From the Playdate, to the Analogue Pocket and the Evercade EXP, the past six months have seen rapid expansion of my handheld gaming capabilities. They are all just so cute and charming. How am I, a simple gamer with disposable income, supposed to resist their wiles? While I had heard effusive praise for Blaze Entertainment’s Evercade retro and indie gaming ecosystem from a few people whose gaming opinions I respect, I had no real exposure to them. As such, I was the least sure about this pre-order of all three. Did I really need another specialty console that I did not have time for? Were there even enough games that were not available in the 50 million other retro collections out there to make the distinction worth it? After waffling back and forth 50 times, I decided to hold on to my pre-order. Now, nearly three months later, has my curiosity been rewarded, or do I find myself wishing for my money back?
Physical Carts, Boxes, and Manuals
A large part of the appeal of the Evercade EXP as a retro device is the forever physical spirit of it all. Each cartridge comes in a box that seems like a hybrid of the Sega Genesis and Nintendo 3DS with a manual and usually some fun extras like stickers. They look great sitting on your shelf and make you want to collect more, which, thanks to years of other Evercade models being on the market, there is plenty of opportunity for.
Learning Gaming History
While I like to think I know quite a bit about the last almost 40 years of gaming, there are definitely still blind spots out there for me. Thanks to the Evercade’s wonderfully curated collections, I’m finding myself discovering parts of gaming’s past I never knew about before. Whether it’s deep diving into defunct studios like Data East and Renovation or checking out retro PC gaming for the first time in the Commodore 64 Collection or the upcoming Amiga Collection, entirely new worlds of retro gaming can be opened up to you without the need for managing dozens of systems. Even the individual collections themselves often span from 8-bit all the way to 32-bit providing you with an evolution of companies as well.
The Evercade’s library is not confined only to retro fare. They also seemingly seek to empower Indie devs who work in a retro aesthetic. There’s an entire home brew industry being given greater attention compliments of the Evercade’s Indie Heroes collections and special cartridges around companies like Morphcat Games and Mega Cat Studios. I have even found myself buying their homebrew carts for my actual systems as an extra “good job” to the devs involved.
The EXP comes with 2 collections to get you started – the IREM Arcade Collection 1 most notable for the stellar R-Type series and the Capcom Collection (which is sadly not on a cartridge due to licensing restrictions) that features everything from Commando to Mega Man X to Street Fighter, instantly adding a ton of variety to your library.
The screen is gorgeous at 800 x 480 and plays well whether in a dark room or outside in the sun. It really lets those old games shine.
Let’s face it, a lot of older games (and those modern ones inspired by them) are insanely difficult. Mercifully, the Evercade EXP lets you manage numerous save states per game in each collection, and they make it incredibly simple to quickly load your last save. I practically switch back to my last save unconsciously now as I work my way through these challenging titles. As an added bonus, all saves are localized to the carts themselves, so you could move them between various devices if needed.
A New Sleepy Time Fave
Somehow this piece of hardware I was not even sure if I wanted has supplanted my Nintendo Switch as my go to handheld to play in bed each night. It feels good to hold, and the variety of games in each collection gives you tons of options for each session. Plus, a lot of these games are either high-score arcade style games or shorter hour or so adventures making them ideal for brief play sessions.
The Satisfying Cartridge Fit
While the build of the device itself might not be perfect, there is one thing that is. The cartridges slide in so nicely to complete the unit, and it is so tactilely satisfying every damn time.
One of the coolest things about the EXP is that you can push a button a have the games switch from landscape to portrait mode. This is especially useful for a lot of vertical scrolling shoot-em-ups like the 1940 series from Capcom. The only real issue is that there are not currently a lot of titles that utilize this, but the upcoming Toaplan Collection 2 demonstrates that Blaze appears dedicated to taking advantage of this option a lot more in the future.
From Handheld to on Your TV
While not quite as satisfying as putting your Switch into its dock, the EXP can easily connect to your TV via a mini HDMI cable. The device then serves as the controller, and you can play as normal. I have not taken advantage of this too often, but it is good to know that I can with minimal effort involved.
The Price Point
At $150, the EXP is one of the more affordable niche handhelds out there (compared to $179 for the Playdate and $220+ for the Analogue Pocket). And, it’s actually super available at any major online retailer unlike the others which often require 6+ months of waiting. The collections themselves all run at $20 making it easy to expand your library quickly, and Evercade’s website gives you access to all retailers, allowing you to find the best prices.
The Mixed Bag
Lack of Online
It seems that some sort of online functionality is coming, but currently the device only uses the internet for updates. For some people this might be a deal breaker in today’s day and age, but it does sort of fit with that emphasis on physical media the company seems to be going for. Even if/when an online store arrives, I don’t know that I would ever use it over buying a cartridge, but it would be nice if they did have some games of the month like other systems in the Evercade catalogue have.
There are three main collection types for the Evercade – Computer, Arcade, and Consoles. Each is distinguished by its own color and unique numbering system. This does make it easy to keep track of your collection if yours focuses on specific areas, but, as I’m kind of wanting it all, I think I’d prefer a unified method of numbering.
Lack of Sleep Mode
After a set period of time that you can change in the settings, the system will turn off the display, but it does not currently have a way to put it in a sleep mode like seemingly every other device out there. This means that if you don’t want to completely drain the 4 hour or so battery you have to turn off the console between sessions. While save states make it easy to get back to where you were when you left off, having to go through the full start-up every time is a bit of an annoyance even if it is quite speedy.
The Headset Port
While I like most of the things about the sleek little machine, the headset port is not one of them. I find myself having to slightly adjust how far in my headset is plugged every time or else I’ll lose either music or sound effects. With no current bluetooth support, this also means you’ll need to have corded headphones that are becoming increasingly less prevalent in today’s world.
Lack of Screenshots
This is probably more of a me thing, but I love taking screenshots of what I’m playing and sharing them on Twitter. I especially love sharing the end screens of classic games, and aside from taking pics of the screen with my phone or going through a lot of cords to connect to my computer, there is not a good way to get screenshots on the EXP.
Much to my own surprise, of my three 2022 handheld purchases, I believe the Evercade EXP is the clear winner. It is the easiest to use and has the largest supported library of them as well thanks to their excellent collections. It’s not perfect by any means, but I constantly find myself delighted by the joy it brings and the world of gaming it has opened up to me. Really, though, your mileage may vary depending on what you’re looking for in a retro-style device and whether or not you have a large number of old cartridges or ROMs to support something like the Analogue Pocket or just like the boutique nature and fantastic community of the Playdate (whose full review you can find here). If you do decide to pick up an Evercade EXP, here are some recommendations for collections to get you started.
Data East Arcade Collection 1
Not to be confused with the Data East Collection 1 (seriously, Blaze, that is some weird distinction), the Data East Arcade Collection 1 might be my favorite deep dive into a company I knew little about before. While my mother’s love of Burger Time from my childhood drew me to the collection, games like the excellent take on Pac-Man, Lock ‘N’ Chase, and the absurd Sly Spy solidified my love for this company that has been forgotten to time.
Indie Heroes Collection 1
Having Flea! from Lowtek Games and its 80 levels of insanely hard bouncing is enough to recommend this cart, but the charming collect-athon of Foxy Land and the pure absurdity of Super Homebrew War (think Smash Bros. with obscure indie game characters) makes it a must have.
Indie Heroes Collection 2
Tapeworm Disco Puzzle, the follow-up to Flea!, showcases the shocking staying power of the Lowtek extended universe, and the serving challenge Beer Slinger helps elevate this indie collection past its predecessor. While I have not yet been able to check out all the titles, I am also really looking forward to playing the Game Boy inspired and brilliantly titled Gelatinous: Humanity Lost.
Interplay Collection 1
If you want to be reminded of the best, weirdest 16-bit games of yesteryear, this is your collection. Led by Earthworm Jim and the criminally forgotten Boogerman: A Pick and Flick Adventure, there’s so much wonderful oddness to go around.
Mega Cat Studios Collection 1
There are two Mega Cat Collections, and while the second has the best game from the studio (platform-puzzler Gluf), the first has a far greater variety with the Punch-Out!! inspired Creepy Brawlers, the beat-em-up Coffee Crisis, and the puzzle platformer Super Painter serving as highlights.
Morphcat Games Collection 1
There are three absolute bangers on this collection with the tower scrolling platformer Micro Mages, the bubble-centric Metroidvania Bobl, and the Joust meets Mega Man speed-runners dream Spacegulls all bringing the absolute heat and showcasing what a good homebrew game can be.
Namco Museum Collection 1
The classics are classics for a reason, and having games like Pac-Man, Galaxian, and Dig Dug to go along with weirder titles like the Mappy Series and Battle Cars makes this essential for any collection.
One thought on “Evercade EXP: The Good, the Bad, and the Homebrew”
evercade need to make a light gun and different controllers and if they open a online shop to buy and download game can we get a blank evercade cartridges to download and store the games on be so cool