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A few years ago, there were a lot of retro mini game consoles, a trend that disappeared shortly after the start of the global pandemic. 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, actually. Nintendo Switch there are a bunch. It has builds like stellar Atari 50. There is gaming laptops that play older game cartridges. And then there’s Evercade EXP.
The second-generation version of the Evercade is a pocket-sized device specifically designed to play compilations of retro games with ready-made cartridges. The Evercade EXP can also be plugged directly into TVs using an HDMI mini cable, effectively turning it into a mini console.
But my favorite thing about EXP is how it switches to portrait mode to play vertical orientation arcade games or “TATE”. It handles this in a way that’s so easy it’s a wonder more notebooks don’t do it. (Nintendo Switch allows TATE game modes, but this depends on each individual game’s support.)
Evercade EXP is thick. It’s close to the size of the PlayStation Vita (remember that one?), but smaller than the Nintendo Switch Lite. It could be with the jacket pocket, maybe. The handheld comes with most of the buttons that 8- and 16-bit games need: four buttons on one side, two on the other next to the d-pad, which work together in portrait mode. There are double shoulder buttons on each side.
Unlike many small notebooks, which can also be modified to run emulations, the Evercade EXP is strictly designed to play the system’s own cartridges. There are several dozen Evercade EXPs to choose from, costing around $25 per cartridge for many games. There are collections of classics from Namco, Atari, Data East, Interplay and even more obscure sources. Still, there are a lot of missing companies: Konami doesn’t make an appearance, and don’t expect Sega (or, obviously, Nintendo). But there are surprising compilations of Atari Lynx (I finally got around to playing Blue Lightning!), Commodore 64, Intellivision and Amiga games, and Evercade splits its cartridge collections between console and arcade classics.
The $150 Evercade EXP offers some tempting goodies. The system has 18 Capcom arcade and console games built in and it’s a great combination. You get Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Strider, Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting and Mega Man games. Also included is a compilation arcade cassette of games from classic game publisher Irem with six other games including R-Type, In The Hunt and Moon Patrol. 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 in the system that can be unlocked with hidden codes.
In theory, the Evercade EXP can download new games over Wi-Fi, but this feature doesn’t appear to be enabled yet. The notebook’s software has been updated since the original Evercade, and the display, while still a slightly low-resolution IPS LCD screen (800×480 pixels), is perfectly fine for all the games it plays. The system charges via USB-C and lasts enough hours 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 the limelight from the Nintendo Switch (or Panic Playdate), but I appreciate how this notebook offers so many lost treasures on the go. It’s sort of a philosophical alternative to Analog pocket, a great handheld that is more focused on playing original Game Boy games and playing on older hardware platforms. However, Evercade EXP is a good enough arcade package for anyone who really enjoys vertical shooters. And hey, will more gaming handhelds support vertical TATE mode with the push of a button like the Evercade EXP does? Thank you!
Evercade EXP Review: A retro mini console with a twist
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