Evercade ‘Renovation Collection 1’ Review: Expensive Games In A Great-Value Compilation
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Featured Image Credit: Evercade/Blaze Entertainment, Renovation Products Inc
At the time of writing, the most recent completed eBay sale of El Viento for the SEGA Mega Drive went for £160. The 1991-released action-platformer by Japanese developers Wolf Team is a colourful and challenging affair in which you assume the role of a sorceress called Annet, tossing deadly boomerangs at denim-clad bikers and casting magic towards chaps cosplaying as Dick Tracy. It’s fun, tricky, definitely a little broken in places but generally worth checking out if you’re a fan of games like Shinobi and Strider. But £160? Absolutely not. Even for collectors, that’s a huge amount of money for a distinctly average video game.
Let’s stick with Wolf Team’s games on the Mega Drive, and look at their mecha-themed shooter Final Zone. The last completed sale for this isometric action title - actually the third game in its series, confusingly - is £92 for the US (Genesis) version. Another action-platformer with magical powers to play around with, Valis III isn’t a Wolf Team creation, instead developed by Nihon Telenet, but it’s almost as expensive to pick up today - the last complete eBay listing going for £78. That’s three curious, comprehensively under-the-radar Mega Drive games that all shared the same publisher in the US and Japan, Renovation - and to buy all three will cost you more than a brand-new Nintendo Switch.
Watch gameplay from the Renovation Collection I in the video below…
Or, you could invest in an Evercade handheld console for whatever they’re selling for nowadays, two years since the launch of the retro-focused system (our review, here; or you could buy the home version, the VS, and play on your TV), and pick up its new Renovation Collection I for the low cost of £17.99. It’s an option, is what I’m saying.
On the new cartridge - number 23 in the Evercade library so far, discounting its four arcade collections - you get Valis III, Final Zone and El Viento, as well as nine further games (all 16-bit) ranging from sci-fi shooters to traditional swords-and-sorcery RPGs. They’re not all brilliant, nor as wanted by collectors as the aforementioned wallet-wrecking trio, but this is a release that finds the Evercade ecosystem at its best. When it gives players the chance to own, on physical media, hard-to-find games that’d usually be beyond most budgets, that to me is when this platform really shines.
Yes, cartridges featuring games from Codemasters (including Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder), the Worms series, The Bitmap Brothers (The Chaos Engine, Speedball 2), Atari and Interplay (Earthworm Jim) have their merits, of course. But these better-known names often only offer what you’ve already played, what you’re familiar with, rather than something old yet new, rare but suddenly obtainable.
Which is why cartridge 24 in the Evercade library (check out our rating of carts 1 to 16, here), released at the same time as Renovation Collection I, doesn’t really compare. It includes six games from Gremlin, a commonly-sighted name on home computer and console games in the 1980s and ‘90s. On it is Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension (more words on that sweet-toothed platformer, here), Premier Manager 97, Hardcore 4x4, Utopia: The Creation of a Nation, Brain Bender and Actua Soccer. Some good games there, absolutely; and in the case of Actua Soccer and Hardcore 4x4, more showcasing of how adept the Evercade consoles are at handing 32-bit PlayStation games. But compared to what’s on the Renovation cart, it’s all a bit… boring? Maybe that's harsh, but to me the Gremlin cart just doesn't have the wow factor of its release-window companion.
It’s the exotic allure of the Renovation games - which comes from their rarity today, and the fact that they were never released in Europe back in the ‘90s - that makes them so desirable as an addition to the Evercade library. Like the two Piko Interactive collections before it, it’s making the unobtainable easily available, and that’s something I have a lot of time for in an era where we’re letting so many video games disappear instead of properly preserving them (words to that effect, here).
Of course, some of you reading this will now mutter something under your breath about emulation, or even head to the comments to tell us about how you can play these games anytime on your Pi, or your smartphone, or a hacked PSP, or whatever. And that, too, is an option. I’ve got a little box downstairs that’s full of around 40,000 ROMs, so I’m not beyond using emulators myself - but I still really enjoy this commitment to producing above-board, properly licensed compilations of appealing content, released on proper cartridges with full artwork and (gasp) manuals as well.
So what else do we have on this single cart, then? As well as Valis III there’s the original Valis - brilliantly subtitled The Fantasm Soldier - and both are decent side-scrolling action titles where a little more speed wouldn’t have gone amiss. Sol-Deace is a horizontal shooter set in space that some of you will have played before, as it was bundled with the SEGA Mega CD in the UK as Sol-Feace. Of a similar style but bolder of visuals is Gaiares (last eBay sale, £109!), which complements its frenetic action with anime-style cutscenes.
Elsewhere, Arcus Odyssey assumes the same isometric perspective as Final Zone but is fantasy themed, the player selecting one of four heroes to quest for the stolen Sword of Leaty. It’s great, arcade-style stuff, but with some steep difficulty. Granada is another shooter, set in a futuristic Africa (well, in 2016 - it was the future at the time) where the player controls a very small tank against some really large ones (it’s better than I’m making it out to be, really). Traysia is an unremarkable RPG (£30 for just an “acceptable” condition cart on eBay, that), but from the same genre Exile offers deeper delights and focuses its action on a Syrian assassin by the name of Sadler - hardly a common protagonist, there - and originally featured real-world locations including Baghdad and Babylon. Beast Wrestler is a wrestling game in which you control beasts - does what it says on the tin, pretty much, and isn’t the most intuitive game to get to grips with - and Dinoland is a pinball game that's fine enough for short bursts but compares poorly to Psycho Pinball on the Codemasters cart.
If you’re the kind of player who not only enjoys digging into gaming’s past, but also checking out games that we never properly got to experience in Europe, Renovation Collection I is a must. It’s easily one of the best Evercade cartridges yet, and is another proof of concept - if another was needed - that this is a platform that can take the pain out of retro collecting like nothing else. £160 for one game? And you can’t even easily play it on the bus? Pfft.
Pros: hugely expensive games for hardly any money at all; the best titles here are still fun to play in 2022; included manual (remember those?) is full of info on the games and Renovation itself
Cons: I mean, it’s all an acquired taste, isn’t it? The score below is for people into this stuff - those of you who can’t look at a 16-bit game without feeling queasy, move along.
For fans of: Shinobi, R-Type, Wizard Fire/Gate of Doom, (re)discovering retro gold
Evercade Renovation Collection I and Gremlin Collection I are available now. Cartridges provided by the publisher, Blaze Entertainment, for testing purposes. Find a guide to GAMINGbible’s review scores here.