It’s nice that we live in a world where any game we can imagine is just a download away, but sometimes that can get overwhelming. Limits can be nice. Cartridge-based retro game console Evercade has helped me remember that.
Released earlier this year by UK company Blaze Entertainment, the Evercade is a retro handheld gaming console capable of playing titles from the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Atari Lynx, Nintendo Entertainment System, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Unlike other retro consoles, which rely on either preloaded games or users loading whatever they want via ROM images, the Evercade offers a series of cartridges loaded with curated collections of games. The console costs $80, the cartridges around $20. If you need to find one, check out the official website.
Each cartridge is basically a bundle of games from one publisher. Once a cartridge is inserted, players can flip through the selection of games, hopping in and out of the ones they want to play. The first cartridge for the system is a collection of 20 Atari 2600 and 7800 games. The second is a Namco Museum Collection that includes the first official English translation of Mappy Kids, the console-only spin-off of arcade classic Mappy. There’s a cartridge from Mega Cat Studios that’s filled with homebrew games previously released for the NES and Genesis. Check out the website for the full list of available carts and their games.
Mind you, all of these games are played using software emulation on this LINUX-based system. The Everdrive uses a combination of licensed and custom-built emulators. I have not run into any serious issues with any of the games I’ve played, but more hardcore fans might notice smaller issues with their favroties that may have eluded me.
The Evercade isn’t a bad little system to play the games on. It feels great in the hand. The rechargeable batteries last four to five hours. The buttons are nice and responsive. The shoulder buttons are pleasantly light and clicky. The d-pad, a solid disc with raised directional areas, isn’t my favorite design, but it does the job. The 4.3-inch LCD display is bright and clear. Players can switch between 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. There’s a headphone jack, volume buttons, and even a mini-HDMI port so the system can be output to a TV or monitor at 720p.
The only real downside to the hardware, for me, is that the cartridge slot is very, very tight. To remove a cartridge I need to use both hands on this puppy, it’s that snug. Though the system has held up well over the past month and a half, I still feel like I could break it with the amount of pressure I have to apply putting in and taking out carts.
But damn if I don’t love the carts. Little plastic chip containers, around the size of a classic Game Boy cartridge. They’re much beefier than those easily losable, often foul-tasting Nintendo Switch cards. I can throw them in the air and catch them, without getting concussed should I miss and have one land on my head.
More importantly, they limit my options in a way I find quite pleasing. I sit in front of a desk all day long with three different video game consoles loaded with games. I’ve got Steam on my PC, loaded with games. As long as I have some extra cash, I can play pretty much anything. There are too many choices. When I am at the doctor’s office with my Evercade and a randomly grabbed cartridge, I have those games to play. That’s it. My path is clear.
Your feelings toward the cartridge-based system may be the complete opposite. This is a system that was created so its owners could build a physical game collection. The cartridges, 14 so far, are numbered so they look all fancy on a shelf. If you don’t do shelves filled with games anymore, the Evercade is not for you. Similarly, if you’re the type of person who got the SNES Classic and hacked it on day one with all the SNES games, the Evercade might not be for you either.
For me, this newfound love of cartridge limitations is similar to my issues playing open-world games. Give me too many options and I will get lost. Give me an obvious route to follow or a curated collection of console classics to play, and I’m much more comfortable.
My only problem now is keeping up. I currently own 10 of 14 cartridges, with more coming on a regular basis. If you plan on getting in on the Evercade, I highly suggest finding the $100 premium pack, which comes with the console and three carts—Data East Collection 1, Atari Collection 1, and Interplay Collection 1. Then you’ll want the Namco Museum Collection 1, because the three in the bundle are numbered 01, 03, and 04, and Namco is 02. Ah, the perils of physical game collections. I love them.