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Evercade’s New Arcade Cartridges Offer More Amazing Coin-Op Obscurities

Mike Diver

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| Last updated 

Evercade’s New Arcade Cartridges Offer More Amazing Coin-Op Obscurities

Featured Image Credit: Blaze Entertainment

While it launched alongside a collection of compilations focused on old-school home computer and 8- and 16-bit console games, Blaze's Evercade range - currently encompassing a launch handheld, the four-player-compatible VS home console, and the forthcoming EXP portable which will update and replace the original system - feels like it’s found a groove of wider audience appeal with its new series of arcade releases, which started when the VS came out. 

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First came carts full of old Atari, Technos, Data East and Gaelco titles, which veered from familiar favourites like Burger Time and Double Dragon 2 to, well, everything that was on the Gaelco cart: lesser-known (it not outright never-heard-of) games that turned out to be quite magnificent in some instances. When the EXP emerges in November, it’ll do so beside arcade carts full of Irem and Toaplan coin-ops, including the classic shooters R-Type and Truxton. And between these two batches of oldies we now get another attractive pairing: a second collection of fascinating Gaelco oddities and the first arcade-specific volume from Jaleco.

Check out the trailer for the Evercade’s new arcade collections below

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Starting with Jaleco - a name that’s already featured in the Evercade library, on a console game collection - we get eight games dating from between 1988 and 1993. Amongst the set’s most immediately appealing options (which is to say I know them well already, so plenty of other players will too) are the side-scrolling beat ‘em up 64th Street: A Detective Story, which isn’t about to win any like-for-like comparisons with Streets of Rage 2 or other elite-level games in the genre, but is still a lot of knuckles-cracking fun; the cutesy but challenging puzzle-platformer Rod Land, which is just as fun as Taito’s Bubble Bobble, against which it’s long been measured; and E.D.F. Earth Defence Force, not to be confused with D3’s series of chaotic blast ‘em ups full of giant bugs but instead a widely ported horizontal shooter with levelling-up mechanics. 

Dig deeper and there are some fascinating treats to be had. Cybattler is a vertical but surprisingly multi-directional shooter that leans into the Japanese appetite for gargantuan mechas smashing each other apart and arms your robotic protagonist with both a laser gun and a sword for close-quarter slicing and dicing. It’s great, and I get the feeling it’ll really shine when played using the EXP’s flipped-over TATE mode. Avenging Spirit starts with the player character being killed, after which you control their ghost, possessing enemies on your way to saving your kidnapped girlfriend and thwarting a gang’s plot to use ghost energy (really) for nefarious means. It sounds goofy, and it plays like a breezy action-platformer bursting with cartoon silliness for the most part, before closing on… y’know what, no spoilers, but do see it to its end. 

Cybattler / Credit: Blaze Entertainment, Jaleco
Cybattler / Credit: Blaze Entertainment, Jaleco
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Completing this set are the shooter Saint Dragon, the fantasy side-scroller The Astyanax (better known from its NES port), and P-47: The Phantom Fighter, another side-on shooter which was converted to platforms including the ZX Spectrum, PC Engine and Commodore 64. All of the eight games here offer decent bang for hardly any buck due to this cart, like most of the Evercade range, generally retailing for £17.99 - so about £2.25 per game. And just like all other Evercade carts, Jaleco Arcade 1 comes complete with a full-colour manual with information on each game, control guides and a little background on the publisher itself. Also inside the box are two double-sided art cards for the games E.D.F., Cybattler, Saint Dragon and Rod Land, which show off what I assume to be original flyers for the titles in question. They’re on thick cardboard, and look very nice indeed; and the same extras carry over into the Gaelco Arcade 2 collection, where four of its six games - TH Strikes Back: Thunder Hoop 2, Maniac Square, World Rally 2 and Big Karnak - receive the same treatment. And, of course, there’s a manual included. No corners cut, the Evercade’s consistent high-quality presentation remains intact.

And if the names of those games mean nothing to you, welcome to the club! When the first Gaelco collection came out in 2021, I knew nothing of the Spanish developer’s games, or existence frankly - but I quickly clicked with the bizarre shooter Alligator Hunt and surreal side-scroller Biomechanical Toy, never-played-before experiences that were so weird but so darn playable that they immediately elevated their cart to one of my Evercade favourites of the year (maybe second only to Codemasters). This second collection might not quite be as compelling as its predecessor, but it sure has its winners. Thunder Hoop 2, from 1994, is a gory run-and-gunner with a wonky rock guitar soundtrack that feels much improved over its predecessor from the previous collection - and it’s mercifully easier, too (translation: still rock hard, but it feels a little fairer at least). Squash is, well, squash funnily enough, but in arcade game form and unexpectedly compelling - invite a friend over and get it on the VS, and don’t be surprised if the time flies by. Sticking to sports, Touch and Go isn’t a game based on the music of The Jesus Lizard or Butthole Surfers, sadly, but a simple and accessible take on beach volleyball which is again best enjoyed in two-player mode.

TH Strikes Back: Thunder Hoop 2 / Credit: Blaze Entertainment, Gaelco
TH Strikes Back: Thunder Hoop 2 / Credit: Blaze Entertainment, Gaelco
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Maniac Square is the weakest game here, for my tastes at least, a puzzler that plays a little like SEGA’s Columns. Dating from 1989, Big Karnak is a left-to-right action-platformer in the Ghouls ‘n Ghosts vein set in Ancient Egypt and, while it’s certainly showing its age, it proves to be a terrific time, full of large sprites and a smattering of mythological nasties. The sixth and final game up is World Rally 2, a time-trial racer viewed from a semi-isometric perspective. It came out in 1995 and would have looked incredibly old-fashioned beside the likes of Sega Rally, but there’s definitely something about how your car of choice careens around its fast-paced stages. (At least, it careens - and skids, and flips, and rolls - when I’m at the wheel.) But that’s not quite all - if you own a VS and the first Gaelco cart, pop the pair into your dual-slot console at the same time and see what happens. 

Evercade’s ongoing arcade output has largely eschewed obvious names for now - not that fans aren’t vocal about wanting collections from the likes of Konami, SEGA and Capcom, as likely as those may or may not be - and in my option that’s a big plus, setting its range apart from so many other ways to legally play coin-op games from the past. Before Evercade picked up Gaelco I’d never even heard of the company, and exploring the rarer and weirder corners of companies like Jaleco, Data East and Technos has been an awesome journey of discovery. If the arcade carts aren’t your flavour, there are a couple of multi-game carts coming out alongside the above-covered pair, the Morphcat Games Collection 1 and Intellivision Collection 2, offering modern-retro entertainment (including Micro Mages and Space Gulls) and 1980s throwbacks respectively (interesting aside: the Intellivision was the world’s first 16-bit games console when it launched back in 1979). Each has its audience, but for this retro-liking follower of video gaming evolution, having the arcade experience not just at home but wherever I take the Evercade handheld is what it’s all about. Roll on Irem and Toaplan.

The Jaleco Arcade 1 and Gaelco Arcade 2 cartridges are available to pre-order now from the usual Evercade stockists and set to ship in July 2022. The Morphcat Games Collection 1 and Intellivision Collection 2 carts are available to buy right now from those very same stockists. Covered cartridges supplied by Blaze Entertainment. 

Topics: Evercade, Retro Gaming

Mike Diver
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