as other systems, and Breath of Fire/the Arcade games sound fairly crisp. Sadly, this means the Mega Man NES games sound like they’re going through a tin can, which is annoying.

Gameplay

So, with how the games emulate and the unit feels out of the way, how about the game experience itself, or the quality of the included Capcom games? Well, as noted earlier, the playability is pretty great! I threw Alwa’s Awakening in for a spin and ended up so hooked by how comfortable the game was to play, that I fully 100%ed the entire adventure on this system, and that game really benefitted from the great D-Pad for sequence break techniques. It was through playing this excessively that I would notice how much more muffled the Mega Man titles sounded in comparison, since NES games on carts like these run outstandingly.

I’m also pleased to say that other games from other consoles all generally ran great on this system: Genesis titles like Midnight Resistance still sound as excellent as ever, Atari/Intellivision titles both look and play great, (though Intellivision games still crash when using the menu’s reset command) and Playstation, SNES, Master System and Game Boy titles all benefit from the nearest neighbor display options, and are all comfortable to play around with. Of course, the Lynx still looks the most crisp out of all of the retro systems here, just like it did on the original Evercade, so all systems pass the test.

Older Arcade carts also benefit from TATE mode, meaning that even older games like Mysterious Stones, Burgertime and Lock N Chase all look and play way nicer in TATE mode than on the original handheld, causing me to spend a lot more time with them. Toaplan’s Slap Fight also plays like a dream in this form factor, making me prefer the portability of the EXP over the equally great experience available on the Egret II.

Basically, if a game ran great on the VS, it’ll run just as good here, if not better due to TATE mode. Unfortunately, that also applies for the games in the Evercade ecosystem with glaring bugs, since that’s based off the builds on the cart rather than the system itself: Psycho Pinball still loses audio channels when loading a save state, Chain Reaction/Magical Drop still hard crash when loading a save state, and Hoops Shut up and Jam 2 crash when entering a tournament. (that last one won’t be fixed due to the license for those games being lost since the cart release, sadly) The good news at least is the 2022 carts appear to be free of any major software issues like those, but I do hope those older affected carts get the bugfixes they need soon, especially since the EXP allows for Wifi updating! No more USB tethering like in the OG handheld days.

But when it comes to the variety of retro games available for play, I still think the Evercade is a great supplement for those who enjoy retro reissues like you’d see on the Virtual Console: a bunch of classics, a bunch of new fun obscurities, and a lot of inbetween. Newer stuff like the C64 collection have games I’ve never heard of before, yet find myself enjoying immensely, and generally it seems every cart has at least one game I get absorbed into in some way. From the RPG heavy Piko 1, the Telenet (and Masayasu Yamamoto) heavy Renovation 1, to the outstanding double pack of Alwa and Cathedral, there’s a collection for everyone, and the Capcom collection that’s built in has a great assortment of games, including a beefy RPG, so even if you start off without any cartridges, you’ll have quite a bit of great games to play through.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Evercade EXP definitely feels like a worthwhile upgrade in almost every possible way. The D-Pad and buttons feel magnificent, the screen is sharp and more crisp than ever, making every title I threw at the thing look like a dream, and Tate Mode is a serious door opener to becoming the best modern way to play some of these Arcade games, period! Even some system bugs I wrote down as gripes were swiftly fixed, though a lot of cartridge bugs from the launch of the VS on earlier carts still remain.

Hardware wise though, everything here is really solid, and this machine definitely is the way to go for playing Evercade titles on the go. It does have a Mini HDMI output, which even supports the TATE mode, but I didn’t give this a spin due to having a VS. Really the only thing that could make this a tough sell compared to the bargain that is the VS comes from the price: $160 is a decent value if you take the hardware quality and the Capcom/IREM Collections into account, but if you feel those Capcom games are done to death or just aren’t for you, well, you gotta get them anyway, and IREM is the pack-in bonus, so it’ll be a bit of a tougher sell if you don’t want those two for whatever reason.

Thankfully, both included collections are top notch, and I even argue the six IREM games are more enjoyable than the Capcom titles solely due to the presence of Lightning Swords, a fantastic action game akin to Ninja Spirit, and with so many affordable cartridges on the market and just the feel of the unit overall, I really can’t see myself going back to my OG unit outside of the clicky feeling of those shoulder buttons: seeing the night and day difference between the Genesis games on the OG and EXP is enough to make me stick with the EXP for quite a while, and so I just advise picking up the Evercade system that fits your playstyle: you won’t be able to play the Namco/Capcom sets on the VS, and you won’t be able to play some of the VS hidden games on the EXP, so if you’re a handheld gamer, the EXP is definitely a fun unit to keep an eye on, though it did come in a little hot for the pricepoint. Still, I’m having a lot of fun, and if you have the spare funds to spend, I’d definitely recommend starting here. Otherwise, get the VS.

I give the Evercade EXP an 8 out of 10.

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