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Review: Evercade EXP Handheld is a Huge Hardware Upgrade

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Review: Evercade EXP Handheld is a Huge Hardware Upgrade

The Evercade library has been growing steadily over the past few years. Both software and hardware! But as new licensing deals broaden player options and the Evercade VS home system makes multiplayer more feasible, one piece of the equation felt a bit limiting. That’s the original Evercade handheld.

It’s… fine? We still enjoyed it when it launched in 2020. But as a first foray into making this sort of device, and one that really put a premium on keeping costs low? It isn’t ideal long-term. The more robust menus and features of the VS simply couldn’t work on the old system, and the materials and system angles could maybe use some help.

Compounding the issue? The proliferation of many handheld platforms, as big as the Switch Lite and Steam Deck or as niche as new emulation-focused devices, that have refined and set new standards for build quality and comfort. These refinements have extended down to the lower price points as well, to the point at which we’re talking about whether button springiness is exactly what we want. It feels like we’re past “this feels cheap” being a reasonable choice for a product on the market.

Enter the Evercade EXP.

new and old hardware

The new hardware

This new device fully replaces the original Evercade, with a look and feel that feels a lot like a Switch Lite. It has wi-fi and system features on par with the VS. There are some elements of the hardware design that just can’t change with the cartridge shape defining a few color and curve dimensions, but what was done here? The changes help a lot.

The original’s buttons felt clicky and cheap, while the EXP ones are more what you’re used to with premium systems. The glossy plastic surface attracted smudges quickly, so the EXP has a textured matte finish. It’s still affordable, so it doesn’t feel like an Xbox Elite controller or anything, but it’s a huge step forward from the design that plagued both the original portable and the packed-in VS controllers. The charging port upgrading to a more modern USB-C is nice, too, as many already have moved on to that standard.

evercade exp tate mode

In the rotation

One special feature of the Evercade EXP hardware is a dedicated tate mode. Popular with fans of shoot-’em-ups, tate mode allows for a vertical display closer to the original arcade by rotating the screen 90 degrees. With a configuration similar to the Bandai WonderSwan, the EXP has dedicated extra controls for holding the device sideways and playing titles with the press of a mode button.

In practice, the mode’s somewhat limited right now. There are a few games in the library to support it, and we’re sure that number will grow once the hardware’s out in the wild! Thankfully, the new Toaplan compilation offers a few nice choices for the function. The software side of things work well, though we have a gripe with the real-world physics: holding the device in this configuration makes it really top-heavy, with the controls at the extreme bottom to keep you from offering that support yourself.

Also… there’s one thing. And we have to say it! This support makes us really want a WonderSwan collection. There’s simply no other device out there with such natural support for that library of vertical and orientation-swapping titles. Our hesitation? It comes from licensing. It’s clear that negotiations for the Namco Museum titles, which still only work on the two handhelds, indicate that Blaze hasn’t had the best luck working things out with Bandai Namco. And yeah, a lot of the titles aren’t playable in English. But Judgment Silversword and Klonoa and such? They’d be a huge sell for the hardware.

evercade exp hardware comparison

The Capcom collection

Adding value to the Evercade EXP is a collection of built-in games from Capcom. Alongside the IREM pack-in cartridge, these 18 games give players a solid start to their library with a variety of genres. Most of the games are arcade versions, like the 1942 trilogy and Street Fighter II. Its console selections, though, may be the most important. Mega Man, Mega Man 2 and Mega Man X are here to give that franchise a presence here, and they’re fun on the go. Last, and perhaps most important to us, is Breath of Fire. We’ve been asking for more robust RPGs and strategy titles on the Evercade, and we’re happy to be thrown a bone here. (Even though we’d rather have had the sequel.)

This Capcom pack does come with some noticeable gripes from the community. As built-in games, they’re not playable on other platforms, nor do they match with the Evercade’s ethos of the fun of physical cartridges. They’re locked on this device, for now and forever. Blaze has been upfront about the difficulty of negotiations, saying it was this method or nothing.

And between this and the Namco Museum difficulties, it feels clear that Blaze is well aware of the gaps at the top of the Evercade library. There’s a lot of niche stuff, and a lot of representation from European studios near the company’s home in the UK. But the big Japanese titles? There’s less. The bending here lets them get Street Fighter and Mega Man on the platform, which is a big deal for the vast majority of players who aren’t exactly satisfied with Fighter’s History.

evercade exp review

Evercade EXP: The verdict

The better build quality and more robust tech of the Evercade EXP are a huge benefit to those who’ve already invested in the ecosystem, and may attract new fans who were holding out for the polish of second-generation hardware. We already liked the project as a way to enjoy some less-celebrated games of the past, but the burgeoning library and hardware upgrade is making it both more appealing to people and appealing to more people.

The Evercade EXP handheld is available for $149.99, with an official release date of December 15, 2022. It comes bundled with the IREM Arcade 1 cartridge, as well as built-in Capcom titles. Stay tuned to Siliconera for a closer look at the latest Evercade cartridge releases soon! For more coverage on the Blaze Evercade ecosystem and its games, check out our archive.

Evercade EXP

The better build quality and more robust tech of the Evercade EXP are a huge benefit to those who’ve already invested in the ecosystem, and may attract new fans who were holding out for the polish of second-generation hardware.

Food for Thought
  • We’d really like to see more long-play titles in the system’s library. There are a few RPGs and strategy titles here and there, but a handheld really benefits from more.
  • There may not be a physical Capcom cartridge, but at least there's a physical manual?
  • Fingers still crossed for WonderSwan!
    If you want to know more, check out Siliconera's review guide.
    Graham Russell
    Graham Russell, editor-at-large, has been writing about games for various sites and publications since 2007. He’s a fan of streamlined strategy games, local multiplayer and upbeat aesthetics. He joined Siliconera in February 2020, and served as its Managing Editor until July 2022. When he’s not writing about games, he’s a graphic designer, web developer, card/board game designer and editor.