For retro gaming fans who love physical media but are overwhelmed by the price of old carts, the Evercade brand has fulfilled a nostalgic dream over the past two-plus years. With a pick-up-and-play mentality, a growing library of carts filled with officially licensed retro console and arcade games, and multiple hardware iterations, Evercade has found its niche in an increasingly popular market. Evercade EXP, an updated version of the original handheld, is the best Evercade yet. If you’re into 8- and 16-bit console and arcade games, the Evercade EXP offers a fantastic way to play physical cartridge collections in a portable form factor.
For those unfamiliar with the Evercade, it first debuted in 2020 as a budget-friendly handheld with cartridge games. Each cartridge, which costs $20 a pop, features a collection of authentic classic games. There are collections based on old platforms like the Atari Lynx and Commodore 64, as well as publisher-themed carts from studios like Data East, Interplay, Codemasters and more. Just like in the old days, the carts come in thick plastic boxes filled with cool inserts. You insert the cartridge, select a game and dive in almost immediately. Quality of life improvements like save states and different screen settings make these retro games more digestible, lending themselves to quick bursts of play.
The original handheld was followed in 2021 by the Evercade VS, a home console with 1080p resolution and multiplayer for two players. With EXP, manufacturer Blaze Entertainment has returned to its handheld origins, improving upon the original design in virtually every way.
Evercade EXP comes in an all white or limited edition all black design. The original had a toy-like appearance, with a somewhat cheap plastic feel and light weight. EXP, on the other hand, has a more modernized feel. Its heavier feel, premium textured back panel and sleeker form factor come together to create a device that cuts no corners. It really is night and day when you switch back and forth between the two handheld devices. The slightly wider shell provides a more comfortable gaming experience while remaining compact enough to fit in your pocket.
More than just an improvement in the aesthetics and overall feel department, EXP also features notable upgrades to the D-pad and triggers. The eight-way D-pad has a smoother range of motion. It’s easily one of the best D-pads I’ve used on a handheld. The original handheld only had a pair of shoulder buttons, while the EXP adds proper triggers and improved shoulder buttons.
You’ll notice the bonus A and B buttons on the left side of the handheld. These buttons are for TATE mode, which allows you to play select Evercade games with a vertically oriented screen. You simply press the dedicated TATE button on the bottom of the EXP and turn the handheld to its side. Only 21 games across the entire Evercade library support TATE mode at launch, but it’s cool to play classics like Burger Time, Super Breakout, and Centipede using your screen’s full real estate. Sure, Flip Grip exists for the Nintendo Switch, but it’s pretty cool to use a handheld that has this feature, especially since the supported games are really at their best in vertical orientation.
The Evercade experience is enhanced by the enhanced display of the EXP. The increased brightness is immediately noticeable. It still has the same size of 4.3 inches, but the resolution is significantly improved. It has an 800 x 480 IPS display versus the 480 x 272 resolution of the original. Overall, it has much sharper image quality that makes the 8 and 16-bit games of yesteryear really pop. EXP still plays all the same games as the original, so you can aptly compare it to the jump from Switch to Switch OLED in terms of viewing experience. Speaking of viewing experience, the EXP screen has far superior viewing angles. You can tilt it without hiding the image.
And just like the Switch OLED, you can only see these improvements in handheld mode. You can connect the EXP to an external display using the Mini-HDMI port to run games in 720p. This is the same “docked” resolution as the original. For those who prefer to play on a larger screen, you’ll still want to go for the Evercade VS, as it offers 1080p as well as two-player multiplayer. EXP remains a device for playing classics alone.
I also appreciated the changes to some of the basic functions, like switching from a power switch to a power button and the more compact, hidden Start/Select/Menu buttons. The biggest change for general use is the move from microUSB to USB-C charging. The Evercade was the only device I used regularly that charged via microUSB. On a full charge, the EXP lasts for four to five hours, which is the same as the original. My only complaint with the build is that you still have to use the 3.5mm headphone jack for private listening. The EXP doesn’t support Bluetooth, which is definitely a bummer.
The custom Linux operating system that EXP runs borrows from the VS home console. If you’ve tried any of the mini consoles from Nintendo or Sega, it’s quite similar to those, with game box tiles to flip through. When you click on a game, you get a top-level description as well as the controls. You can load the game from your previous save to pick up where you left off quickly. Numerous screen themes, audio mixing sliders and display settings are available in the menu settings. Screen settings allow you to change aspect ratio, add scan lines and select frames. Original Evercade owners can also update their handheld’s firmware to the new OS setup. That said, the EXP offers a smoother and slightly faster overall experience, perhaps due to the jump from a 1.2GHz to 1.5GHz processor.
So the handheld itself is great, but what about the games? One of EXP’s main selling points is its built-in library of 18 Capcom games. These are exclusive to EXP, so you won’t be able to play them on the original handheld or VS. While it’s a little strange for a manufacturer so focused on physical media and cool packaging to go the digital route, there’s no doubting the appeal of this collection of classics. Here’s what you get, no downloads required:
- Mega Man (8-bit)
- Mega Man 2 (8-bit)
- Mega Man X (16-bit)
- Breath of Fire (16-bit)
- 1944: The bow master
- Bionic Commando
- Captain Commando
- Last match
- Forgotten worlds
- Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
- Legendary wings
- Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting
The trio of Mega Man games and Breath of Fire are console games, while the other 14 are based on arcade versions. Classics like 1942 and 1943 benefit from TATE mode, and playing greats like Street Fighter II and Strider on this tiny handheld is a real treat. All running and looking good. Plus, new Evercade owners will have plenty of notable games to play right out of the box, which is a huge bonus.
EXP also comes with a new cassette collection focused on IREM games. There are six games included: R-Type, Moon Patrol, In the Hunt, Battle Chopper, Lightning Swords and 10-Yard Fight. The R-Type is the big standout here. The classic shoot-em-up still plays well all these years later.
The IREM cart is just one of dozens of Evercade collections available now. For a complete list, check out Evercade’s website. The amount of value you get out of Evercade is highly dependent on your interest in the growing library of games. You’ll find just about every genre you can think of at Evercade, so it really is a case of something for everyone. It’s just a matter of whether it is enough games you want to play.
Although I won’t spoil it, Blaze brought back “hidden” games. There are five games to unlock via secret passwords and button combinations.
All told, you get the Evercade EXP handheld and more than two dozen games for $150. For those who already have the original Evercade, the decision to upgrade or not depends on how much you already play Evercade games. Those considering picking up an Evercade for the first time should definitely go for the EXP. Although it costs $50 more than the original Evercade Premium Pack (which comes with three carts), the improvements to the build alone justify the jump. Throw in the 18 Capcom games and the value gets even better.
Where to buy Evercade EXP
|Size||7.56 x 3.07 x 0.78 inches|
|Gates||USB-C, Mini-HDMI, 3.5 mm audio|
18 Capcom (preloaded), IREM Collection (6 cartridge based), 5 secret games
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