As the gaming market moves towards larger and larger games, often released in unfinished condition, and sometimes acting as online stores rather than pure entertainment products, retro has been given a boost. Mini-consoles have proven to be a stroke of genius, and efforts to create spiritual sequels to series like Castlevania, Suikoden and Banjo-Kazooie have raised record amounts of money on Kickstarter.
In the wake of this, there's also been a big scene for new retro devices, either ones that have built-in games (and often flirt with piracy) or ones that use standard retro cartridges and allow you to easily enjoy the gaming magic of yesteryear on today's screens. Recently, however, another category has become increasingly popular, and it is mainly (I'll touch on this later) in this fold that we find Evercade.
I'm talking about retro-oriented gaming devices, but where the games are delivered on cartridges like in the old days. And in the case of the Evercade, the games also come in a sort of miniature case similar to those of the Mega Drive, complete with an instruction manual. And I'd be seriously deluding myself if I didn't admit that during the review period it was far more enjoyable than I'd anticipated to really revel in retro and once again get to swap cartridges between playthroughs and actually browse through instruction books, which are far nicer than they used to be and thus offer a kind of embellished retro experience.
Don't get me wrong, I play a lot of retro games and the mini versions of the NES, Super Nintendo and Mega Drive are always plugged into my TV. However, they all suffer from noticeable lag and it doesn't quite feel the same for some reason when I have 30-40 games built in to browse between. The new Evercade EXP solves this by offering small game collections on cartridge (between six to eight titles in the ones I've had to test), all classic games from well-known developers.
The device itself is a significant upgrade from its predecessor in terms of build quality and has a sleek, white design without feeling as overly minimalist as everything is these days. There are a number of buttons and controls here, adding to the retro feel of a slightly tacky device that has the feel of a classic Game Boy or perhaps even better a Game Gear. Its slightly rough surface also provides a comfortable grip, and there are also buttons for vertical play in the games (TATE, including 1942) that support it.
The buttons are of good quality throughout and have a clear and distinct feel, which also includes the shoulder buttons. That said, I have some comments on the volume buttons as well as Select and Start. This is because these are incredibly "clicky" and sound like pressing a key on a good quality mechanical keyboard. Exactly why this solution was chosen I don't know, but it means you will disturb people and be heard if you are in a quiet room. In addition to this, there is also a button to turn the device on/off, a turbo button, headphone jack (Bluetooth is missing though, which is a minus) and USB-C for charging.
Something that unfortunately hasn't improved as much as I had hoped is the screen, which I feel is a bit washed out in the colours and doesn't really have the luxurious crispness (800 x 480) I would have liked to have on a device like this. Also, the screen is unexpectedly small in relation to the rather thick edges around it and not bright enough either, so I don't think you'll see well at all if you want to play on a sunny day at the beach. However, there are adequate settings for different screen ratios as well as the option to play with scanlines and the like. Don't get me wrong, there's certainly nothing wrong with the screen and it's clearly sharper than its predecessor, but it doesn't give the feel of the ultimate portable retro device. However, you can also connect the device to your TV with mini-HDMI (which unfortunately is not included) if you want to play with better picture quality and have the option.
Evercade has done a really nice job of entering into partnerships with major publishers such as Atari, Bandai Namco, Capcom, Irem, among others. Thanks to this, there is already a significant library of cartridges available for purchase with retro games, really good games that have completely withstood the test of time and were developed in the days when a broken game was broken forever, which meant that they were almost exclusively released in a good condition, and besides, the concept of microtransactions was not even invented at all. As far as I know, however, Sega is still missing, which is a shame. That said, as I said, the box sets are nice and these are also unexpectedly cheap. The fact that the system also supports so-called save states is damn nice.
So there's that word "mainly" I mentioned in the second paragraph of this review. Why is the Evercade EXP just essentially a device for those who like cartridges? Well, because the unit actually comes with 18 built-in Capcom titles among which we find undisputed greats like 1942, Bionic Commando, Breath of Fire, Final Fight, Mega Man and Street Fighter II. In fact, I'd argue that the range is so good that anyone who loves retro and wants a fun travel companion will enjoy the device even without buying anything additional.
Something that isn't quite as travel buddy friendly, however, is the battery, which I estimate lasts about five or six hours. That's too little, unfortunately. While it's easy to charge with USB-C, I would have liked at least 50% more battery life. I'd also like to mention the updated menus, which now support Wi-Fi (likely for updates), cheat codes and hidden games as well as a tab for something coming later. The latter two are of course difficult to rate at this stage, but may well prove to be relevant additions - or something wholly irrelevant in the end.
With all that said, there is room for improvement. I'd like to see higher quality screens, longer battery life, Bluetooth support, and I think Evercade should do everything and then some to get Sega on board. Ultimately though, the Evercade EXP is a clear upgrade from its predecessor and a lovely retro device for anyone who just wants to get gaming without worrying about connectivity, updates and more. I've had a lot more fun with switching cartridges and instruction books like in the old days than I probably thought I would, and it's a given that this one will accompany me on many trips in the future.