Reviewed on Retro
Retro gaming is cool - what was once the realm of emulators and dodgy ROMs has become something that has moved far more into the mainstream with mini versions of major 8 and 16 bit consoles becoming a common fixture underneath peoples TV screens.
Not only that, the big players of the 1980s are now seeing updated machines with the likes of the ZX Spectrum Next and Mega 65 allowing people to relive their youth with upgraded graphics and sound.
Therefore the Evercade handheld is an easy sell. There have been many many Raspberry Pi-based attempts at producing similar kit with varying levels of success but where they fall down, however, is in their reliance on third party emulators that aren't always perfect replicas. Flickery graphics, varying compatibility and the feeling that you're just not playing on real hardware all become detrimental to the overall experience.
The Evercade is different. Firstly, it's dedicated hardware and is based on real physical cartridges - not some dodgy collection of ripped ROMs that you've downloaded from a Torrent site. Not only that, the games are all 100% accurate to the original editions and are presented, warts and all, on modern hardware that can be both played on the consoles in-built 4:3 LCD screen OR on your 75 inch 4K TV via a simple HDMI connection.
The handheld itself is well built and nice to hold with responsive buttons, smooth edges and a real feeling of quality. While the stylings may not be to everyone's taste, the colours and contours perfectly capture 8 and 16 bit era gaming before you even switch the device on.
The cartridges are supplied with perfect versions of multiple games - we've got the 'Premium Pack' here with three cartridges including classic Atari, Interplay and Namco titles. We were also supplied copies of the Oliver Twins Collection and the Xeno Crisis/Tanglewood double pack. Each cartridge is brilliant value for money and while not all the games will hold your attention for more than an hour there are some stone cold classics here that have stood the test of time.
A safe place to start is the Namco Museum Collection 1 - it features 11 classic Namco arcade games including Pacman, Dig Dug, Xevious and Galaxian - every single one of these games were legitimate time sinks at the time of their initial release and they remain so to this day. Every one is arcade perfect with lovely bitmap sprites, the original audio and the same pixel-perfect gameplay that you will remember.
It's a similar story across the other titles on offer - while the Atari 2600 games may not be impressive by any modern standard, there's little doubt that playing games that influenced the last half century as they were originally presented feels special. Centipede and Asteroids in particular feel fresh and challenging and while Missile Command isn't quite the same as it was when played with a trackball in the arcade this is still a great version of the game. There are some curios here too - Tempest wasn't originally published as it didn't reach a standard that Atari were happy with so this is a rare opportunity to play it.
The Interplay collection gives the Evercade handheld a chance to do a little more work with the likes of Earthworm Jim being far more advanced than anything on the Atari Collection. It proves that the Evercade is as capable at presenting 16-bit classics as it is the 8-bit ones and this is as close to playing on the SNES as you can get.
The Oliver Twins Collection is amazing fun for anyone who fell in love with Dizzy games as a kid. Sadly the games here are the console editions rather than the 8 bit or 16 bit computer versions - so they feel quite different to how most people may have played them. We'd wager that while Treasure Island Dizzy will be brilliant whatever platform it originated on, the NES version wasn't quite as good as the Amiga or Atari ST versions and lacks the original charm of the ZX Spectrum release. The other games - being console editions - all have different names to you'd expect - Dizzy The Adventurer is the console edition of Dizzy: Prince of the Yolkfolk, Mystery World Dizzy is what most people will remember as being Fantasy World Dizzy and Wonderland Dizzy was originally the brilliant Magicland Dizzy. They are all still brilliant to play, they just feel a little different to you might remember if you were a computer owner.
On top of the Dizzy games, they also include Super Robin Hood, Dreamland Pogie and BMX Simulator amongst others. They're all fantastic and this package alone is worth picking up the Evercade for!
We're not only here for the retro gaming - there are a couple of more recent releases on a dual-game cartridge - Tanglewood is a brilliant platformer that was released in 2018 for the Mega Drive and PC, you can read our review of the PC version here and the Evercade rendition is largely identical with nice chunky sprites, the lovely chiptune soundtrack and the perfectly judged gameplay. It's very much a modern platformer in retro clothing.
Xeno Crisis is a bullet hell game that harks back to the likes of Smash TV. It's rock hard but really addictive and will be something I'll be returning to a lot. Again this was one that was a recent Mega Drive release and it makes the transition to this handheld wonderfully.
Each of the cartridges even comes with a short instruction manual - given the cartridges cover multiple games we're talking about a page per game in most cases but that's still room to cover the controls and drop some little titbits of historical information. It would have been nice for these cartridges to include more material like that - setting the games in context - especially in the case of games such as Tempest, above or the previously unreleased and once-thought-lost Wonderland Dizzy.
Back to the console itself, the screen is a serviceable 4.3 inches corner to corner and while it might not be as vibrant as the Switch and features quite evident scanlines that all adds to the retro charm of the device. The option to play on the big screen TV in your lounge is fantastic, but there's something authentic about playing them on a smaller display.
The d-pad is well sized, and feels good to use. It has enough resistance to make it feel satisfying to use and the clicky shoulder buttons lend a more modern feel to the device. Oddly I found playing on the Evercade was more comfortable than the Switch - the positioning of the d-pad and buttons felt more natural and I always find some discomfort in using the thumbsticks on the Switch.
If there's one criticism, it's the fact that there isn't the option to remap buttons - you're stuck with what the ports give you and sometimes that feels a bit off. Especially for the Mega Drive ports which translate the three button Mega Drive controls to the NES-like four button layout of the Evercade. It would have been nice to have some flexibility here.
Battery life is around 4 hours from a full charge - we've managed a couple of hours use and it's down to 50% so Evercade's specs seem about right here. Charging is via a basic Micro USB cable which is provided but no plug is, so you'll have to repurpose a mobile phone charger for this.
In all the Evercade is a brilliant option for reliving some of the best in early gaming and with a growing list of cartridge collections coming on to the market there is no shortage of classic games to enjoy. If 8 bit gaming isn't your thing then there are two Atari Lynx 16-bit handheld collections, a Jaleco collection and even the recently announced Indie hits collection featuring a number of games that are debuting on the platform.
Evercade looks set to have a solid future and we're excited to be a part of it.
- Premium Pack
- Starter Pack