The Evercade retro gaming handheld is going from strength to strength after its triumphant, mid-pandemic launch in 2020. With 16 cartridges bursting at the seams with officially licensed games already available for people to enjoy, it’s an essential part of every retro gaming enthusiast’s library.
And that’s not all. There are more Evercade cartridges on the way, with Indie Heroes and Worms collections arriving very soon and the new Codemasters and Mega Cat Studios Collection 2 compilations available to preorder from today — and, of course, there’s the mysterious “Evercade VS”, which we should be finding out a bit more about Very Soon.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Evercade, it is a handheld gaming device (with optional HDMI TV output) which takes physical cartridges. Each Evercade cartridge contains two or more officially licensed games, including both retro classics and new games designed for old platforms. The games on offer run the gamut from Atari 2600 classics to obscure Japanese games, many of which are officially leaving their homeland for the first time with their Evercade release.
Naturally that latter aspect is what particularly interests us here at Rice Digital, and we’ve already been through five of the best games in this regard. But there’s plenty more where that came from — so lets look at five more of the best Japanese retro games you can play right now on your Evercade!
Midnight Resistance (Data East Collection 1)
Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of games paying homage to famous, well-received titles to varying degrees of success. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either; what elevates a game from being a straight clone to an interesting game in its own right is the amount of interesting twists it applies to that original formula.
Such is the case with Data East’s 1989 release Midnight Resistance, a game which you’d be forgiven for thinking is a straight Contra ripoff at first glance, but which spending just a few minutes with reveals a game with its own distinctive identity and highly enjoyable way of doing things.
In Midnight Resistance, you take on the role of Johnny Ford, who returns from a mission busting drug cartels in South America only to discover that King Crimson (not the band) has kidnapped his entire family. For some reason, Johnny is unable to seek help from the government, so instead decides to launch a one-man rescue mission in the hope of obliterating King Crimson once and for all.
Midnight Resistance’s unique selling point is its auto-fire system, which allows you to toggle Johnny’s gunfire on and off as well as lock his firing in a particular direction while you move around. It takes a bit of getting used to, but allows the game to make use of some very interesting level and encounter design; many levels feature a strong degree of verticality rather than simply being side-scrollers. It’s a pleasure to play — particularly once you get your hands on some of the more ridiculous weapons — and a real highlight of the excellent Data East Collection 1 cartridge.
Oh, and the guy who wrote the soundtracks for Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII did the amazing music for this, too.
Pac-Attack (Namco Museum Collection 2)
Pac-Attack is a monstrously addictive falling-block puzzler. Remember how the Game Boy had Tetris? The Evercade has Pac-Attack, and once you get wrapped up in its mechanics, it’s really hard to step away without having “just one more go”.
Pac-Attack has a bit of an interesting history in that it originally wasn’t a Pac-Man game at all; its original Japanese release was as part of Namco’s Cosmo Gang series (paid homage to through one of the skins available for Pac-Man 99) but for its western release it was revamped as a Pac-Man game to make it more accessible and recognisable to a worldwide audience.
In Pac-Attack there are two main mechanics: firstly, you need to make complete lines, like in Tetris, but also you need to clear out ghosts. You do this, of course, by dropping Pac-Men on them. A Pac-Man you drop into the well will move according to a particular set of rules, so learning how the Pac-Men move and understanding how to build a “maze” full of ghosts to take advantage of that movement is key to success in Pac-Attack.
Pac-Attack can feel like a bit of a challenge when you’re first starting out, but a range of ways to play — including an excellent Puzzle mode that is great for getting the hang of Pac-Man’s movement — means that this one will keep you busy for a very long time indeed.
8 Eyes (Piko Interactive Collection 1)
You’d be forgiven for thinking 8 Eyes was a Castlevania ripoff at first glance, but it’s actually something rather different. Taking on the role of Orin the Falconer and his fighting falcon Cutrus, it’s up to you to recover the titular 8 Eyes, jewels that were formed in the centre of nuclear explosions that decimated the earth and turned it into a post-apocalyptic landscape.
The game features non-linear progression in a Mega Man style — each of the first seven levels can be tackled in any order, but each of the seven bosses is particularly vulnerable to one of the swords you get on level completion. You’ll need to pay attention as you play, as there are clues for the “best” order to clear the levels hidden throughout the game — and on top of that, there are also hidden clues as to the correct order you need to set down the 8 Eyes at the end of the game. Failure to follow these means you can get all the way to the end and still lose!
8 Eyes is a tricky game that takes a bit of getting used to — particularly the aspect of controlling both Orin and Cutrus — but it’s a stiff challenge that anyone who is up for an enjoyable action adventure will have fun exploring and mastering on their Evercade.
Top Racer 2 (Piko Interactive Collection 2)
Technically this isn’t a “Japanese” game in that it was only published by Japanese company Kemco — it was actually developed by the Sheffield-based Gremlin Interactive, the former members of whom now mostly work for Sumo Digital — but it’s such a great game it wouldn’t do to exclude it from the festivities here.
Based on Gremlin’s super-successful Lotus Turbo Challenge games for home computers, Top Racer 2 (originally known in the west as Top Gear 2) provides an excellent “vanishing point” racing experience. It builds on the fun gameplay of its predecessor (which can also be enjoyed as part of the Piko Interactive Collection 1 cartridge) by offering a slightly less breakneck speed than its predecessor, but also adding damage and upgrade systems for greater depth.
Before racing games went full polygonal 3D as we know them today, Top Racer 2 was among the very best racers available on 16-bit gaming consoles. It proved particularly popular in Brazil, which might explain why there have been so many modern homages to it from Brazilian game developers; the excellent Horizon Chase Turbo even includes music from Barry Leitch, the original composer for Top Racer!
Astyanax (Jaleco Collection 1)
Astyanax is one of those games that is technically a conversion from an arcade game, but its home port (found on the Evercade Jaleco Collection 1 cartridge) is so different from its source material that it might as well be considered a completely different game.
Taking on the role of high school student Astyanax (evidently the poor boy’s parents really loved Greek mythology) you find yourself sucked into a strange other world and tasked with rescuing Princess Rosebud. What follows is a highly challenging platform action game where you’ll need to make use of the legendary axe Bash and the support of the fairy Cutie in order to complete your quest.
Astyanax is a difficult game, but persevere and you’ll find an enjoyable, well-designed action adventure with some interesting mechanics that elevate it beyond a simple hack-and-slash affair.
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