I like retro games, and I like handhelds, so an opportunity to combine the two into a cohesive unit, as is the case with the Evercade EXP, pleases me in multiple ways. Blaze Entertainment has taken user feedback from its previous Evercade handheld console into account and applied it to the Evercade EXP, as well as adding some new features that I didn’t realize I wanted until I tried it out. It’s a solid little piece of hardware with a few quirks I didn’t likebut overall, a fun and interesting way to play retro games on the go.
If you’re familiar with the Evercade line, you already know that games come in small doses. No microSD tricks here: all available games are officially licensed and offered in pre-loaded cartridge collections. Collections range from 8+ arcade classics to 2 modern retro-style games. They cost between $10 and $20, and cover a pretty wide range of classics, including modern indies, arcade classics, and even Atari Lynx games. The cartridges come in a clamshell box reminiscent of early Master System and SEGA Mega Drive games, complete with instruction manuals and all. I love this detail, since I really like physical games and I like to display my collection even more. The boxes are pretty solid and look like real old school video game wrappers.
The cartridges are thick, almost a mix between those of the Game Boy Advance and those of the original Game Boy in terms of size. Each has a decal on one side and a silkscreened title on the other, with the silkscreened side facing out when inserted into the EXP. They’re contoured at the top to blend in with the lines of the Evercade EXP itself, which is a really nice touch.
I’ve always loved R-Type, and it’s a joy to play even on Evercade EXP’s small screen.
The Evercade EXP for 149.99 euros comes with a copy of the Irem Arcade Collection 1 of 6 games, which includes the arcade version of R-Type among others. I’ve always liked R-Type, even though I’m terrible at it, and it’s a joy to play, even on the Evercade EXP’s small screen. In addition to the pack, there are 18 Capcom games built into the machine itself, with classics like Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting and Ghouls & Ghosts. There are even some Mega Man games for home consoles. It’s honestly a great selection, and the licensing agreement Blaze Entertainment has with Capcom ensures that they won’t disappear one day with a future firmware update. Honestly, the Capcom games alone are almost worth the price of admission, though I personally would prefer the home version of Bionic Commando to the arcade.
Speaking of firmware updates, Evercade EXP has explicitly built in WiFi for future updates, and there’s a hint of a possible online store on the home screen with an “Evercade: Coming Soon”. But for now, WiFi is only included for updates. What’s strangely missing is Bluetooth connectivity, which I would have liked for headphones or third-party controller support. I find this a really strange omission, especially since there is a mini HDMI port on top of the EXP that allows it to be connected to a monitor or TV. Being able to use the Evercade EXP on a big screen is a nice feature, but having to be tethered by an HDMI cable makes it unlikely I’ll ever want to use it. The bottom of the Evercade EXP has a USB-C port for charging, which could theoretically accept a dongle for a 2.4GHz controller, but even if it’s possible, dongles are insufficient. The lack of Bluetooth is probably my least favorite thing about the Evercade EXP.
International or overseas flights will require an external battery or charge.
There is a 3.5mm audio jack, so you can use wired headphones. And honestly, if you expect to hear these classic games sounding their best, you’re going to need headphones, because the speakers are just plain bad. Very hollow, with very little volume. The position of the built-in speakers on the bottom edge is also pretty bad, as my fingers often cover them while gaming. As much as I’d like to not have to deal with wired headphones, it’s the only real way to get good sound out of the Evercade EXP.
Evercade EXP battery life is advertised at over 4 hours, and in my experience, it’s pretty tight. In fact, I lost count of how long I was playing Breath of Fire before the battery indicator light started blinking red. I give it for cattle. It has less battery life than the latest Switch revision, but more than the Switch OLED, and while I was pleasantly surprised to lose track of time during an extended session, I honestly expected more. It would be a great companion for short flights, but excursions abroad will require charging or an external battery. Judging remaining battery life is a bit more complicated by the lack of a “fast resume” feature, for lack of a better term. With the Switch or the old 3DS, putting those systems to sleep is as easy as pressing a button or shutting down the system. With Evercade EXP, it’s not that simple or obvious. If you want to pick up where you left off, hit the menu button and wait for Evercade EXP to go to sleep. Less than ideal. Hopefully a future firmware update can add a quick sleep feature.
Aside from missing a few features you’d expect in a modern laptop, Evercade EXP feels fantastic. Her weight was a little more than what she expected, but she doesn’t feel heavy, she feels strong. That’s an important distinction, because its weight makes it feel like a reliable piece of hardware rather than a cheap portable device. Buttons are wonderful, with just the right travel on the face buttons and a very satisfying click on the top buttons. The D-pad is also great. It’s circular, similar to Xbox controllers, and it’s just the right touch.
Pressing the button at the bottom instantly switches the screen from landscape to portrait mode.
The thickness is a bit surprising, but it’s nice to hold. Along with the aforementioned weightit is really wonderful to use, even with my big hands. The plastic casing is textured on the back panel just enough to give it a bit more grip, and its width fits perfectly between my two hands. The only drawback is the placement of the speakers, as I’ve already mentioned, but I tend to use my little fingers to hold portable devices, so if you’re not like me, you probably won’t have to worry about that.
put it upright
One of the coolest things about the Evercade EXP is its “TATE” button. Pronounced “tah-tay,” it’s apparently the Japanese word for “upright,” and pressing the TATE on the bottom of the Evercade EXP instantly switch the screen from landscape mode to portrait mode. This means that games like 1941, 1942, and 1943 can be played in their correct orientation, taking up the entire screen instead of being shrunken down with gaps on both sides in a horizontal layout. Is incredible. There’s even a pair of A and B buttons next to the D-pad that only register when you’re in TATE mode, making this machine one hell of an arcade shmup. I definitely wasn’t expecting something like this, and with at least three built-in games taking full advantage of it, you can see for yourself just how great it is.
The screen itself is beautiful. It’s an IPS panel, as opposed to the TN type of the original Evercade, and it’s wonderful. Brilliant, beautiful colors, absolutely zero smearing or ghosting, and fantastic viewing angles. It’s a bit small at 4.3 inches, especially if you’re used to a Nintendo Switch or even a Switch Lite, but it’s nothing my eyes can’t take. It’s not a touch screen, which is nice, but keep in mind that it leaves fingerprints anyway. I swear I didn’t touch the screen once, and yet there were at least half a dozen fingerprints marring its beauty. Sorry Evercade EXP screen, I’ll be more careful in the future.
Evercade EXP is an interesting approach to the world of retro games and, as a novelty fan, I love it. That being said, it does have some weird features that I would have liked to see that could have put it in the realm of greatness. The absence of Bluetooth, a good but not great battery, and the lack of an easy way to put it to sleep without shutting it down completely bothered me a bit, but not enough that I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a nice little device, and I love not only its beautiful screen, but also the way it distributes its games on small cartridges. Having some of my all-time favorite Capcom games integrated certainly helps a lot, and I hope the selection of games continues to grow (give me all the RPGs please).