Evercade VS, the new console from Blaze Entertainment, seeks to expand the footprint for its effort to bring back classic games. It tries to do specific things! It’s not a replacement for an emulation box or a full-featured console competitor. It’s a fun little package of nostalgia, and it needs a matching level of affinity for the old ways to be a great fit. But if that’s you? Yeah, it’s worth a look.
The first Evercade hardware was a handheld, and in many ways incomplete on its own. It worked, and it was fun! But its video out had a few quirks that made it less than ideal, and a lot of the Evercade library is best experienced with a partner.
Evercade VS uses the same library of cartridges, which is really the core of what Blaze Entertainment is trying to do. Game collections are sold as physical carts in plastic cases with full-color manuals. Having so many titles in one pack does limit how much manual space each gets, for sure. But each has screenshots, control diagrams and a brief summary of the game and its history. This is a system for collectors, and one for those who miss sitting in the back seat on the way home unwrapping a brand-new game.
This idea gets doubled down with the Evercade VS. That’s largely from the much more robust menu system. While the handheld is functional, its UI is barebones and it saves its processing power for games. The VS has a bit more room, so it shows box art in the menus and puts that control diagram and summary on each game screen before you launch.
Speaking of doubling down: the VS already had a two-player-friendly library, but Blaze’s new arcade line reinforces that strength. More puzzle games! More beat-’em-ups! Evercade’s game selection is full of “pretty good” games, missing the expensive-to-license heavy hitters but with some similar stuff you’ve played and some weird things you could try. The result? More of a popcorn-style, channel-surfing sort of play session.
It does feel like Evercade as a platform is meant to be a celebration of the British scene. There are some appearances from Japanese and American classics, but there’s so much depth to the UK-developed portion of the library. That tracks! Blaze is British. But it does mean that an affinity for that era makes picking up the console a lot more enticing.
The hardware driving the Evercade VS tries to do a lot with a little. It’s aiming for a low MSRP, coming in at under $100 for the base package. The global shipping and chip crises probably made that a whole mess! So it cuts some stuff you probably already have, like HDMI cables and a USB power adapter. And it won’t emulate as well as a full-on computer. But it does its job fairly well! Like the handheld, it does hiccup at times when running its (quite infrequent) PlayStation and GBA games. And it doesn’t have the most impressive scaling for big screens. But most of the time, it’s solid enough to focus on the games themselves.
In terms of running the games themselves, there aren’t too many bells and whistles, but Evercade VS covers the basics. You can expand the screen to maintain aspect ratio but fill the height of the screen, or you can use “pixel perfect” mode to maintain an exact multiple. (You can also stretch a game wide to fill your whole TV, but anyone who actually does this should be reported to the proper authorities.) There are a couple of options for scanlines, and a handful of bezel wallpaper choices.
The most interesting feature of the Evercade VS hardware… isn’t really on the Evercade VS hardware at all. Much like classic games, Evercade cartridges save their own data. This means that, with your hard saves and save states, you can pass them back and forth between cartridge and handheld with no hassle. While, yeah, this has been the case since the first system’s launch, it’s now relevant and useful.
The included controller feels a lot like the handheld! Just a little more compact. It tries to split the difference between classic and comfortable, with a squared-off form factor more like an NES controller but rounded edges and four shoulder buttons. It works well enough, but the disc-shaped D-pad and lighter, clickier feel might not match everyone’s tastes. And even if you do like the controller, you might want to scrounge up more for a multiplayer session.
Thankfully, the Evercade VS doesn’t put up too many barriers to using whatever you can plug into a USB port. It recognizes them much like a PC, and you can expect similar functionality. You can even use wireless ones, if you happen to have adapters for them. There’s a quick process to map the buttons on any controller, and you can skip mapping buttons a controller doesn’t have without much trouble. You’ll have to do that with every new pad you use, but it remembers the configuration for each between sessions. (A special shout-out goes to our trusty Pokken controller, which got us through a lot of this review.)
Blaze is clearly treating the Evercade project as a labor of love. It’s opening its doors to tiny indies and newly developed titles. It’s releasing collections from the Oliver Twins and Bitmap Brothers and other cult-favorite UK teams. It even put out tributes to the Atari Lynx when no one else would. And it looks like that’s going to continue, with a Telenet Japan cart on the way. We can feel this enthusiasm in the system itself, and it makes us really want these efforts to succeed.
Evercade VS is an interesting standalone product, but the big sell is the platform as a whole. Its fun lies in its physicality. Its quirk is its appeal. It doesn’t have the universal giftability of the microconsoles of recent years — at least outside the British Isles — but for those who enjoy shelves lined with game boxes, it could be a good fit.
Evercade VS, from Blaze Entertainment, is available for pre-order now for $99.99 / £89.99 / €99.99. The Premium Pack, with an extra controller and cartridge included, is available for an additional $30 / £20 / €30. Cartridges are $19.99 / £14.99 / €19.99 each. Units will begin shipping in mid-December in Europe and January 2022 in North America.