The team behind the Evercade EXP isn’t hanging around, as this is its third console since 2020. First, we had the original Evercade handheld, closely followed by the Evercade VS, a home console version played on TV with a couple of controllers. And now there's the EXP, a new member of the officially-licensed retro port family, which might just be the best version of one of the best retro consoles yet.
On paper, the specs against the original might not look that different, and bear in mind all three consoles run the same cartridges, so you might be wondering if the EXP can justify its existence so soon, especially as it costs a fair bit more at $149/£129. I was skeptical when it was first announced, but after a few weeks of playing some of the new releases and some older carts too, I'm totally sold.
If you're unfamiliar with the Evercade brand, you might wonder why I keep talking about cartridges. Well, rather than just have you download digital titles, this console is supported by cart purchases (around $15-$20 each), most of them focusing on a single publisher for some of their greatest retro hits.
There are plenty out there with more on the way and they work on all versions of Evercade hardware. However, digital titles are involved this time as the Evercade EXP comes with a selection of preinstalled Capcom titles, and you can not buy a cart version of them. Presumably, this made the license more affordable, as these are Triple-A retro IP titles for sure.
So while that means they're always at hand, and considering the epic selection on offer, that's a great thing, it also means you can't play these titles from the Japanese giant of gaming on your Evercade VS TV console if you have that one at home.
|Display||4.3-inch, 800 x 480, IPS|
|Ports||USB-C, Mini-HDMI, 3.5mm|
|Dimensions||192.7 x 78.5 x 20.7mm|
I'll come back to the games later. Let's dive into the hardware itself. First, if you're wondering if there's a single killer hook over the original in this upgrade, then I'm happy to report there is, and it's the display. It's the same 4.3-inch size, but it has a better resolution (800x480 up from 480x272), better viewing angles, and is much brighter. So much so that you can enjoy some extra detail that gets lost on the now-gloomy first model - something I could confirm when I compared it to the original firsthand. eBay beckons for the first Evercade once you go EXP.
The vibrant display really lets you appreciate the detail in the more advanced games like In the Hunt, a side-scrolling submarine shooter where explosions are packed with retro particle effects, and you blast your way through environmental obstacles. The redesigned game selector menus are much cleaner, and the box art is also shown in far greater detail.
Compared to the original Evercade, you're gaining an extra pair of shoulder buttons, and the rear ones have some extra travel. So, along with face buttons, you now have something that matches the number of inputs of modern controllers (analogs aside). Are we potentially looking at more recent ports further down the line? I hope so because the reality is, most games still only use two action buttons. Street Fighter can use six, but that's the max I've seen so far.
Without adding a couple of analog sticks though, we're running out of runway for what the hardware can look forward to as far as the PS1 era and later goes, and let's face it, that's technically retro gaming nowadays. It would be licensing hell, I imagine, and Nintendo already has the Switch, NES Mini, and SNES Mini, and Sony had the PlayStation Classic, which was something of a letdown due to it not being able to license all the third-party classics.
If anyone's going to have a crack at porting genuine licensed versions of retro PlayStation and Xbox games with the care they deserve, even if we have to wait a while longer for extra retroification, I'm rooting for the Evercade crew to get the call as these ports have been fantastic so far and the EXP will be getting a slot on our best retro console guide for sure.
Before we move forward though, the Evercade EXP wants to rollback with another retro feature with the new Tate mode. There’s an extra set of AB face buttons near the D-Pad, which retro shooter fans will enjoy. Simply press the dedicated Tate button on the underside of the console, and the display shifts to a vertical position so you can use the console sideways to get a feel for the elongated display of the original arcade version. It's a lovely feature, but I can't say I found the EXP comfortable to hold for long in this position as it was too top-heavy, and the action buttons were just a touch too high to get a steady, even grip going. Sure, the games look better, but I noticed an immediate improvement to my scores when I returned to horizontal mode, despite the more condensed view on vertical shooters.
While I'm talking about the controls, the buttons are smaller this time, which helps the console have a cleaner (dull?) look, but I preferred the larger buttons on the previous models. The D-pad is smaller too, which is generally fine until you fire up Street Fighter, that is, as it's not great for accurately mapping those essential quarter circles and Z-shaped motions (Guile and Zangief fans, be quiet).
It's not helped that it's actually Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, which might just be the worst (OK, hardest) version of the timeless classic. As the name suggests, it's a sped-up version of the game, so nailing the inputs for specials is already difficult, and there aren't even difficulty-tuning options on this port for some reason. And Ryu is an absolute shit, spawning Hadokuns in an endless loop with perfect timing. And I'm a half-decent player (or so I thought) at Street Fighter, but this wrecked me.
There's no denying the quality found elsewhere on the built-in Capcom selection, as they really were absolute rock stars of the retro era and it feels like the Evercade's finest catch yet. The selection of 1940 WWII shooter games shows an impressive series growth, and I relived one of my favorite Mega Drive/Genesis games in Mercs - bless you, Evercade, for giving me infinite continues in my old age. I've no idea how I finished this back in the 90s.
Final Fight is here too, and while Streets of Rage 2 still stands way above it, this game has held up remarkably well, much more than the painful-to-play Double Dragon series. There are also three Mega Man games, Strider, Bionic commando, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, Forgotten Worlds, the original Breath of Fire, and more. The bundled Irem cart packs in more classics like R-Type, Battle Chopper, and the first western release of the excellent Lighting Swords.
Button remapping is currently absent, but it’s being worked on for a future update. It would certainly be extra handy in games like 1943, where the rarely used screen-clearing bomb requires a single button press of A, but the essential loop (an aerial dodge move) is activated by pressing A+B together. I do like how the controls for each game are viewable on the system’s pause menu, though as it’s great for getting to grips with unfamiliar games.
The option to use HDMI-out to a TV is sadly broken again. The original Evercade lost connection and reset the console upon slight movement. On the EXP, the connection is more secure. However, while the menu dashboard had sound on TV, upon diving into a game, the sound would only play through the console itself. If you removed the cable, the display would not return, and I would have to reboot.
And you have to supply your own Micro HDMI cable/converter. Almost as if they didn't want you to use this mode because it's not functional. It's a shame as I really want to play the Capcom games on the TV, which makes the lack of a cart version all the harder to bear, especially for existing Evercade owners not wanting to upgrade for just a single set of games, classics though they may be.
The save system is now better equipped to handle multiple saves on a game. Thanks to the clearer slot menu and a dedicated quick save function, it's much easier to manage multiple saves on a single game.
Quick save is new and right at the top of the system menu, so if you have to cheese your way through, you won't have to access irritable menu trees as quick load is right beneath it too. Even so, assigning these to the shoulder buttons would be handy. Overall though, being able to save wherever you want and a button to pump in as many extra quarters as you want is a lovely quality of life improvement for my aging skills, even if continue points vary between titles from on-the-spot respawns to back to the start of the level.
Given this little cheats miracle, it's hard not to feel that maybe more options could have been included. A turbo mode for action button inputs, a regular feature of many a dodgy third-party controller for just holding down a button instead of mashing it would have saved me some sore hands on many of these shooters. I'd totally be down for a shameless infinite health mode in some titles where you're dumped back to the start from cheap one-hit kills, but there's the quick save/load function if I must see the end credits on everything.
The lack of a sleep mode stings too, especially given the quickfire nature of many of these games' stages, which are perfect for ad breaks and half-time (or a whole afternoon as the battery is good for around five hours). The speakers are great, but if you're commuting, it’s wired headphones only as there's no Bluetooth. Given this is highest price yet for an Evercade, going for extra touches like this should be becoming the norm.
Should you buy the Evercade EXP?
When all’s said and done though, the Evercade EXP is a marked improvement on the original and the games library continues to grow with a strong selection of titles. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the next version gets some analog sticks and dives into some 2000s titles. However, anyone on the hunt for a high-end retro device will take great pride in adding this device to their collection.
How I tested the Evercade EXP
Having reviewed all the previous Evercade models, I could test not only the built-in Capcom games and the Irem and Toaplan carts supplied in my review sample but a range of the other carts too. I regularly put the same games into the new EXP and the original Evercade to compare them visually and examine how systems and menus have changed. I also tried the EXP on my TV via my own adapter and cable (none are supplied). My play sessions would vary from quick fire 5-15 minutes or a few hours at a time, slowly developing claw hand and erasing what's left of my left thumbprint in SFII. For more information on how we make product recommendations, check out the full GamesRadar+ Hardware Policy.
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