There were a ton of retro gaming mini consoles a few years ago, a trend which faded away shortly after the global pandemic started. Remember the NES Classic, the Sega Genesis Mini, and even the Turbografx 16 Mini? There are still ways to play retro games: tons of them, in fact. The Nintendo Switch has a bunch. There are compilations like the stellar Atari 50. There are gaming handhelds that play older game cartridges. And then there’s the Evercade EXP.
The second-gen version of the Evercade is a handheld specifically made to play ready-made cartridge compilations of retro games. The Evercade EXP can also plug directly into TVs using an HDMI mini cable, effectively becoming a mini console.
But my favorite thing about the EXP is how it flips into a vertical mode to play vertical-orientation, or “TATE,” arcade games. It handles that in a way that’s so easy, it’s weird that more handhelds don’t do this. (The Nintendo Switch allows for TATE game modes, but it depends on each individual game’s support.)
The Evercade EXP is chunky. It’s close to the size of a PlayStation Vita (remember that one?), but it’s smaller than a Nintendo Switch Lite. It could be jacket-pocketed, maybe. The handheld comes studded with most of the buttons that 8- and 16-bit games need: four buttons on one side, two on the other next to a d-pad that all work together in vertical mode. There are dual shoulder button-triggers on each side.
Unlike a ton of small handhelds that can also be modded to run emulations, the Evercade EXP is strictly designed to play the system’s own cartridges. There are a few dozen that the Evercade EXP has to choose from, costing about $25 per multigame cartridge. There are collections of classics from Namco, Atari, Data East, Interplay and even more obscure sources. There are plenty of missing companies, though: Konami is a no-show, and don’t expect Sega (or, obviously, Nintendo). But there are surprising compilations of Atari Lynx (I finally got to play Blue Lightning!), Commodore 64, Intellivision and Amiga games, and Evercade splits its cartridge collections up between console-based and arcade-based classics.
The $150 Evercade EXP does throw in some tempting extras. The system has 18 Capcom arcade and console games built in, and it’s a great mix. You get Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Strider, Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting and Mega Man games. There’s also an included compilation arcade cartridge of games from classic game publisher Irem with six other games including R-Type, In The Hunt and Moon Patrol. The arcade games feel great, and the vertical TATE modes when available open up a lot more screen space on the 4.3-inch screen. There are also five more indie games on the system, which can be unlocked with hidden codes.
Theoretically, the Evercade EXP could download new games via Wi-Fi, but that feature doesn’t seem enabled yet. The handheld’s software has been updated since the original Evercade, and the display, while still being a somewhat low-res IPS LCD screen (800×480 pixels), is totally fine for all the games it plays. The system charges via USB-C, and lasts enough hours for me to play until I get bored and do something else (about 4 hours). There’s also a headphone jack.
I don’t think there’s enough gaming time in my life for the Evercade EXP to steal attention away from the Nintendo Switch (or the Panic Playdate), but I appreciate how this handheld offers up so many lost treasures on the go. It’s sort of a philosophical alternative to the Analogue Pocket, a great handheld that’s more purely focused on playing original Game Boy games and replicating older hardware platforms. The Evercade EXP is a good enough arcade package for anyone who really loves vertical shoot em ups, though. And hey, will more gaming handhelds please support vertical TATE mode at the press of a button like the Evercade EXP does? Thank you!