A Warm Welcome to the Evercade

Over the course of the last few years, retro gaming devices of various descriptions have become very popular.

Until now, these have tended to fall into one of two categories: emulation boxes that you can load up with your own collection of ROMs and enjoy to your heart’s content, or pre-curated systems with fixed libraries of games.

Evercade is different. Evercade provides a curated library of officially licensed cartridges that are distributed as packaged, physical products separately from the system itself. And somehow manufacturer Blaze managed to successfully launch this exciting new product in the midst of a world gone absolutely mad. So let’s take a first look at the system!

This is the “All-In” bundle that was available from Evercade’s retail partner Funstock. It consists of an Evercade Premium Pack (which includes the cartridges Atari Collection 1, Namco Museum Collection 1 and Interplay Collection 1) plus the remaining cartridges from the launch lineup, providing a complete library from cartridge number 1 to number 10, encompassing over 120 games in total.

The All-In bundle also includes the official Evercade carrying case, which provides room for the console and several cartridges (apparently up to 4 if you squeeze them in a bit). It’s a nice fabric case that has a bit of a retro look to it — entirely appropriate given what this device is for.

My cat Meg immediately took ownership of the shipping box once it had been relieved of its contents. She usually prefers Amazon boxes, but this one seemed particularly attractive to her. She had a nibble on the corner before leaping right in there and curling up for a brief nap. Until she heard the fridge door open.

But I digress.

Here’s the Premium Pack itself. This is the package that is more widely available than the Funstock-exclusive “All-In” deal. As previously noted, it includes three cartridges in the box, along with the device itself and a USB charging cable. There is no USB power brick included, nor the Mini-HDMI cable required to connect to a TV, so you will need to provide those yourself if you need them.

The device arrived for me with a roughly half-charged battery, so I was able to fire it up and try it out right away.

Following the unwritten rules of the official Evercade Discord, Bowling for the Atari 2600 was the first game I tried. I am still quite bad at this game, despite knowing the “trick” that theoretically allows you to get a strike every time.

First impressions were good. The screen is bright and clear — though noticeably lower resolution than, say, modern mobile phones or the PlayStation Vita, but probably the most striking thing is that those little speakers are hella loud. I was not ready for screeching, piercing Atari 2600 sound effects at the default volume level.

Anyway, here’s the unit sitting snugly in the box. It’s nicely on display by itself, with the three included game cartridges and the USB cable underneath. The quality of the packaging is excellent, with a nice slipcase on the outside and a glossy, high quality box within.

A popular question prior to launch was “how big is this thing anyway”? Well, here you go — it’s about the size of a PlayStation Vita or PSP. The screen is actually the same size and resolution as the PSP, so PSP screen protectors can be used to keep it clean and scratch-free. This is probably worth doing, as the screen is plastic rather than glass.

For completeness’ sake, here it is next to a Nintendo Switch for size comparison purposes.

The package as a whole was actually a bit smaller than I thought it would be for some reason — but it really doesn’t need to be any bigger. In turn, the game cartridge packages are slightly larger than I thought — I originally assumed they would be roughly the size of cassette boxes, but they’re a little larger than that.

Inside any Evercade cartridge package, you have the cartridge itself mounted on the right, and a full-colour manual on the left. Given the number of games on a lot of these cartridges, these tend to provide a cursory look at the controls and a brief synopsis of the plot rather than tons of detail, but they’re good quality and provide the information you need to get started.

Here’s a closer look at the manual. More complex and/or popular games tend to get a full page; simpler Atari 2600 titles have a half page, usually. There are some nice screenshots included, and the “neon” look of the control diagram is rather nice.

If you were curious about the size of the cartridge cases, here’s a comparison with a PlayStation Vita and Switch case. As you can see, in terms of total area it’s slightly larger than a Vita case, and a bit less tall than a Switch case.

It’s thicker than both, though. This is because the cartridges themselves have a little bit of heft to them rather than being small flash cards. The actual slot on the Evercade unit is very tight to begin with as the cartridges are designed to be flush with the back of the system, but as with so many things in life, subsequent insertions become much easier.

And here’s the complete launch lineup, all stacked up. Imagine those lined up on your shelf. Lovely stuff. There are four more cartridges planned for release throughout the rest of the year, too — two Atari Lynx compilations, a double pack featuring “modern games for old systems” Xeno Crisis and Tanglewood, and an Oliver Twins compilation featuring Dizzy classics, among other things.

At the time of writing, these additional cartridges are not available for preorder, but they will apparently be made available after the initial preorders of the unit itself are in everyone’s hands.

Switching the system on plays a short animation with a cool ’80s-style synthwave-style jingle — again, firmly in keeping with the overall aesthetic this thing is going for.

Once the cartridge has booted, you can pick between any of the games available and jump right in. Cartridges can be hot-swapped, too, so there’s no need to turn the system off to change what you’re playing.

The viewing angle on the screen isn’t bad at all, but this isn’t an expensive, fancy LED screen like in the Vita or a premium mobile phone. As such, if you tilt the device away from you, expect some discolouration or inversion of colours. But if you’re playing the thing, why would you be tilting it away from you anyway? Concentrate on what you’re doing; the world probably needs saving!

Connection to a TV is via a Mini HDMI port on the top of the device. I had some issues with this when I first tried it: the design of the cable I was using meant that the casing for the Mini HDMI plug pushed up against the edge of the Evercade unit, meaning the connector wouldn’t go in all the way and “lock” in place. This meant that it would pop out easily during gameplay — and the Evercade resets if you insert or remove the HDMI cable.

Thankfully, this is very much a cable issue rather than an Evercade issue; trimming the casing on the end of the Mini HDMI cable so the actual connector was able to go fully into the socket fixed the problem completely. I haven’t seen anyone else report this problem, so it’s likely just the cable I was using. (This one, if you were curious.)

Output on a TV is 720p rather than 1080p, which I was concerned would mean the image wouldn’t be as sharp as it possibly could be. However, given the low resolution of the games on this device, it’s not an issue at all; pixel edges are crisp and clear, and everything looks great — though those picky about pixel scaling perfection may notice some slight “shimmering” at times when scrolling as pixel widths vary slightly across the horizontal range.

The screen turns off when running via a TV, as you can see in the photograph above, and sound goes via HDMI — though oddly, there is occasionally a very quiet “buzzing” sound from the internal speakers. If your TV’s sound is turned up, you likely won’t even notice this, however; I wasn’t aware of it until taking some screenshots with the sound off.

Here’s an uncropped, unprocessed image of the NES version of Bad Dudes from the Data East Collection 1 cartridge running straight out of the box. Note the black borders; the Evercade’s screen is 16:9, but games run at their standard aspect ratio by default with the option to stretch to full 16:9 if you’re some sort of monster. The 16:9 ratio is mostly there to accommodate systems that do not follow standard aspect ratio conventions — the Atari Lynx is probably the most notable example, since this is slightly wider than 4:3 but not quite 16:9. (It’s 1.57:1, which comes out at 11:7-ish.)

Note that the image is lovely and crisp, with clearly visible pixels. Some slight pixel width variation can be seen on the buildings in the background, but practically speaking, you won’t notice this sort of thing during gameplay, particularly in handheld mode.

Here’s Fighter’s History for Super NES, again uncropped and unprocessed from the Evercade’s 720p video output. Pixel width variation is a lot less apparent in this, likely due to the additional amount of detail and greater number of colours, but you can still see it a little bit in the dithering on the floor texture. Again, this will barely be noticeable to most people.

Here’s Magical Drop 2 for Super NES, again uncropped and unprocessed. This is one of the games that occasionally encounters issues when running through HDMI, and indeed I encountered this problem during capture for this screenshot after a short period of normal play.

The problem seems to be that sound output gets corrupted and replaced with loud static; you can sort of get around it by saving the state of the emulator and starting the game again to reset the output, but Evercade is working on a more permanent firmware-based fix at the time of writing. It’s been a difficult problem to actually figure out because it doesn’t appear to be related to a specific emulator or platform. You can find more details — including affected games — on Evercade’s website.

Note that these sound issues only occur when connected via HDMI, never in handheld mode, and are more likely to occur if you connect to your TV via a capture device rather than directly. I encountered the issue when connected through an Elgato Game Capture HD, so your mileage may vary considerably depending on your setup.

And here’s Midnight Resistance for Mega Drive. The Evercade’s Mega Drive emulation has been singled out for particular praise thanks to its use of BlastEm, a well-regarded open-source emulator with a strong degree of accuracy. And indeed the performance here appears to be solid and true to the original — though interestingly, the overall look of the visuals here seems noticeably “softer” than the Super NES titles when played on HDMI. It’s not blurry or “filtered” by any means; just a little softer.

The actual feel of the games is very good. The buttons are satisfyingly solid, the clicky shoulder buttons are lovely, and the D-pad is particularly excellent, showing clear inspiration from the classic Saturn controller. Note that straight out of the box, the button mappings for NES and Super NES games may appear to be “backwards” from the physical positions on the original platform’s controllers — this is due to the default button mapping on the Evercade’s buttons following Xbox rather than Nintendo conventions.

For some people, this will not be an issue, but for those who find it a little awkward in certain games, an optional firmware update is available to correct this issue, and a full custom button remapping facility is currently in development. This will be particularly welcome for the Mega Drive games, which currently map the Mega Drive A, B and C buttons to the Evercade’s A, B and Y buttons rather than the more commonly used X, A and B layout. Not unusable by any means, but if you have muscle memory from packages such as the Sega Mega Drive Classics collection, it will take a bit of adjusting!

The team behind Evercade has been admirably open and honest with the community about the challenges that they have encountered and the feedback they have received from various reviews. Every issue that has been raised by the community and reviewers so far has been acknowledged by the team and fixes are presently being worked on — so in time many of the things mentioned above will cease to be an issue. (I’ll try and remember to add notes to this article when that happens!)

The people behind this platform genuinely want it to succeed and are keen to make it a formidable retro gaming platform — one that, where possible, gives something back to the original creators of these classics of yesteryear. And so far, they’re doing a great job. There are still a few little kinks to work out, sure — but based on the team’s great work so far I have complete faith that will happen very soon.

With that in mind — and with the astonishingly varied lineup of software both available for the platform at launch and in the pipeline at the time of writing — you can expect some long-term, in-depth coverage of this system and its games here on MoeGamer. As a retro gaming enthusiast, a video game collector and a fan of quirky, cool gadgets, I am all about this device, and I would love to see it succeed over the long term. So I’m all in, and I hope you’ll join me!

The dedicated Evercade hub will provide quick and easy access to all Evercade-related articles here on the site, as well as links to find out more about the specific cartridges and the games contained therein. Long-term, I plan to cover every game on every cartridge individually, since these games will not only be of interest to Evercade enthusiasts, but also to retro enthusiasts and collectors in general.

Exciting times are ahead for enthusiasts of retro games. Evercade has a ton of potential to resurrect a wide variety of past classics if it succeeds in the long term — and regardless of whatever happens, it’s hard to beat a console with over 120 games ready to play right away!

On top of that, the team’s commitment to honouring some of the lesser known titles and platforms of yesteryear is especially admirable — personally, I’m looking forward to exploring some Atari 7800 games for the very first time, and of revisiting the Atari Lynx titles of my childhood.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to take some time to figure out exactly which game I’m going to cover first…

More about Evercade

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