Great gameplay never dies. That’s precisely what my kids and I learned after the Evercade entered my household.
It’s an $80 handheld, retro console that can play a curated selection of emulated games from the likes of Atari, Namco, Data East, and many others, mostly from the 1980s and 1990s. These collections are playable on cartridges you insert into the Evercade, each housing about 20 games and costing $20. Very much like the Nintendo Switch, the console can even plug into your TV for big-screen gaming, though you need to supply an HDMI–to–mini-HDMI cable.
The Evercade runs the classics beautifully, and for the past few weeks I sidelined my PlayStation 5 in favor of some 8-bit and 16-bit action. Not every game is a winner, but it stirred some long-forgotten memories and proved to be a surprisingly big hit with my 11- and 8-year-old.
The minute you take the Evercade out of its box, you’ll be hit with a wave of nostalgia if you grew up playing on consoles and arcade machines in the ’80s. The rounded, white plastic and red trim help give it that retro feel.
You get the usual range of controls such as a D-pad, shoulder buttons, and X, Y, A, and B buttons. Up top there’s a sliding power switch, the slot for game cartridges, and a mini HDMI port for connecting it to a bigger screen. The bottom edge has a 3.5-mm headphone port and a Micro USB port for charging. It’s surprisingly comfortable to hold for hours at a time, despite the chunky design.
The console is similar in size to Sony’s PlayStation Portable, and the 4.3-inch LCD screen has the same 480 x 272-pixel resolution. The screen is sharp and colorful enough to display these classic games in all their glory. Most run in a 4:3 aspect ratio by default, but you have the option of stretching them to 16:9 via the menu to fill the screen.
Boot it up and you’ll see a delightfully ’80s-themed Evercade logo, then a simple interface that lets you see battery life and cycle through the games on the inserted cartridge.
Settings are sparse, but most welcome is the option to set a Save State at any point. Saves are stored on the cartridges and can be loaded later. This helps soften the blow of frustratingly tough old-school games with unforgiving restarts that cast you back to the beginning of levels when you fail.
The battery life won’t knock your socks off, but it’s not terrible, lasting between four and five hours. You’ll need to supply your own charging adapter, because you get only a Micro USB cable in the box.
There’s a wide choice of games for the Evercade, and the emulation is excellent. If you’ve ever tried to play an old game via an emulator—that is, a system the game wasn’t designed for—you’ve probably encountered issues like dropped frames, screen tearing, or delayed sounds. I have yet to experience anything of the sort with the Evercade, not even a crash.
Part of the reason for that is that every game in these cartridges is officially licensed and legal, which is usually not the case with emulators. You get one cartridge with the console, or you can opt for a larger bundle with three. The Namco Museum Collection 1, for example, has Battle Cars, Dig Dug, Galaxian, Libble Rabble, Mappy, Mappy Kids, Metal Marines, Pac-Man, Quad Challenge, Star Luster, and Xevious.
There are multiple Atari collections, from old Atari 2600 games to Lynx titles. There are also collections from Data East, Interplay, Piko Interactive, Technos, and the Oliver Twins. Not every game is from the ’80s or ’90s: Some are recent retro-inspired titles such as frenetic arena shooter Xeno Crisis and platformer Tanglewood. The library is still growing with Jaleco, Indie Heroes, Worms, and Code Masters collections coming later this year, which will take the total number of titles to more than 200. (I’d love to see a Bitmap Brothers collection!)
It’s a good mix of classics and obscure games that ran on a wide array of consoles, including the NES, SNES, the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive), and the Mattel Intellivision. You miss out on the feel and layout of original controllers, but a firmware update now lets you remap buttons in some titles; I haven’t run into any problems with custom layouts.
There are a few old 8-bit Atari titles in here that are probably best forgotten, but the curated approach encourages you to try every game. Searching through to find familiar favorites is a part of the fun, but there are several titles I didn’t recognize until the loading screen and music triggered a dose of nostalgia.
I mostly don’t miss physical media, but sliding the Evercade cartridges into place is undeniably satisfying. And I particularly like that every game collection comes with its own case, art, and a little color booklet filled with a brief history of each game. Sometimes having an endless list of games, as you typically do with emulators, can lead you to skip unfamiliar titles or get frozen in choice paralysis. That’s easier to avoid when you’re swapping cartridges with the Evercade.
My favorites are Galaga and Pac-Man—my kids spent hours trying to beat my high score. The gone-but-not-forgotten beat-’em-up genre is well represented with the Double Dragon series, Iron Commando, Splatterhouse 3, and the hilariously bad Two Crude Dudes. And there’s plenty of platform fun with Earthworm Jim, racing with Checkered Flag, and adventure with the Dizzy series.
The biggest downside is the lack of multiplayer support, which is a shame when there are games like Clayfighter and Double Dragon II. The company might be addressing this soon; it recently teased Evercade VS, a way to potentially play multiplayer games on the system, for April 23.
Have someone wanting to spectate you? Sharing the screen is tricky, because if you tilt the Evercade too much the screen can be hard to see. We had the most fun when I plugged it into the TV, but I had to buy an HDMI-to-mini HDMI cable to do this (make sure to get a long one). The console then simply turns into a controller. Many games look surprisingly good on a 65-inch screen, but a few titles like Electro Cop are headache-inducing.
The Evercade is better than most mini retro consoles, and it supports a far-more-eclectic collection of games. It’s polished, offers a big-screen experience, and is relatively affordable, even with the price of an HDMI cable and extra cartridges factored in. As my household has proven, there’s fun to be had here for gamers of all ages.
It’s not just a nostalgia cash-in. Real care and attention have gone into the design, with love and reverence for retro gaming that shows.