Having made an audacious yet bizarre play for the handheld space with Evercade, Blaze is back with a console for your telly. The VS is like a NES from another dimension, its boxy proportions and physical cartridges being a throwback to another time.
But there’s something appealing in a world awash with digital downloads about the VS using boxed carts (with printed manuals). And although the original Evercade already scratched that particular retro itch, the VS provides other angles to tempt collectors and fans of old-school gaming.
This is a retro console for a big-screen experience, feasting your eyes on pixels so big and sharp they could slice a salami. That’s a good thing for the many Evercade titles originally designed for home consoles and the arcades. (Yes, proper arcade conversions are now part of the line-up!)
But does the VS top the retro-gaming high-score table, or is this a case of oddball console ‘VS’ reality? Let’s find out.
Slots machine: There are two hot-swappable cartridge slots, with the VS making an endearing ker-chunk sound effect when a new one’s loaded. Dual slots might seem odd, but this means you can access more games at once, and it enables hidden secrets: a handful of cart combinations unlock bonus games.
Bring your own: The bundled controllers are fine. They won’t win any awards and we got D-pad fatigue after a long session, but they have 3m leads and were responsive enough that we didn’t get a kicking on Sensible Soccer. If you’re not keen, use (and custom map) your own 8BitDo, Switch, Xbox or PS5 gamepad.
Box clever: Classic consoles are chunky – and the VS definitely brings the chunk. But it looks good, with curved corners and an LED light strip that glows various colours during start-up before settling on the solid red strip of a Cylon. We liked the big power button too, which further cements the VS as friendly not fiddly.
Design of the times: The UI is slick to the point the competition should take notes. The select screen is all big cover art and reorder options. Game screens handily show control layouts. Settings let you mess with aspect ratios and bezels – although a ‘pixel perfect’ option doesn’t give you sharp pixel edges. A pity.
Altered states: In a merciful break from authenticity, the VS has a ‘quick save’ option and multiple save states. Saves are stored on the carts, so you can move progress between a VS and an Evercade handheld. Just be mindful the original Evercade’s more basic firmware doesn’t yet show screenshots of your states.
Put your game face on
Over 25 Evercade multi-game carts exist. We’ve played them all – and some are better suited to the VS than others. These are the ones to buy.
Data East Arcade 1: The best of the four new arcade carts, featuring bona fide classic Burger Time, Pac-Man rip-off Lock ’n’ Chase and two-player larks in platformer Tumblepop, frantic match puzzler Chain Reaction and Gauntlet wannabe Wizard Fire.
Atari Arcade 1: Some 1970s detritus here (Canyon Bomber; Night Driver) and games not intended for D-pads (Crystal Castles; Pong) suffer, but there’s tons of fun to be had with Asteroids, Centipede, Lunar Lander and four-player brick-breaker Warlords.
Mega Cat Studios Collection 2: This second set of new(ish) platform puzzlers for old systems shines – and most cost 30 quid each in their original form. Some are short, but all are grin-inducing fun. (The first Mega Cat cart is more varied and variable but also worth buying.)
Codemasters Collection 1: More like The Sensi Collection, given that the best bits are Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder. Most of the Codies games are iffy NES fare, but Bee 52 is a jolly shooter and Psycho Pinball is a top ball-smacker in the Pinball Dreams mould.
Xeno Crisis and Tanglewood: Only two games, but both are quality late-2010s Mega Drive fare originally funded on Kickstarter. Xeno Crisis is an intense Smash TV-style shooter; Tanglewood is an exploratory platform puzzler. You’ll be glad of save states when tackling these!
Piko Interactive Collection 1: Piko specialises in re-releases and ports for old systems, sometimes finishing unreleased games. You get 20(!) on this cart. A few duffers lurk, but it doesn’t matter when you’ve crackers like Top Racer, Switchblade and Water Margin.
Note: all carts are compatible with the original Everacde and the VS – apart from the two Namco collections, due to licensing reasons. Blaze hopes to rectify the Namco situation in the future.
Verdict: Evercade VS
Multiplayer and a vastly improved UI remove two Evercade flaws. Arcade carts instead of shoddy NES ports deal with another. The VS offers great value – especially the Premium Pack, which for £20 extra adds a controller and the fab Data East cart over the Starter Pack’s single controller and Technos cart.
No doubt detractors will bleat you could get a Pi or Chinese emulator box stuffed with ROMs for less (yo-ho-ho), and that many gaming classics remain absent from the line-up. They’re missing the point.
Evercade VS is like rummaging around retro-gaming’s loft and discovering hidden gems alongside the odd big hit. It’s about the entire experience, not endlessly scrolling through thousands of ROMs. It’s about affordability, immediacy and accessibility. On that basis, it’s an excellent buy.
An ideal purchase for anyone who loves playing old-school games but who isn’t wedded to very specific old-school titles.
Superb, user-friendly UI
Handy save states
Wide controller support
No Namco cart support (yet)
Pixel-perfect interpolation… isn’t
No pack-in adapter or HDMI cable
Bundled controllers are merely OK
|Connectivity||4x USB-A, HDMI, Wi-Fi (updates), micro USB (power)|