The Evercade VS is the upgraded follow-up to the handheld Evercade we reviewed back in 2020, an ace little device that hosted a range of very retro games, and thus earned a spot on our highlights of the best retro consoles you can buy.
The VS console supports the same cartridges as the handheld, individually released collections from some of gaming's giants of the past. All in, the Evercade family now boasts close to 300 officially-licensed games released on these lovingly packaged carts that come with a manual too. The new purple-packaged series of games focus more on older arcade titles rather than retro consoles this time around as well.
The handheld console did have a Mini HDMI out option to connect to a TV, but it was seriously unreliable as even modest movements would lose the connection and the handheld would reset. So it was basically handheld only.
But now the Evercade VS is a console designed for your TV and it will upscale a host of classics to 1080p with a proper HDMI connection, and you can enjoy them on a newly-designed controller (or two if you opt for the Premium pack).
Undeniably retro, and small enough (13x20x5cm) to fit into the cramped collection of any console collector, the Evercade VS is glorious to behold with its white design and red motifs.
Half of the top of the console lifts on a hinge to reveal two cartridge slots. If you have a bunch of Evercade carts already, you'll not have to swap them in and out as often as the handheld now, which is great for giving some of your lesser-known games a bit more exposure.
The carts themselves are the same design, but thankfully the slots on the Evercade VS aren't as tight as they were on the handheld, so you won't be scared of breaking anything when trying to pull them out this time.
Around the back, you have a full-sized HDMI slot (you'll have to supply your own HDMI cable though), a reset button, and a Micro-USB slot for the supplied USB cable. The USB cable doesn't include a plug, but you should be able to use any phone charger plug with a USB slot on it. Better yet, you might find the USB slot on your TV has enough juice to run the console with no need for a plug at all. Seeing as the plug situation around my console/TV area is a hot mess, this was fine with me.
As for the controller, you're getting a very generous, and very cool, 10-foot red cable which I can't tell you how much I love after decades of black/grey cables. Given the low price point, cabled controllers are fine here and I'm very much on board with the retro nostalgia it provides even if both me and the cat have tripped up over it a few times - ok, it was just me that tripped over it, the cat just stares at it while I try to explain how this is what we all had to deal with in the '80s and '90s.
The controller's button layout feels quite modern considering most of the games will barely use half of them anyway, especially the shoulder buttons. The face buttons have a fair bit of depth to them, but the actuation point is near and the buttons spring back pleasingly enough - I hated older controller buttons that had that mushy feel.
The shoulder buttons are really thin, especially the foremost ones, but when you're barely using them, it's not a concern really. Along with your start/select buttons, there's a system menu button to take you back home or open up the quick save/loading options - oh yes, you can totally cheese your way to victory, not to mention pressing the select button essentially puts more coins into the game giving you extra continues when you fail. Seriously, some of these games would have cost a goddamn fortune to finish back in an arcade.
As with many controller designs over the years, we can add the Evercade to the list of them with a shitty D-pad. There's just so much wobble to the damn thing and it's raised oddly high - you can see right inside the housing when you tilt it. It's generally fine but does struggle with precise directional inputs with second presses often required, which will see you hit Game Over screens on a frustrating number of games that require last-ditch reflexes to survive.
We're talking missed corner turns in the Pac-Man-like Lock 'N' Chase, getting the shit slapped out of you repeatedly in Double Dragon 3 because your character won't turn around, or you'll miss a move in the Block Out, a 3D Tetris clone that is otherwise a massive highlight and one of the best games I'd never heard of before popping the Technos Arcade cart in.
There's an ever-growing list of supported third-party controllers on the Evercade website that are compatible when connected via USB though. I tested a rather filthy wired Xbox 360 controller I found in the GamesRadar office cupboards and the D-pad inputs were noticeably better straight away.
It's a bit of a shame that you might be tempted to resort to a different controller, as the software itself and the vast majority of games run very well from a technical standpoint.
Burger Time sometimes freezes up for a while if you're mashing buttons for a restart on the Game Over screen. Whenever you use the quick save option on any title, the game will do an awkward freeze for half a second or so and the audio briefly distorts. But all in all, it's a smooth experience with very few crashes or bugs.
You're able to choose from a nice range of visual settings. Ratio options include Original ratio, Pixel Perfect (aims for the originally intended resolution without stretching the image), or fullscreen if you want to fill your TV's display. You can also adjust how many (if any) scanlines you want.
The background bezel selection if you're playing in the intended ratios are disappointing though as there are only a handful. It's a real missed opportunity to have a unique one for each game, perhaps replicating the artwork on the arcade cabinet. The Evercade VS has Wi-Fi though and has had a few patches already, so fingers crossed something like this might come along later.
The Evercade VS supports all Evercade carts, with the notable exception of the Namco ones, seemingly due to a licensing issue. And while I'll never mourn Pac-Man, I dearly missed the opportunity to fire up Splatterhouse 2 on my TV for the first time since the 90s, and finally finish the damn thing (with help from the quick save feature) - I just couldn't gel with the controls on the handheld Evercade for it.
As to be expected, pretty much every game included in the VS collections is rock hard. Seriously, kids were getting ripped off to an unbelievable degree with some of the cheap deaths suffered here.
Side-scrolling beat 'em up fans might get a kick from Double Dragon 3 and the much more stylish Combat Tribes. Double Dragon 2 and its left/right punching system needs to be scrubbed from history though. Although to be fair, the series has always seemed trash compared to Streets of Rage, and retro or no, it's hard to forgive it - come fight me. I can totally recommend Gate of Doom though as a fun isometric mashup of Golden Axe and Gauntlet - especially in multiplayer.
Elsewhere, Battle Lane Vol 5 is a game I want to love as a vertical scrolling shooter that puts you on a motorbike, but the difficulty level from the off seems hell-bent on stealing as many quarters as possible in a short amount of time. That or we were all just a lot sharper back in the 80s - however, the fashion and collection of dumbass kids in Stranger Things suggest otherwise.
Tumblepop is an interesting platformer where you suck up enemies with a rainbow vacuum cleaner in a neat precursor to Luigi's Mansion. Block Out is a fantastic discovery for any Tetris fan as it's basically a 3D version. If it was released today, you'd hope you'd be able to control the camera as it's difficult to orientate yourself from a fixed viewpoint. And if you're into match 3 VS games then be sure to take a look at Chain Reaction.
Older gamers, or anyone curious about some big hitters from back in the day, would do well to grab the Atari VS cartridge as it's packed with titles like Missile Command, Lunar Lander, Centipede, Super Breakout, Pong, Liberator, and more. All incredibly dated in terms of visuals, but undeniably historic titles.
My favorite of this new VS collection though by far is a title called Warlords, where you face off against 3 opponents (AI or multiplayer) by trying to deflect a fireball to take down their castles to reach the destruction point in the middle while trying to defend your own. Your movements are limited to the edges of your own castle in an L-shape and the controls are very fast. I'm not even that good at it, but it's insanely fun, even if the AI clearly team up against you, toying with you by effortlessly volleying the fireball between them for ages, forcing you to watch before they unleash it in your direction. Add in some human players and it's arguably the best game of the lot. It's probably the best 'retro' multiplayer game I've played since Towerfall: Ascension in 2013 and I want a new version on modern consoles right now - not another version of Resi 4, thank you very much.
The Gaelco cart is an interesting curiosity as it features games never released in Western markets. Alligator Hunt is a fun fixed-point arcade shooter. Glass is a mix of shooting and screen-clearing collecting (oddly easy compared to most other games mentioned today, but fun nonetheless). World Rally is a great racing title that runs at an obscene speed and is brutally unforgiving as far as time limits go, but ultimately very satisfying when you get into the zone, even if the zone is often reached by overuse of the quick save function.
Should you buy the Evercade VS?
The toughest sell for Evercade VS remains the same one as the handheld original's, although enthusiasts might see it as one of the highlights. With the nature of the cartridges limiting the games on each cartridge to a single publisher, you'll find the best games are spread out across multiple carts and extra purchases. There's no digital option or just a simple pass to unlock everything or pick up individual titles as you like.
However, if you're a big retro fan and perhaps have a greater appreciation for more of these titles from back in the day, or are keen to dive into the history of our favorite pastime, then there's arguably no better place to do it - legally, at least.
If you enjoyed the original Evercade and want something of a hardware upgrade, namely reliable TV support, then you can put this down as essential as it fixes the biggest problem with that smooth HDMI connection to your TV. If you never picked up the handheld, then picking up the VS instead is an easy choice.
How we tested the Evercade VS
The review unit we were supplied was the Evercade VS Premium Pack which comes with two controllers and two cartridges. We were also sent two other VS cartridges to test out.
I hooked up the Evercade to a 55-inch Ambilight TV and spent a few weekends ploughing through the games supplied. Some for about 10 minutes (there are some stinkers), but others for hours at a time until I got that classic thumb burn from the D-Pad. I was also able to test out a wide range of cartridges from the original handheld Evercade console.
While Evercade VS does support a small number of 4-player titles, I only tested titles in 1 and 2-player mode. Some brief testing was done with an older wired Xbox 360 controller too.