The Retro Gaming market has been growing rapidly in the past few years. Contrary to popular belief by large corporations, there is a large number of people with an interest in playing games that are more than one console generation old. This has led to a dedicated and often vocal community of gamers who have taken matters into their own hands, creating some truly exceptional products to either enhance, or outright replace old hardware.
The trouble is, getting into this hobby can be fraught with problems and unforeseen expenses. Plus, collecting old games has become an often price prohibitive affair. A particular favorite game may now sell for hundreds of dollars on the second-hand market, putting some games out of the reach of most people.
A small company out of the UK named Blaze Entertainment Ltd. has released a line of retro gaming handhelds and consoles that take a much more down-to-earth approach to the hobby, offering a reasonably priced entry point, and reasonably priced games.
Here Comes A New Challenger!
Following on from 2020’s Evercade Handheld, the Evercade VS is Blaze’s latest entry into the retro gaming market. A consolized version of the Evercade hardware. It features a 1.4Ghz Quad Core ARM processor, the specific one was not mentioned, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of Internal storage. By modern standards, these specs don’t seem all that impressive. It doesn’t take all that much power to emulate games up to the Sony PlayStation, so the hardware in the Evercade VS is more than suited to play the kinds of games on offer.
At the front, the unit has four USB ports for plug-and-play local multiplayer. The handheld was always a single player affair, so this is a big improvement. There is a swing-up door on the front of the console that reveals the two cartridge slots. Modern systems have made hot-swappable media a fairly common thing, but it’s still nice to see that you don’t have to power off the system, switch cartridges, and then wait for it to boot back up any time you want to play different games. The fact that it has two slots lets you keep a good number of games on tap, without having to get up and continually swap out cartridges.
Around the back are the HDMI input and the Micro-USB power input. It does not come with either a HDMI or USB power adapter, so you’ll have to provide these yourself. I understand making cuts to keep the price down, but for me, at least a power supply should always be included with a device. While most people will have one USB power brick laying around, it’s inevitable that one of these systems will find their way into the hands of someone who just doesn’t have a spare handy. There is nothing more frustrating than getting your new system out of the box and then not being able to play it. I might be old-fashioned, but given this is a system that’s trying to capture the magic of old gaming consoles, all of which would have come with power and video connection cables, it’s a slightly annoying omission. If you’re considering gifting one of these to a friend or loved one, be sure to pick up a USB power brick and HDMI cable.
When I started plugging it all in is also when I ran into a few minor quality issues. The Micro-USB port on the back of my system was incredibly stiff, making the cable difficult to insert and remove. I also have a small quirk with the right cartridge slot of my system, which was also stiff. It was far easier to insert and remove cartridges from the left slot than it was from the right one. Both slots work, but once a cartridge is in the right slot, it wanted to hold onto it with a death grip. These are minor issues, but it does seem like something Blaze may wish to look closer at during the QC process.
After several months of use, though, all of these connection points have loosened up a bit. The right cartridge slot is still pretty tight, but not as bad as it was when I initially got the system. Both slots still function correctly, too. Cartridges are always recognized when they’re inserted.
Have You Seen The Games?
In keeping with the vintage console theme, the Evercade VS is a physical-only console. It plays small cartridges that slide into the two cartridge slots. Each cartridge comes with between two and twenty games, and retail for $20 each. Much like the old gaming systems of the early 1980s, each release is assigned a number. So, if you want to go for that complete set, you have an easy way to keep track. It shows that Blaze know their audience very well. They’re catering to the collecting mindset, but they’re still keeping things affordable.
Each cartridge is packaged in a small clamshell case, and includes a full color manual. This is great on the surface, but I’ve run into instances where the collection’s compilation manual is either lacking in information that the original game’s manual had, or the information in the manual was actually incorrect. While misprints and errors did happen back in the day, making games more difficult than they needed to be, we’re talking about games that haven’t changed in decades. It would have been nice if Blaze had put in a little more info into the manuals, and checked it against the games a bit more thoroughly. While there isn’t anything here that’s completely game-breaking, I have had to go out onto the internet and look up PDF of a particular game’s original manual to get clarification on something that was printed in the Evercade‘s cartridge manuals.
The VS plays (most of) the same cartridges as the handheld version. I say most of, because there are two that will not work, due to Blaze being unable to come to terms with Namco-Bandai for favorable licensing. Those are the Namco Museum Collection 1 and 2. Other than that, every currently released Evercade cartridge works on the VS system. I am hoping this licensing issue will get sorted out eventually, some of the games on those two Namco collections were games I wanted to play.
With the VS launch, Blaze have also started a new series of cartridges featuring Arcade games. As of this writing, there are currently six cartridges in the Arcade series. The first two of which, the Technos Arcade Collection 1 and Data East Arcade Collection 1 are included in the Evercade VS Premium Pack.
Being able to play the arcade versions of Double Dragon II, Bad Dudes, Burger Time, The Combatribes and many others easily, on my home TV is a wonderful experience. I was particularly pleased to see the inclusion of the obscure Gate of Doom and Wizard Fire on the Data East collection. The former was a game I’ve played a good deal of, back at the corner video store as a youth. The latter was a game I had heard of, but never seen a cabinet in the wild.
This mix of popular and deep cuts is why the Evercade collections are so appealing. You’ll get to play games you remember, and discover new ones you haven’t. Some time and consideration clearly went into picking what titles to include. It’s not just a deluge of roms in a list. The cartridges are themed to a specific developer or publisher, and sometimes the game selections will be sub-themed to a genre as well.
The only issue that I have with the arcade cartridges is the inability to adjust the arcade game’s dip switch settings. Arcade games generally were designed to separate you from your coins in as short a time as possible, so being able to adjust the game’s difficulty for a more casual home environment would have been a nice touch. It’s possible that this may get added in a future update.
Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A
The Evercade VS controller that comes bundled with the system is a blending of two of my favorite controllers. I can even imagine how it all came to be, too.
It’s early in the evening at A-Life. Hudson, the long-standing stalwart controller that’s served the PC Engine for decades, is hanging out at his table, enjoying a drink. His eye is drawn to a sleek, elegant form making her way past him toward the bar. Sonya, the original PlayStation controller is out for a bit of fun. Since Delilah the Dualshock took over for her, she’s had a lot of free time, and she thinks now might be a good time to find a mate and make a new life for herself.
Hudson slides up to her at the bar. They exchange pleasantries, and lo-and-behold, before they know it, they’re talking about everything. Hudson is taken by Sonya’s fun-loving personality and keen intellect, while Sonya finds Hudson’s austere gravitas to be enticing.
The two share drinks, then, C&C Music Factory’s Gonna Make You Sweat starts blasting over the speakers. Well, there was no way either of them was going to sit for that song, so off to the dance floor they went!
Months later, the two are happily married, taking care of their first child, Everett, the Evercade VS controller.
Everett has their mother’s face buttons and shoulders, while inheriting their father’s D-Pad and frame. The result is comfortable to use for a long period of time. Everett also acquired a nice long cord, so you can play from a good distance away. The D-Pad is responsive, as are the face buttons. I would’ve preferred those face buttons to have been a bit bigger, but I have sausage thumbs, so for most people this won’t be an issue.
When I first started using the controller, I was getting occasional unintentional double-taps when pressing a direction. I’m not sure if it’s because of a break-in period, or this was a problem that got fixed in a firmware update, but I haven’t had any problems with unintentional double-taps in a while.
If Everett doesn’t get along well with you, the Evercade VS also supports a number of third party controllers, too. I’ve personally tried 8BitDo and Xbox Series controllers, and both have worked just fine with the system.
Loading… Please Wait…
Now that you have a good idea of what the system is, let’s go over how it works. On startup, you’re presented with a few setup steps to go through. You’ll be asked to choose a language, configure your WiFi, and then it will check for firmware updates and offer to update the system. Once all of that is done, you’ll be brought to the system’s main menu, where you can choose a game to play. Selecting a game brings up an information screen where you get a brief synopsis of the game, and the controller map so you can see what buttons do what. Just select play and the game loads up and you’re ready to play.
Pressing the menu button brings up the system fly-out menu, where you can save a game state, load a previously saved state, adjust display options, and a handful of other options. If you want to remap your controller, you have to do this as a global setting in the game’s settings menu. Per-game mappings are not a part of the system yet, and really should be.
There are a number of Display Settings to choose from. For aspect ratio, you have an Original Aspect Ratio option, a Pixel-Perfect option, and a Fullscreen stretch option. I’d avoid the Fullscreen option entirely, as it makes everything look stretched and distorted. Original will fill the screen horizontally, but can lead to scrolling artifacts. Pixel Perfect doesn’t completely fill the screen, leaving some vertical space at the top and bottom. Scrolling with this mode is much better, so I tend to leave it on this setting. There are also options for Subtle and Strong scanlines, and options for screen bezels. I personally leave both of these settings off, as I don’t like how dark the scanline options make the image.
Finally, we get to the quality of the emulation itself. For the most part, this is very well done. Whether you’re playing an Atari 2600 game, a SNES game, or a PlayStation game, the gameplay is smooth and the controls are responsive. I have noticed an occasional audio glitch here and there, but this only seems to come up when I save a game state, and the game seems to catch up quickly after that.
If you were to really go through and compare and contrast how the Evercade VS emulates games to the original hardware, it’s likely you’ll find some shortcomings. But when you’re just sitting down to play a game, the convenience that this system offers is hard to beat. I never felt as if I was playing an inferior version of the games I liked by playing them on the Evercade VS.
Save & Exit?
Since I bought this system in February of 2022, I have been enjoying the library of games available for it. There have been a number of games from Jaleco, Data East, Technos that still hold up to this day. Granted, not every game on each cartridge is a winner. Some of the Homebrew games developed by enthusiasts and offered on three of the cartridges I own aren’t my cup of tea, but that’s actually fine. While it’s great that the system licenses and publishes older titles, the most exciting part for me is that these independent developers get a platform to publish their games and make some money.
Now that the system is proving itself, Blaze is working to get higher profile titles on the platform. So hopefully, in 2023, we’ll see bigger and more widely-known games coming soon. There are hints of this with the upcoming release of the Evercade EXP handheld having built-in Capcom titles, as a value-add. The trouble is, if you own a VS,those titles are not available as a cartridge. There’s an established user base already that would love to have those titles, and it would be pretty dumb of Capcom to not do a standalone release. They would literally be leaving money on the table by not doing so. Hopefully, rational heads will prevail and we’ll see this release.
On the whole though, if you want a simple to use, easy to enjoy system that doesn’t make you jump through hoops to play some retro games, and you want to do it legally, this is it. Blaze Entertainment have a wonderful product, and I look forward to seeing where this goes.