The original Evercade was an extreme niche device. It posed a future where dedicated handheld video games not only thrived, but even still used cartridges. In a world where there are so many ways to play retro games – subscription services, compilations, emulation – it offered something very different. It did not make sense to everyone, but it did its job very well. Now the family has grown with Evercade VS. If the original was a modern version of the Game Boy, this is its NES counterpart. It is still a niche and aimed at a very specific audience – and still does its job very well.
At its most basic, the Evercade VS is a home console version of the original device. It’s a white plastic box that supports up to four controllers, includes two cartridge slots, and has ports on the back for HDMI and USB power (while the USB cable is included, make sure you have your own adapter). It looks a bit like a taller PSOne with a really satisfactory cartridge flap at the front. It is not an advanced machine that you would find from e.g. Analog, but it’s a step up from most modern retro consoles. The controllers, meanwhile, look like the handheld Evercade with a rectangular layout with a D-pad, four face buttons and start / select / home buttons along with some extra shoulder triggers that bring the total to four. All in all, it’s a neat tidy package that does not look out of place in an entertainment device with an Xbox or PlayStation.
To actually play games, Evercade VS uses the same proprietary cartridges as the handheld. In essence, Evercade has partnered with notable publishers such as Data East, Atari, and Technōs to offer physical collections of classic games. The Data East arcade collection includes, for example, 10 titles from well-known games such as Burger time to more obscure foods like fantasy beat ’em up Wizard herring. For the most part, they are nicely curated collections; I personally love discovering amazing old games I have never played before, like the extremely 90s shooter Alligator hunting about skate-punks fighting an alien invasion. The cartridges work across both the handheld and the new console – with the exception of two Namco joints, which only work on the original Evercade due to licensing issues – and support save modes, so you can move back and forth between devices if you own both. (You can see a complete list of the available cartridge collections right here.)
Evercade VS enhances the overall experience in a few ways. To start with, it’s just nice to see many of these games, with their large expressive sprites, blown up on a larger screen (the console supports up to 1080p output). The original Evercade had a crisp screen, but you lose some of the details on a small screen. For the most part, these games were meant to be shown on a television or arcade cabinet, and they look much better with room to breathe. Evercade VS also offers a few viewing options so you can leave it in the original format, stretch the image to fit your TV, or – my personal favorite – use the “pixel perfect” mode that makes things look , yes, pixels perfect. You can also add scanlines to replicate playback on an older screen. Evercade VS also adds a handful of fine tweaks, especially a much-improved user interface that makes it easier to not only sort through games, but also your saves. It has a lot more personality than the original Evercade’s barebones interface.
The most important thing VS adds, though, is proper multiplayer. So many of these games were meant to be played with other people, and to coincide with the launch of the console, Evercade also released a few new collections focused solely on arcade games. I’ve had a lot of fun smashing myself through getting older Double dragon play with friends, especially since I no longer have to worry about having neighborhoods at hand. It’s nice to have these games available on the go, but the multiplayer aspect makes it feel more common and authentic.
Whether or not the experience of squeezing around a TV to kill some bad guys is worth the price is Evercade’s key question. It will not be for everyone. Evercade VS starts at $ 99.99, giving you one controller and one game collection; a more premium offer includes two controllers and two cartridges for $ 30 more. (Standalone cartridges cost $ 20 and typically include up to 10 games depending on the publisher or platform). There are definitely cheaper ways to play. Pong or whatever Minky abe is. But that money pays for more than just the exact emulation. The console also replicates an experience – one where the tactile nature of the cartridges is just as important as the games they have.