It’s not exactly hard to play old games. There are plenty of ways to get a retro fix outside of collecting the original hardware: plug-and-play consoles, classic game collections, and subscription services like Nintendo Switch Online. Even so, Evercade’s solution is something different. At its most basic, Evercade is a solid handheld device, sort of like an updated version of the Game Boy Advance that can also connect to your TV. But instead of having a big collection of old games built in or available for download, Evercade supports proprietary cartridges. The result is an $80 device that straddles the line between modern and retro in a way that’s very satisfying.
The Evercade is a pretty slick piece of hardware. It features a bright 4.3-inch display with a clean white front and a typical array of inputs. That includes start, select, and menu buttons; four face buttons; two on the shoulder; and a nice, chunky D-pad. There’s also a switch on the top for power and three inputs: a headphone jack, a USB port for charging (the cable is included; the wall charger is not), and a Mini HDMI port for connecting to your television (the cable is not included). It’s relatively light and comfortable, and you’ll get around four hours of battery life on a single charge. It’s just a nice piece of hardware, though once you turn it on, the UI is incredibly bare-bones. The difference is striking.
The thing that makes it look immediately retro is the big cartridge slot on the back. The Evercade has no internet connectivity. Instead, every game you can play comes on a classic-style cartridge. The developer has worked with a number of studios and publishers to create themed bundles; for instance, there’s an Atari collection that features 20 games like Yars’ Revenge and Centipede from the 2600, and an exceedingly ‘90s bundle featuring Interplay games like Earthworm Jim and ClayFighter. There’s a pretty solid lineup of publishers involved, including Namco, Data East, Technōs (by way of Arc System Works), and even Mega Cat Studios, a modern developer focused almost entirely on making new 8-bit-style games.
Almost every collection — which cost $20 each — feels like a nicely curated package. The Namco Museum collection, for instance, features the obvious titles like Pac-Man, Dig Dug, and Galaxian. But there are also some oddities, including the Japan-only platformer Mappy Kids and Libble Rabble, a strange little arcade game from Pac-Man designer Toru Iwatani. Meanwhile, the Technōs collection is incredible for fans of classic beat ‘em ups, with three different Double Dragon games alongside River City Ransom, Crash N’ the Boys, and Renegade. The bundles vary a lot in terms of how many games are included — generally, older collections, like the Atari ones, have more games — but they strike a nice balance of well-known hits and more obscure releases.
The games are presented almost entirely as they originally were. The collections are a mix of console and arcade ports that now look a little crisper on the small screen, and there are additional save states so you don’t have to worry about beating games in a single go. But the games themselves haven’t been changed. There are no modern tweaks to make things more accessible, like a rewind feature or optional difficulty levels, so your enjoyment will really depend on your tolerance for classic games. I never seem to tire of Pac-Man, and I absolutely love digging into arcade games I’ve never played before. But I have a hard time spending more than a few minutes with any classic Atari game; I bounce right off of them. In this way, the cartridge system works well, letting you pick and choose instead of being saddled with a bunch of old games you’d never play anyway.
Obviously, the Evercade is a niche product. There are easier and cheaper ways to play retro games, and there are big slices of gaming history that will never come to the handheld. But for a certain subset of people, this kind of single-purpose device makes a lot of sense. I’ve downloaded plenty of classic games on Steam and the Switch, but I can’t say I spend a lot of time playing them. I’m usually distracted by the latest release or getting in a few more games of Fortnite. But with the Evercade, these distractions are gone: the classics have all of my attention.