Reviews often fail to cover one of the biggest joys of unboxing a new console: the smell. There’s a heady aroma to fresh, untouched plastics, the crisp, meadow-like tones of an unused circuit board, and the sinewy, static-laden pull of shrink wrap. So, dear reader, let’s start things off right – Blaze Entertainment’s Evercade smells incredible.
A retro-infused handheld that’ll delight the creaking, arthritic joints of gamers from the 80s as much as the spry, annoyingly accurate hands of today’s adolescents, the Evercade smells of promise, excitement, and energy. Fortunately, your fingers will find that its physical features more than match your nostrils’ glowing assessment.
This is a handheld primarily focussed on giving players access to the games that have defined gaming since its inception. From the earliest days when Atari was on the cutting edge with titles like Asteroids, Missile Command and Centipede, through to 16-bit favourites like Earthworm Jim and Clay Fighter, the Evercade brings these games, and the resultant memories, straight into the palm of your hand.
I still remember getting an Atari 2600 for Christmas at the age of 11. It was the 90s and the console and its games were already well on their way to being retro, but my Mum – an incredible, compassionate and all-knowing single parent – found the money to put the console under the Christmas tree. I was smitten. It came with a 52-game cartridge, Ms. Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros. – yes, you read that right – and I hesitate to imagine the hours I put into digital ping-pong, hopping on blocky Koopas and gobbling up dots on those creaking, stiff joysticks.
Packaged in its Premium Pack form, the Evercade comes bundled with three game collection cartridges – how I love getting to talk about cartridges again – giving you a total of 37 games to get your teeth into. While it’s not quite in line with that 54 game bonanza I got as a kid, it’s an incredible start to your Evercade library. It’s also right up the streetiest of my streets, with Atari Collection 1 hosting a batch of Atari 2600 and 7800 titles, including the glorious Centipede, one of my all-time favourites.
Each cart lets you scroll through the games, displaying their original artwork, a screenshot, and a few details like the year they were released. Occasionally this will not serve the older players amongst you very well, as it will force the kind of mental arithmetic that will upset, belittle and potentially traumatise you before you’ve even hit a button. However, once you get over that fairly large hurdle you can head straight into the game.
Every single game I’ve tested – and Evercade leant us the majority of their catalogue for this review – is perfectly emulated. There’s no screen-tearing, crashing or audio glitches, and in many cases the Evercade’s controls mean that this is not just the best way to play these games now, it’s the best place to play them ever. There are some games that admittedly haven’t stood the test of time – Tempest, I’m particularly looking at you – but the majority of these games are just as enthralling and fun as they ever were.
The console itself is made of sturdy white plastic, with some red, Atari-esque highlights to finish it off. There’s a decent array of buttons as well, matching those you’d find on a SNES controller, with four solid-feeling face buttons and excitingly clicky left and right digital shoulder buttons. Rather than the cross-shaped D-pad you’d have found on the SNES, the Evercade plays host to a circular Sega Genesis-style D-pad with a full range of motion. On first impressions, it does feel a little spongey and loose, but following prolonged use you’ll find that it’s reassuringly useable and comfortable.
There’s a Select and Start button beneath the main face buttons, while the other side of the console boasts a system-wide Menu button that lets you access the overarching Evercade options. From here you can alter the screen ratio, keeping things in their original 4:3 format, or stretch them across the screen’s 4.3” widescreen, as well as change core settings like the language or brightness. In-game, this button gives you the option to store multiple save states, letting you dive back in from wherever you had reached, which suits the handheld format perfectly and upgrades every single one of these games which would have originally forgotten everything you’d done once the power was turned off.
The screen itself is bright and clear, with its backlight ensuring that you can play late into the night, or outdoors to a certain extent. It won’t hold up too well in the brightest of situations, but it’s likely not going to cause the majority of players too many issues. Volume is controlled by a pair of digital buttons, and while the Evercade goes plenty loud, I found its lowest setting to be a little too powerful, particularly if there are other people around you. Fortunately, there’s a 3.5mm headphone socket so you can keep all those glorious 80’s bleeps and bloops to yourself.
Charging is via micro-USB which is a little disappointing in the age of USB-C, but at least the rechargeable battery gives you a fairly healthy four hours of gaming from a single charge. Given the Evercade’s horizontal layout touching on memories of the Game Gear, Atari Lynx and Game Boy Advance, it’s a joy not having to reach for the AA batteries every few hours.
Where the Evercade really steps things up is through the inclusion of a micro-HDMI port. While there isn’t a cable included in the box you can pick one up for less than a tenner, letting you play these classics in 720p on your modern screen of choice. Given that in some cases you’d have still been trying to hook up an original console via a deeply outdated RF cable, this is a brilliant inclusion, and works just as well as you’d hope. Just make sure to buy a cable with enough length to reach your sofa.
The Evercade is clearly the result of a genuine love for older games and the classic cartridge format, and it’s amazing to see how many publishers have got on board with them to provide titles for the console. Alongside Namco, Interplay and Atari there’s a growing number of companies including Data East, Technos and Team17, who are pulling collections together from their storied histories. Each cartridge comes in a perfectly formed box, includes a full-colour manual, and is numbered so you can see what your library is missing. It’s a wonderfully collectible format, and a great reflection of the games and eras its aiming to return you to.