The original Evercade was an extremely niche device. It posited a future where dedicated video game handhelds 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 didn’t make sense for everyone, but it did its job very well. Now the family has grown with the Evercade VS. If the original was a modern take on the Game Boy, this is its NES counterpart. It’s still 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, you’ll have to provide your own adapter). It looks a bit like a taller PSOne with a really satisfying cartridge flap on the front. It’s not a high-end machine like you’d find from the likes of Analogue, but it’s a step up from most modern retro consoles. The controllers, meanwhile, are similar to the Evercade handheld, with a rectangular layout featuring a D-pad, four face buttons, and start / select / home buttons, along with some additional shoulder triggers bringing the total to four. Overall it’s a nice tidy package that doesn’t look out of place in an entertainment unit alongside an Xbox or PlayStation.
In order to actually play games, Evercade VS uses the same proprietary cartridges as the handheld. Essentially, Evercade has partnered with notable publishers like Data East, Atari, and Technōs to offer physical collections of classic games. The Data East arcade collection, for instance, includes 10 titles, from well-known games like Burger Time to more obscure fare like the fantasy beat ‘em up Wizard Fire. For the most part they’re nicely curated collections; I personally love discovering great old games I’ve never played before, like the extremely ‘90s shooter Alligator Hunt about skate punks fighting an alien invasion. The cartridges work across both the handheld and the new console — with the exception of two Namco collections, which only work on the original Evercade due to licensing issues — and support save states so you can move back and forth between devices if you own both. (You can see a full list of the available cartridge collections right here.)
The Evercade VS improves the overall experience in a few ways. To start, it’s just nice to see a lot of these games, with their big expressive sprites, blown up on a larger screen (the console supports up to 1080p output). The original Evercade had a crisp display, but you do lose some of the detail on a small screen. For the most part, these games were meant to be displayed on a television or arcade cabinet, and they look much better with room to breathe. The Evercade VS also offers a few display 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, well, pixel perfect. You can also add scanlines to replicate playing on an older display. The Evercade VS adds a handful of nice tweaks as well, most notably a much-improved UI that makes it easier to not only sort through games, but also your saves. It has much more personality than the original Evercade’s barebones interface.
The most important thing the 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 exclusively on arcade games. I’ve had a lot of fun smashing my way through older Double Dragon games with friends, particularly since I no longer have to worry about keeping any quarters on hand. It’s nice to have these games available on the go, but the multiplayer aspect makes it feel more communal and authentic.
Whether or not that experience of crowding around a TV to beat up some bad dudes is worth the price of entry is the Evercade’s key question. It won’t be for everyone. The Evercade VS starts at $99.99, which gets you one controller and one game collection; a more premium offer includes two controllers and two cartridges for $30 more. (Standalone cartridges are $20, and typically include upwards of 10 games depending on the publisher or platform.) There are certainly cheaper ways to play Pong or whatever Minky Monkey is. But that money is paying for more than just the accurate emulation. The console is also replicating an experience — one where the tactile nature of the cartridges is as important as the games they hold.