One of the most common arguments in favour of pocket-sized handheld gaming devices is that they’re eminently suitable for bite-sized nuggets of gameplay that will keep you distracted for a few minutes at a time.
The Evercade retro gaming platform is no stranger to this concept, with plenty of the games across its complete library ideal for a quick rag on while you wait for your Pot Noodle to finish festering, your significant other to get out of the bog and/or Amelia Watson to start streaming. And many of these “quick hit” games can be found on the eighth cartridge in the library: Mega Cat Studios Collection 1, a compilation of “modern retro” titles where today’s developers make new games for yesterday’s systems.
A fine example is Mega Cat’s self-developed Log Jammers, an exceedingly unsubtle homage to Data East’s Neo Geo title Windjammers, originally released for NES in 2017 and now available for fun on the go thanks to the Evercade. Grab your axe and let’s get rolling!
In Log Jammers, you take on the role of one of several characters, three of whom have a loose “lumberjack” theme about them, and three more of whom appear to be undead in varying degrees of decomposition. Your aim is simple: beat your opponent in a game of axe-throwing by exceeding ten points before they do.
You and your opponent, each perched atop a perpetually rolling log, square off against one another in one of several watery (or at least liquidy) environments. From there, the match begins; you throw the axe across the makeshift “net” in the middle of the stage in an attempt to get it past your opponent. Get the axe into the goal area directly behind them and you’ll get two points; get it into one of the two smaller corner goals and you’ll get a whopping five points. As such, you’ll need a minimum of three successful shots to win a set; two fives and then any winning shot will get you safely over the ten mark.
To prevent your opponent from scoring on you, you can either catch an incoming axe and then throw it back yourself, or immediately knock it back at your opponent. Each match continues until one competitor or the other has won three sets in total.
Various power-ups appear over the course of the match. These include a star, which allows each character to unleash a unique special shot (often involving multiple axes) as well as greasy oil to ruin your opponent’s grip, a flame to speed the axe up and ice to slow down your opponent. It can feel a little tricky to reliably grab these sometimes, but getting “ahead” of them as they bounce back and forth usually does the trick.
Log Jammers is well-presented. Each stage is distinctive and makes good use of the NES’ limited colour palette to create a feeling of atmosphere to each locale. In a really nice touch, the game’s interface gets reskinned with each level, too, and as you might expect each stage also has its own soundtrack. The music does suffer some slowdown any time there are full-screen colour transitions, but this is something commercial NES games could be prone to back in the day, too, so it provides an authentic experience in that regard.
The single-player offering for Log Jammers — which is all you can play on the handheld Evercade — provides two modes of play: a one-shot Exhibition match between any of the available characters on any of the available stages, or a Tournament mode in which you pick a character and then battle against all the others, culminating in a mirror match against “yourself”.
This might not seem like a lot, but as previously mentioned, Log Jammers is specifically designed to be a speedy, quick, arcade-style experience that will keep you occupied for a few minutes at a time — or perhaps longer if you really want to develop your skills and master it. And it certainly delivers in that regard, though there is a significant learning curve.
Much like its inspiration Windjammers, Log Jammers runs at a frantic pace that initially appears to be completely unmanageable for a novice player, but after a few matches you’ll start to get a feel for its distinctive rhythm. You’ll notice distinct strategies for scoring on your foes — some of these are arguably a little too reliable in the single-player exhibition mode — and determine the best ways in which the power-ups can help you succeed. And once you hit that point, there’s a simple yet monstrously addictive “arcade sports” game to enjoy here.
One thing the game isn’t super-clear on is how the different characters and stages distinguish themselves from one another. At first, the rapid-fire pace of the game makes them all feel a bit similar, but there are some subtle differences that will become apparent the more you play. Probably not enough for most players to pick a favourite character and/or stage for mechanical rather than aesthetic reasons, but there is at least a little substance there for those who want to dive a little deeper. You’ll have to figure things out yourself, though, because the game sure doesn’t tell you much in this regard!
It’s a shame — albeit understandable — that the handheld Evercade doesn’t allow a second player to join in the fun, since the rules are simple enough to teach a newcomer very quickly, and this is the sort of game that could easily lead to a whole evening of competitive fun. However, this shouldn’t be looked upon as a missed opportunity; both the Evercade community and manufacturer Blaze are interested in exploring the possibilities of some sort of “Evercade console” device that would allow for the connection of external controllers for multiplayer fun — and if that were to happen, all the existing cartridges would be fully compatible.
I should emphasise that nothing has been announced or confirmed in this regard as yet, but it’s certainly a possibility for the future. When that happens, Log Jammers will really shine in its intended role as a raucous party game.
In the meantime, however, it’s still worth a play; it’s a worthy reminder that a game doesn’t need to be complex or deep in order to be enjoyable, nor does it need flagrantly transparent “retention strategies” to keep you playing over the long term. Sometimes it’s fine to just play a game about people chucking axes at one another for five to ten minutes, then set it down and go do something else without worrying about whether or not you’ve “done your dailies” or anything like that.
Sometimes you just want to play a game for the simple enjoyment of play, and nothing else. And Log Jammers — much like the Evercade as a host platform in general — definitely delivers in that regard.
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