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Evercade’s EXP Handheld Is A Headturner Loaded With Capcom Classics

Evercade’s EXP Handheld Is A Headturner Loaded With Capcom Classics

Blaze’s new handheld lets you see retro delights differently

Announced back in May 2022, the Evercade EXP is the next step in Blaze Entertainment’s family of retro-leaning consoles, all of which are compatible with a growing library of multi-game cartridges (boxed, with manuals, ever so collectible). Due to release at the end of 2022, the EXP’s twist is that it can play games in both landscape and portrait, meaning that its healthy selection of vertical-scrolling shooters aren’t painfully squeezed by thick borders. It’s also more powerful than its handheld predecessor, the original Evercade console released in 2020, with an improved screen (so crisp!), 4GB of memory (I’ll get to that!), and it can connect to the TV for bigger-screen play at 720p (absolutely fine for the retro games that Evercade typically supports). 

Here’s a photo of the EXP, in (my) hand at Gamescom 2022…

The Evercade EXP /
the author

Picking up a non-final, non-retail model of the EXP at Gamescom, in the company of a couple of Blaze reps so I don’t leg it out of the Koelnmesse with it, I’m immediately struck by how premium this feels in comparison to the lighter original Evercade. The weight isn’t quite balanced on this prototype model but it’s pretty close to the end design, and it sits somewhere closer to the Vita in terms of fingertip tactileness than Blaze’s previous product. It’s hard to really explain but you know when something of a higher quality’s been put into your palms, and this is that. The face buttons are spot on, the D-pad remains of a good standard, and the IPS screen is a lot sharper than the portable before it. Basically, what this device promised on paper seems to be delivered in hand - and the switch to TATE-mode vertical play is effortless, simply requiring the press of a button on the underside of the unit. 

Check out the original EXP announcement trailer below…

Flipping the unit so that it sits upright for some Truxton and Flying Shark - both of which are included on the Toaplan Arcade 1 compilation cart that’ll release alongside the EXP - the console initially seems a little too long, too large - but that’s my own Game Boy form factor bias showing, because after a minute of play it’s clear that this is how these experiences were meant to be enjoyed. Dipping into Irem Arcade 1 - boxed with the EXP - I give the evergreen horizontal shooter R-Type a moment and yep, that’s the classic right there, just as playable on this (larger) pocket-sized contraption as it was the coin-op cabs of the late 1980s. I’m impressed - but then Evercade is yet to let me down with its hardware, and I remain a regular user of the home console VS with its dual-cart functionality.

The Evercade EXP in vertical TATE mode /
Blaze Entertainment

In a world where retro enthusiasts can choose to emulate almost any game without paying an entrance fee, there’s no doubt an argument in some quarters as to why you’d bother with a machine like this one. But the EXP is designed around two pillars of appeal. Firstly, it’s a fuss-free device that no user needs to overly tinker with to get working just as they want it to. It’s not like so many China-made retro handhelds (like the recently covered Anbernic RG353P for example) that claim simplicity but actually arrive with a plethora of options to get different platforms running correctly. You just put a cart into it, turn it on, and it’s all there - control mapping, screen filters, save slots, everything you need. Secondly, the cartridges that the Evercade runs are wonderful little things, proper physical releases with manuals, with numbers for collectors to count along with, and they’re so evidently compiled and created with care for the games they contain and the preservation they provide.

Here’s the EXP again, at Gamescom 2022 /
the author

But that’s not all the EXP offers, as in addition to the Irem collection that ships with the console as standard, it also features 18 built-in games from Capcom. While it’s a bit sad that Blaze couldn’t get the licence to manufacture a cartridge for this collection, its mix of arcade cuts and console bangers is a welcome extra. The usual suspects are here: Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, MERCS, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, Strider, 1944: The Loop Master, Final Fight and more appear in their arcade guises. Mega Man and its sequel are pulled from the 8-bit NES, and from the 16-bit SNES come Mega Man X and Breath of Fire. Very nice. Accessing these titles is simplicity itself: turn the EXP on, select the EXP icon from the menu, and presto. Several support TATE mode, and all the usual functionality regarding save slots and controls is intact.

What remains to be seen is what more can be done with the EXP’s on-board storage. With one of the key USPs of the Evercade family being its physical games, I can’t see a store opening up for traditional digital downloads like your eShops et al - but demos, trials, or bonus games unlocked with cartridge purchases? That feels more Evercade-y. The EXP is WiFi-enabled, unlike the first handheld, making system updates and the adding of software a breeze. No doubt some in the Evercade community will see the 4GB as a threat to what makes this special to them - the collection, the physical elements, the feel of the products and the ritual that is flicking through the manuals before diving into the games. But I’m fairly confident there’s little to worry about and that no full-blown digital revolution will be coming to this ecosystem now or in the future. 

The Evercade EXP releases on November 24 2022, with pre-orders open from September 6 at the official Evercade website.

Featured Image Credit: Blaze Entertainment

Topics: Evercade, Preview, Capcom, Retro Gaming