Officially and legally emulating retro games is a great idea and Evercade is one of the coolest ways to do it.
Released over a year ago already, the handheld version has already proven to be a capable and likeable machine. A second, wired, console version for TV is nearly upon us too. Called the Evercade VS, it lets you load in two cartridges at once and play at 1080p, and with two players and extra shoulder buttons ready for 32-bit emulation after what has almost exclusively been 8-bit and 16-bit so far.
But without games from the likes of Sega, Nintendo or Electronic Arts on the books, the collections of games so far contain a great many duds with just a few reasonably shiny gems to enjoy. Even fewer of these good games are racers. Luckily, we’ve waded through dross like ATV Challenge and Racing Fever so you don’t have to. What follows are the ones actually worth your attention. Start your 8-bit engines:
BMX Simulator (Oliver Twins Collection)
This cartridge contains the NES version rather than the classic ZX Spectrum titles, and the top-down, single-screen view of the BMX track looks reasonably pretty considering the now-ancient technology behind it. There are also full-race replays to be enjoyed.
It is, however, incredibly difficult, as a collision with anything sees your rider fall off with an impressive but protracted crash animation. If you fancy a challenge, you’ll certainly find it here, and there’s some merit to the accelerated turning physics on the banking, but it’s not reason enough to buy this cartridge on its own. Thankfully the Dizzy games are still great, but eggs don’t go racing so let’s leave it there and move on.
Battle Cars (Namco Collection 1)
Imagine if the original F-Zero had contained weapons with which to shoot your opponents. OK, I see you’re picturing Super Mario Kart but don’t get so cutesy. Battle Cars is gritty, with Mode 7 graphics allowing you to turn a full 360 degrees in pseudo-3D, futuristic environments.
It doesn’t start off particularly impressively, lacking the charm of both F-Zero and Mario Kart, but it does require skill and concentration to win and to beat the boss cars that appear every other race. As a result, this turns out to be one of the stronger racers on the system.
But unless you remember the original fondly, it’s not likely to hold your attention for long, and the Namco Collection itself is more memorable for its NES ports of Mappy, Pac-Man, DigDug and Galaxian. It’s also important to note that the two Namco collections won’t run on the new Evercade VS console, as they’re licensed for handheld play only. Strange but true.
Motor Psycho (Atari Collection 1)
You might think that pseudo-3D racers for the Atari 7800 would be rubbish, but this is arguably more impressive a Super Hang-On clone than Sega’s own Master System version.
The bike sprite is big, the skid physics based on speed while cornering are impressively stable, and the way the track is drawn all the way into the distance is actually pretty damn impressive. The crashes look good, and there are even objects to avoid on the track.
It gets more fun the more you play it, and the four courses are plenty difficult enough to keep you challenged. It is an acquired taste, of course, as this game is clearly primitive by today’s standards, but it’s still one of the better racers on Evercade so far.
Night Driver (Atari Collection 1)
Even older than that, there’s an Atari 2600 racer to enjoy on this same cartridge. This immediately came to my mind on firing up the recent Art of Rally as the trackside posts of that game look just like the ‘road’ here.
With such limited processing power, the game consists of two streams of white bars moving down the screen, and you must steer left and right between them. Primitive tree and house graphics line the sides, and there are also a few cars to avoid. The crash sequence may trigger an epileptic episode if you’re susceptible, so do be warned, but it’s utterly fascinating to see how creative coders were in such dark days of programming.
Is it fun? I wouldn’t go that far. But on what is already a fascinating compilation cartridge, you should definitely give this a go if you get it packed in with your system.
Super Skidmarks (Codemasters Collection 1)
The new Codemasters cartridge is suffering from stock shortages at the time of writing so we haven’t been able to test the Evercade version, but this is an undisputed classic in the isometric racing genre.
The cars have precious little grip and so slide around the banked courses, bumping into the walls and each other and getting airborne over the bumps, making for a smooth and pleasing driving experience. The dithering on the track graphics will look better on a handheld screen as this sort of thing wasn’t meant to be seen on a 55-inch TV in crystal clarity.
As the only true racer on the cartridge it’s perhaps not worth the £15 entry alone, but seeing as the rest of the line-up includes some other undisputed classics, it’s still certainly worth ordering a copy if you have an Evercade.
Chequered Flag (Atari Lynx Collection 1)
This is an oddity and the only racer on this particular cartridge. The graphics are low-resolution but scale well thanks to the Lynx’s hardware-based sprite scaling. The spin animation that plays out on contact with other cars is also very well done for the time. The AI cars lined up beside the track if you finish last is also a nice touch.
However, collisions with trackside objects simply bring you to a dead stop, which is immensely frustrating, especially as there’s no restart option, forcing you to either reload the entire game, or plough on in last place.
Get the hang of the controls, however, and you’ll soon start to win, and the close-fought racing of the opening lap is a good realisation of the perils of closely fought motor racing, making this an accomplished if unspectacular racer.
Eliminator Boat Duel (Piko Collection 2)
This 8-bit title is a little rough and ready by today’s standards, but it has something in spades that many Evercade racers lack, and that’s fun. The action is seen from above in classic Micro Machines style, but secondary sections are played with smooth-moving, into-the-screen flag-dodging sprints. These sections move really quickly and collecting extra nitro boosts before timing your dash to the flag is very enjoyable.
There’s also a Super Off-Road style shop to improve your boat’s performance, and it matters too, especially when you reach the drag duel stage, by which point you’ll need to have boosted your boat’s acceleration, otherwise you’re stuffed.
Ultimately this is simplistic and flawed arcade racing (you can save your nitro for the last section due to the way the game puts the boats together during the transition), but it’s still charming… especially when the crowd demands a slow-motion replay of a close finish.
And the best one… Top Racer 2 (Piko Collection 2)
Released as Top Gear 2 on SNES before the name license lapsed, it’s a very pleasant surprise to realise this is the spiritual predecessor to Horizon Chase, which is available now on all modern platforms. There’s the psedo-3D behind-the-car perspective, nitro boosts, super-fast speed through individual scenery objects and even the speech bubbles with taunts and encouragement.
It’s a shame because I really want to say ‘a handheld version of Horizon Chase is very welcome’ but seeing as that game’s already on iPhone, Android and Switch already, and demonstrably better, this is hard to recommend, especially as the frame rate is struggling to stay smooth. But in terms of the best games on Evercade, this is right up there. It’s immensely playable and keeps on surprising with little flourishes like jumps and 3D-effect scenery elements. Love it.