Evercade Vs. Premium Pack Review

Blaze Entertainment’s Evercade line is a fascinating take on the retro game system. Instead of using built-in games like the SNES Classic and Sega Genesis Classic, or using original media like the Analogue Super Nt and long-delayed Polymega, Evercade uses its own cartridges that hold collections of 8- and 16-bit games from various developers. We first looked at the original Evercade (now called the Evercade Handheld) last year. It’s a portable game system that plays Evercade cartridges on the go, and can connect to your TV over HDMI. It’s small and has limited battery life, however, and you can’t exactly play games with other people with it.

Now Blaze Entertainment is releasing the Evercade Vs., which is scheduled to ship in January 2022. This is the home console version of the Evercade Handheld, with 1080p output to your TV, support for up to four players, and two cartridge slots so you can access double the games at once. At $129.99 for the Premium Pack we tested, which includes two game cartridges, it’s a bit pricier than the Evercade Handheld and most single-system retro consoles. Its controllers also feel mushy and its video output is a bit softer than we’d like. Even with these concerns, though (aided in part by XInput gamepad support), the Evercade Vs. is just as oddly appealing as the handheld system. It’s a collector-friendly console that provides access to dozens of inexpensive retro games on cartridges that look good on a shelf. Depending on your tastes, you might find games you already love, or games you’ve never heard of but might tickle you.

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Not Quite Retro-Looking

(Photo: Will Greenwald)

Like the Evercade Handheld before it, the Evercade Vs. doesn’t attempt to mimic the look or feel of any specific retro game system. It’s a simple white box with rounded corners, and a few tiny nostalgic elements scattered all over it. A lid that runs from the top half of the front panel to the front half of the top panel flips up to reveal two cartridge slots, vaguely calling back to the NES’ door and the Master System’s and TurboGrafx-16’s card slots. A square, gray button on the top panel's right edge powers on the Evercade with a satisfying, springy, NES-esque click.

Four USB ports run along the front panel's lower half, supporting up to four players with compatible controllers (though only two gamepads are included with the system). The console's back features a micro USB port for power and an HDMI port for connecting the system to a TV, along with a small reset button. A USB-to-micro-USB cable is included, but no wall adapter; the Evercade Vs. needs at least 1W of power, so your TV’s USB ports probably won’t cut it.

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Bring a Better Gamepad

The gamepads are rectangular, but evoke the original Evercade much more than the Master System, NES, or TG-16’s gamepads. They’re white with red trim, and a long, red USB cable for connecting to the Evercade Vs. Each controller has a large, circular gray direction pad with a raised plus shape indicating the cardinal directions, along with four face buttons, Start and Select buttons, and a home/menu button. Oddly, the top of each gamepad has two pairs of shoulder buttons like a modern game controller, when the vast majority of games on Evercade don’t use any.

(Photo: Will Greenwald)

Unfortunately, the controls don’t feel very good. The direction pad is a bit loose under the thumb, and the face buttons are spongy. In addition, the shoulder buttons are uncomfortably narrow, hard plastic strips that are awkward to use. That said, they're firm and clicky, like the face buttons should be.

Fortunately, the Evercade Vs. supports XInput gamepads, so you can plug in your Xbox Wireless Controller, 8Bitdo Pro 2 in XInput mode, or any other controller that uses that interface. However, I couldn’t get the console to work with any non-XInput controller, including the DualSense, a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, or even a generic USB SNES-style gamepad.

Cartridge Quirks

The Evercade Vs. takes some getting used to, especially if you aren’t familiar with the quirks of cartridge-based game consoles from decades ago. Basically, you can’t insert or remove cartridges when the system is turned on; even though the system is emulation-based and loads each game file to memory, changing the cartridges powers everything down. The up-to-two cartridges you put in the dual slots are the ones you can play with from the time you turn the system on to the time you turn it off. You also need to press and hold the power button for a few seconds until the light under the door turns on; then the console will take 10 to 20 seconds booting up (indicated by the light flashing cyan and magenta before turning red, and finally white).

Evercade Vs. Premium Pack Review

After it boots up, the Evercade Vs. shows a full list of all games from both cartridges on its home screen, displaying the logo or box art for each game. It's a lightweight interface. You can look at the different, loaded games; select a game to get a bit more information about it in the form of a text description; and view a diagram of the controller mapping. That’s about it. The settings menu is similarly minimal, with a few display options, a few background themes and frames you can use while you’re browsing and playing games, and a mysterious Secret menu that prompts you to enter a code. Its purpose isn’t clear.

The interface omits a useful bit of information for each game: the platform. When you select a game, the interface might tell you that it’s 8-bit or 16-bit, or an arcade game, but it won’t specify if the version you’re playing is the one for the NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, or another system. It’s a bit frustrating, especially with the fairly massive differences between arcade and 16-bit console games and their NES ports, as explained below.

The Evercade Vs. can connect to the internet over Wi-Fi, but this is only to install firmware and software updates. You can’t download games to the system in any way. You also can’t install games from the cartridges to the console, like you can with the Polymega or modern game systems. When you remove the cartridges and put other ones in, the Evercade Vs. will boot up and list only the games available through the cartridges currently in the slots.

Lots of (Often Obscure) Games

(Photo: Will Greenwald)

The two cartridges included with the Premium Pack are the Data East Arcade I and Technos Arcade I collections. These are new, different collections from the Data East Collection I included with the handheld Evercade Premium Pack, and the Technos Collection I separately available. This is evident from the boxes being purple rather than red, and the word “Arcade” used instead of “Collection.” This means all of the games in these two cartridges are arcade ports, rather than taken from the NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis like most of the games in the red-box cartridges. If you’re familiar with early 1990s console ports of arcade games, you should be elated at this news.

One of our biggest complaints about the Evercade was that the familiar “arcade” games in the red-box collections are often inferior console versions. This usually means a significant downgrade for these games. Double Dragon II, for example, is a very different (and much inferior-looking) game on the NES than it is in the arcade cabinet, though it isn’t quite the mechanical downgrade as the original Double Dragon is. And, while they aren’t included with the Premium Pack, Evercade released Atari Arcade I, a collection that has the arcade versions of 13 classic Atari games rather than the Atari 2600 games in the Atari Collection I and II.

The games included on the two cartridges are, like most Data East and Technos compilations, hit-or-miss affairs. There are some real bangers, such as Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja, Burger Time, Double Dragon II and III, and the 3D, Tetris-like Block Out. You’ll also find Data East and Technos’ takes on classic Namco arcade games, such as Lock ‘n’ Chase (Pac-Man), Sly Spy (Rolling Thunder), and Mysterious Stones (Tower of Druaga). It’s a nice handful, but there are hardly any must-play games here, and the original Double Dragon arcade game is a significant omission.

Fortunately, you can get hundreds of other classic and new-retro-style games on their own cartridge collections for $20 each, complete with their own plastic cases and full-color manuals. Each cartridge has between 6 and 20 games, with the sole exception of the Tanglewood/Xeno Crisis dual game cartridge. While Capcom, Nintendo, and Sega have sat out on contributing to the Evercade’s library, there are still plenty of classics from Atari, Bitmap Brothers, Codemasters, Data East, Interplay, Jelico, Technos, and other publishers.

It’s a wide library with plenty of interesting games, though some verge on the esoteric (the Codemasters and Oliver Twins collections are especially you’ll-only-be-nostalgic-if-you-grew-up-in-the-United-Kingdom, which is understandable considering Blaze Entertainment is also based out of the UK). The cartridges' low prices and attractive cases might be appealing if you’re a classic game collector; they aren’t old releases themselves, but they look nice on a shelf, and are filled with digital gaming ephemera.

Graphics and Game Feel

The Evercade Vs. outputs video at 1080p, and the menus look nice and sharp on a 4K TV. The games themselves, however, are a bit soft. The sprites' edges often have a bit of fuzz, though it’s nowhere near as bad what I've seen with older, third-party retro game systems, such as the Retro-Bit Generations or cheap systems that only output over composite video.

It isn’t an ugly look, and the bit of softness arguably compliments some arcade games, but the graphics just aren’t as clean as they are on systems like the SNES Classic, Sega Genesis Mini, or TurboGrafx-16 Mini. You can’t change much with the video processing, either; there are only three screen size choices with Pixel Perfect usually offering the smallest window but the sharpest look, and two optional scanline filters.

The Evercade Vs. is an emulator-based system, so it can use a software trick to make difficult games easier. It provides save states, a standard feature in retro game consoles, so you can pick up at a specific point without starting the whole game over. This is especially useful for older games that lack a save system, which is the vast majority in the Evercade’s library. That’s about it for emulation features; there’s no rewind function, and you can’t add your own roms or modify games with patches. To be fair, most other retro game consoles also lack these features.

Despite all of these qualms, the games play well. At least, they play well when I plugged in an Xbox Wireless Controller. The slight mushiness of the included gamepads make the already sluggish controls of classic beat 'em ups feel slow and awkward. The games certainly aren’t unplayable with the gamepads, but you’ll need to get used to a somewhat loose direction pad, and that can be frustrating with certain games.

An Odd Console for the Odd Collector

The Evercade Vs. is a unique device that appeals to a niche audience, just like the original Evercade Handheld. The new home console lets you play a wide selection of classic, if sometimes obscure, games on your TV with the option for multiple players. These games are certainly a nicer experience than they are on a 4.3-inch screen and with a four to five-hour battery life, especially with the ability to use your own controllers. The upscaled sprite-based graphics could look a bit sharper, but they still look good on a big TV.

As with any system, it's the game library that will determine if the Evercade Vs. appeals to you. Classic Capcom, Nintendo, Sega, and even Neo Geo games have their own homes on the first-party retro consoles and the Nintendo Switch, which leaves plenty of obscure (if potentially beloved) games from other developers and publishers. You’ll probably find something that catches your eye among Evercade’s dozens of cartridge collections, even if it might not be in the two that come with the Evercade Vs. Premium Pack. If you have any interest in retro video games, the Evercade Vs. is worth a look.

3.5See It$129.99 at AmazonMSRP $129.99View More

The Evercade Vs., like the Evercade Handheld before it, is a fascinating retro console with a large, often esoteric library that will appeal to some collectors.

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