I love retro gaming and I love handheld gaming, so an opportunity to combine those two into one cohesive unit, as it does with the Evercade EXP, speaks to me on many levels. Well, specifically two levels, but still. Creator Blaze Entertainment collected feedback from owners of his previous Evercade Handheld and applied them to the Evercade EXP, and added some new features that I didn’t realize I wanted until I tried them. It’s a solid little piece of hardware with a few quirks that I didn’t like, but overall it’s a fun and interesting way to play retro games on the go.
If you’re familiar with the Evercade range, you already know that games come on big little carts. There’s no microSD trickery here: all available games are officially licensed and offered in collections on preloaded carts. Carts range from 8 or more arcade classics to just 2 retro-style modern games. They cost between $10 and $20 and cover a pretty wide range of classics, including modern indies, arcade classics, and even Atari Lynx games. The carts come in a clamshell-style box reminiscent of early Master System and SEGA Genesis games, complete with instruction manuals and all. I really like this touch, because I really like physical games and I like to display my collection even more. The cases are quite sturdy and look like authentic old fashioned video game packaging.
The carts themselves are chunky, almost a cross between Game Boy Advance and original Game Boy carts when it comes to size. Each has a decal on one side and a silkscreened title on the other, with the silkscreened side facing out when inserted into the EXP. They’re contoured at the top to blend in with the lines of the Evercade EXP itself, which is a really nice touch.
The $149.99 Evercade EXP comes with a copy of the 6-game Irem Arcade Collection 1, including the arcade version of R-Type among other things. I’ve always loved R-Type, even though I suck, and it’s a pleasure to play even on the small screen of the Evercade EXP. Along with the pack-in cart, there are 18 Capcom games built right into the machine itself, with arcade classics like Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting and Ghouls & Ghosts. There are even Mega Man games for built-in home consoles. It’s honestly a great selection, and the licensing agreement that Blaze Entertainment has with Capcom ensures that they won’t one day disappear with a future firmware update. Honestly, the Capcom games alone are almost worth the price of admission, although personally I would much prefer the home version of Bionic Commando to the arcade one.
Speaking of firmware updates, the Evercade EXP has WiFi built in explicitly for future updates, and there’s a hint of a possible online storefront on the home screen with a message “Evercade : Coming Soon”. But at the moment WiFi is only included for updates. What’s oddly absent is Bluetooth, which I would have liked for headphones or third-party controller support. I find that to be a really odd omission, actually, especially since there’s a mini HDMI port on the top of the EXP that lets you hook it up to a monitor or TV. Being able to use the Evercade EXP on a big screen is a nice feature, but having to be tethered by an HDMI cable makes me unlikely to want to use it. The bottom of the Evercade EXP has a USB-C port for charging, which could theoretically accept a dongle for a 2.4GHz controller, but even if that’s possible, dongles are lame. The lack of Bluetooth is probably my least favorite thing about the Evercade EXP.
There’s a 3.5mm audio jack, so you can use wired headphones. And honestly, if you’re hoping to hear those classic games sound their best, you’ll need headphones, because the speakers are just plain bad. Very hollow, with very little bulk at all. The positioning of the built-in speakers on the bottom edge is also pretty bad, as my fingers often covered them while playing. While I’d rather not have to deal with wired headphones, that’s the only real way to get good sound from the Evercade EXP.
The Evercade EXP’s battery life is advertised at over 4 hours, and in my experience, that’s pretty accurate. I actually lost track of how long I played Breath of Fire before the battery light started flashing red. I’m considering that one for the “win” column. It has less battery life than the latest Switch revision, but more than the Switch OLED, and while I was pleasantly surprised to lose track of time during an extended session, I honestly expected more. It would make a great companion for short flights, but trips across the country or overseas will require charging or a power bank. Judging its remaining battery life is made a bit more complicated by the lack of an easy “quick resume” feature, for lack of a better term. With the Switch or the older 3DS, putting these systems into sleep mode is as easy as pressing a button or shutting down the system. With the Evercade EXP, it’s not that simple or obvious. If you want to pick up where you left off, press the menu button and just wait for the Evercade EXP to go to sleep. Less than ideal. Hopefully a future firmware update can add a fast standby feature.
Besides missing a few features I’d expect in a modern handheld, the Evercade EXP is fantastic. The weight was a little more than I expected, but it doesn’t feel heavy, it does feel heavy. That’s an important distinction, as its weight makes it feel like reliable hardware rather than a cheap handheld. The buttons are all pretty wonderful, with just the right amount of travel on the face buttons and a very satisfying click for the shoulder buttons. The D-pad also feels good. It’s a circular D-pad, similar to what you might find on an Xbox controller, and it has just the right amount of “give”.
The thickness is a little surprising, but feels quite nice to hold. Coupled with the aforementioned weight, it’s really wonderful to use, even with my big hands. The plastic shell is textured on the back panel just enough to give it a bit more grip, and its width fits well between my two hands. The only downside is the speaker placement as mentioned before but I tend to use my little fingers to rock handhelds so if you’re not like me you probably won’t have to worry about it.
One of the coolest things about the Evercade EXP is its “TATE” button. Pronounced “tah-tay”, it’s apparently the Japanese word for “vertical”, and pressing the TATE on the bottom of the Evercade EXP instantly switches the screen from landscape to portrait mode. This means that games like 1941, 1942 and 1943 can all be played in their proper orientation, taking up the entire screen rather than shrinking with spaces on either side in a horizontal layout. It’s awesome. There’s even a pair of A and B buttons next to the D-pad that only register when you’re in TATE mode, making for an amazing arcade shmup machine. I certainly wasn’t expecting something like this, and with at least three built-in games taking full advantage of it, you can see for yourself right away how awesome it is.
The screen itself is gorgeous. It’s an IPS panel, as opposed to the TN type of the original Evercade handheld, and it’s wonderful. Vibrant and beautiful colors, absolutely zero smudging or ghosting and fantastic viewing angles. It’s a little small at 4.3″, especially if you’re used to a Nintendo Switch or even a Switch Lite, but that’s nothing my aging eyes couldn’t handle. It’s not a screen touch screen which is fine but be warned it picks up fingerprints anyway I swear I never touched the screen once and yet there were at least half a dozen ‘fingerprints spoiling its beauty. I’m sorry, Evercade EXP screen, I’ll be more careful in the future.