From the premium Analogue Pocket to Nintendo’s relatively cheap and cheerful Game & Watch collection, the handheld retro gaming market has exploded in recent years. There are a ton of options for those looking to satisfy their 8- to 32-bit itch, but most don’t replicate the much-loved ritual of that bygone era – inserting a cartridge.
That’s always been the appeal of the Evercade, which was first introduced by Blaze Entertainment back in 2020. In a world of digital instant gratification, it was gaming’s equivalent to Spotify VS. Vinyl. If you wanted to play a game on it, you had to own the cartridge.
The new EXP continues this philosophy, but also has a bunch of much-needed updates including an improved display, better ergonomics, and faster internal specs, plus USB-C charging and built-in WIFI, which should make updating your devices firmware a breeze .
I played the Evercade EXP at gamescom and can happily say that it already feels like a high-end device, despite being a prototype. The original’s retro-inspired colorful accents are gone, replaced by a sleeker all-white or all-black finish, which compliments its new low profile design. It’s an altogether more modern look and gives the EXP a premium feel.
On the front right-hand side are four face buttons, Start and Select buttons – used for pausing or inserting more coins depending on what you’re playing – and a system menu button that links to video options, save states, and so forth.
At the other end is a SEGA Genesis-inspired D-pad. One thing I noticed after launching 1991’s Lightning Swords and playing it for a bit, is that the D-pad did move around a little more than I expected, causing a few instances of incorrect button presses. But, this is a prototype and hopefully it’s something that will be fixed once the final model is released.
At the top, we’ve got four shoulder buttons compared to the original’s two, a nice addition for someone like myself who grew up holding original PlayStation controllers, instead of the more brick-shaped designs of the third generation of consoles. Thankfully, these should come in handy for games like Worms Armageddon and Football Madness.
Finally, at the back is the cartridge slot and, when one is inserted, it completes the smooth finish of the console, which is a neat touch.
Probably the biggest improvement over the original is the EXP’s screen. When the Evercade first came out, its TN display was already outdated, coming in at a rather pale 480 x 272 resolution, resulting in poor image quality and a narrow-viewing angle.
The EXP’s 4.3-inch 800 x 480 IPS screen is a noticeable step up. Playing 1989’s Final Fight was a delight thanks to its bright, punchy image. The same goes for Capcom’s Street Fighter 2 and I never once had to worry about the viewing angle, even under the bright lights of the show floor.
Like the first Evercade, the EXP uses bespoke carts, much like those in Nintendo’s earlier handhelds. I started off with IREM Arcade Collection 1, which included an assortment of shoot ’em ups, and action and sport games.
I then tried out Capcom’s 1942 and, as I was shooting down the planes swarming towards me, I was told to press the lone button at the bottom of the handheld. Doing so instantly switches the EXP to a classic shooter-style vertical view, that fills the entire display, also known as TATE Mode – which is easy enough to grow accustomed to, due to the lone A and B buttons on the left hand side of the device.
It’s a very cool addition and because it’s built into the core of the machine itself it avoids the Nintendo Switch’s issue of offering vertical play but not feeling properly designed for it. Obviously its use is limited to a smaller number of games, but it’s an addition I was pleasantly surprised by.
I also had the chance to check out a few more games, with one collection that looked particularly intriguing – Indie Heroes Collection 1, which features a curated selection of modern indie games including Deadeus, a horror game released in 2019 for the Game Boy. That’s right, a modern Game Boy game!
While not all the games I played are to my taste, I am interested in the tech of the EXP itself – the seamless game experience, the price point, and the fantastic display. Ultimately, as retro game prices continue to increase, and with older hardware becoming more scarce, the Evercade EXP is a breath of fresh air in a collector’s market currently dominated by those who suck up everything, no matter the cost.
The Evercade EXP is set to release on November 24th, with pre-order open in September 2022, and is priced at £129.99, $149.99 or €149.99.
Jesse Gomez is a UK Video Producer who loves most things retro, and owns too many video converters for older consoles. He can be found @TheFriendlyBro on Twitter.