An Imperfect Time Machine: A C64 Mini Review

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Comparing the original Commodore 64 and the C64 Mini in size
Link to the license.

Hello Retro Gamers!

In this C64 Mini review, I will discuss why this console has issues, but C64 fans will love it anyway.

As a child, I first experienced a home gaming system when spending the night with my friend Luke who owned an Amiga 500. I was in love, and in the intervening months, I pestered my parents begging for that small white hunk of plastic.

When Christmas morning rolled around that year, I rushed to the tree with visions of Bubby and Bobby from Rainbow Islands dancing in my head. The large box could only be my Amiga. My heart dropped upon opening, however: the box contained a Commodore 64, instead!

While disappointed at the time, I became eternally grateful to my parents for choosing the Commodore 64 over the Amiga (that I purchased years later and love to bits) that Christmas. While Bubby and Bobby were missing, there was a whole world of games to explore, with literally thousands of titles published for the platform in its lifetime. These games ran the gamut from terrible to amazing to just plain bizarre.

Over the years, I have run into many people with a gaming experience similar to mine. After overcoming their initial disappointment, all developed a deep and abiding love for the Commodore 64 that is almost unrivaled when it comes to home computers/gaming consoles.  As a devoted fan of the Commodore 64, I was overjoyed when Retro Gaming Ltd announced the release of this mini marvel. It is well worth its price tag.

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The positives: 

1. Beautiful remake of the original home computer.

2. ROMs to load faster and play reliably. Kid you not, no more naps while waiting for a game to load.  😀

3. There are supports for adding and loading your own ROMs.

4. The Mini C64 is just so small and lovely. 😀

The negatives: 

1. The joystick is atrocious

2. The Mini C64 ships without an AC adaptor (I do not really get why).

What Makes It Different – Guess what? Yeah, that atrocious joystick  

Creatures on the C64 Mini

Creatures is simply beyond fun…

Actually, the C64 Mini is not all that different from the majority of the other retro systems that have been released recently. It runs Linux with an ARM processor and has a custom front end. It is true to the original Commodore 64, which was a beige box with a brown keyboard. In comparison, this is tiny. Oh, and the games look exactly the same (please see above image).

What is different is the joystick. Instead of two buttons, there are eight that enable you to access the various functions exclusive to the Mini. When all is plugged in, you can satisfy your desire for nostalgia with its selection of games. You get 64 retro games for the price of admission.

A Blast From the Past – Nostalgia is here to stay

The unit appears to be exactly like the one I had as a child, only considerably smaller. Just seeing it sitting in my living room makes me smile. An impressive amount of attention to detail went into this pint-sized replica.  Seriously, apart from the size, I cannot see any differences with the original, and this gives me goosebumps. It is as if my brain is unable to correlate the size with my memories.

While anyone familiar with the original C64 will be pleased with the replica, the same cannot be said for the joystick. I did not love the joystick redesign, but I did not dislike it either. It just does not have the same wow factor that the console does.

Hitting You Right in the Feels – Kind of a bad taste in my mouth

Although creating a functional keyboard would have been silly, I was still disappointed that none of the keys worked. Plus, they are so tiny the only a baby could to do the typing.
The good news is that you can always connect a real keyboard through the USB ports on the side if you genuinely need one. The Mini is well-built and sturdy, and it is meant to last for years.

The feel you get from the joystick is anything but pleasurable, however. While its buttons offer a decent response, there is a limited amount of play in it, and it feels awfully squishy and generally unsatisfying. There is just no comfy way to use it. Even with the inclusion of no-slip pads on the bottom, playing with this kind of joystick on a flat surface is my biggest gripe. The ratio of height to width is not enough to prevent it from tipping over when in use on a table and it does not feel good in your hand either.

The Competition Pro, an 80s/90s joystick

They look similar, but a Competition Pro is in a total different league compared to the C64 Mini joystick.

Even if you have large hands (like me), it feels unwieldy and made my hands cramp during extensive gaming sessions. While I understand that they were attempting to remake the classic controller to stay with the theme, they could have done a much better job. The saving grace is that you can use other USB controllers with this mini-system.
I am not a fan of the above mentioned controllers when it comes to retro gaming, but I have to admit that the  * iNNEXT is cheap and works great.

A Word About the Interface – pretty but not functional

The C64 Mini Interface

C64 Mini Interface

All of the games are presented in a row at the bottom of your screen and are easily selectable with the push of a button. The light blue pallet is attractive and the interface looks great when displayed on my HD TV, even though Retro Gaming Ltd created their own front end for the C64 Mini. It captures the feel of the original system and looks beautifully nostalgic.

I wish that there had been some more options within the menu. Sometimes it can feel like you are never going to find any given title out of the collection of 64. A different layout of the games would come in handy. For example, displaying all the games in a grid would make it a lot easier to find a title rather than scrolling through a list. A search option or a filter would be handy too.

Games Galore – an 8-bit symphony

The C64 Mini Game List

Retro gamers familiar with other Commodore emulators have long ago come to grips with sluggish loading times and faulty ROMs. All of that is a thing of the past, however, as this console loads all the games smoothly and they run excellently. The development team at Commodore did an excellent job of optimizing the software that retains the retro experience while eliminating the vintage waiting game.

All the included titles have been lovingly and painstakingly recreated. Unfortunately, many of the original titles that were left out as well. The game catalog for the original C64 was so extensive that no two gamers would probably give you the same list of titles that they would have liked to see included with this console.

Despite all the games that I have tried in my life, it is not even uncommon for me to meet a C64 gamer who ranks titles I have never heard of as their favorites. There was a whole host of publishers for the original game, and I suspect that licensing was a nightmare when it came time to re-release some of these games. It is clear that Retro Gaming Ltd developed a good working relationship with Epyx, since basically all of their best releases are featured.

That said, I had a lot of fun reliving games like Winter Games, Summer Games 2, World Games and Creatures. The introductory music alone gave me goosebumps. I admit that there were many titles that I would have loved to see on this system (MicroProse Soccer and Turrican anyone?), but the abundant selection offered is going to keep any gamer busy. In addition to that, C64 Mini supports loading your own ROMs, so that means you can play almost any Commodore game you wish.

Final Impressions – You never forget your first gaming love

MicroProse Soccer on the Commodore 64

MicroProse Soccer if definitely a high-profile exclusion…

Regardless of a few weaknesses, this declaration of love to the 80s was a joy to play. Even just viewing this mini-console is a reminder of the thrill of sitting in front of the TV playing these games of my youth. I loved those classic games then, and I love them even more now.

Till next retro review!

*

About Andrew A.

Andrew is the founder and owner of RetroGamingLoft. He considers himself a natural-born gamer and is on a mission to keep our younger gaming years alive through the medium of Retro Stories. His event recount includes hopes, dreams, broken joysticks, magic, nostalgia and another final boss defeated.

2 thoughts on “An Imperfect Time Machine: A C64 Mini Review

  1. David Chambers

    Having to buy a USB stick, a half way decent controller most likely a USB extension cable for said controller is initially quite irritating, but when you finally have the C64 Mini set up the way you want it with easy access to the entire library of software, it works like a dream. I have only recently bought mine so I am well and truly still in the “honeymoon” period of ownership, but even after the novelty has worn off I can see myself regularly using this, at least until the full sized version is made available. My play time is divided up by into rediscovering the games I grew up playing, discovering gems that I missed back in the day, or buying brand new releases online that benefit from over 20 years of game design evolution, resulting in titles that are generally less challenging and frustrating than their 80’s counterparts. Some C64 purists may well stick their nose up at this little machine, but for casual fans I really couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello David and thanks for your nice comment.
      I agree with you, the extra accessories that you mentioned are definitely worth the purchase. You know, I am a purist too, but I am also a realist, so I know for a fact that the second (if we are lucky), third, fourth-hand (and more) Commodore 64 still for sale are far from working flawless. And sadly the same goes for many retro machines.
      On such grounds, how could we get new generations into retro gaming? So personally, I am all for gaming console remakes, bring on more and more of them!
      Thanks again for dropping by, I hope you stay tuned for more retro stuff!

      Reply

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