October 9 marks the US release of the c64 Mini. It features high-definition video output and sound via HDMI, a collection of games built in (plus the ability to load your own), a joystick, USB ports for keyboards, and even C64 BASIC.
It finally happened! The Commodore 64 is back in stores!
Okay, maybe it’s not precisely the Commodore 64. This one is a bit different. Maybe it’s the color? The USB ports? I just can’t put my finger on what’s changed…
On October 9, Retro Games Ltd is officially releasing the C64 Mini to US customers, and Americans will be able to get in on the half-size retro gaming action previously reserved for the NES Mini, SNES Mini, and the Atari Flashback.
While the Mini has been on the European market for a few months, October marks its entry into the North American market. (Curse you, PAL, and your incompatible TVs!)
100 INPUT “What’s In The Box?”, A$
The C64 Mini is a recreation of the classic Commodore 64 computer. The tiny ARM-based computer perfectly recreates the original Commodore 64 software environment. Like the original C64, the Mini plugs into your TV set. This time, though, instead of using a coaxial cable and tuning to channel 3, you get an HDMI cable and high definition pixels. Don’t worry, though: the Mini includes scan line emulation so that you can get that retro CRT experience, even on a modern 4K TV.
You can select from the 64 included games using a custom launcher called the Carousel. Each game also has four save slots, allowing you to freeze the game and pick up right where you left off. The included games cover a cross-section of popular 8-bit games, and if your favorite game isn’t there, you can add your own with the built-in USB ports. If you can download it from one of those retro gaming sites, chances are it will work on this machine.
Retro Games didn’t forget BASIC users, either. The C64 Mini includes the original Commodore BASIC programming environment. BASIC programs run on the Mini exactly as they did on the original Commodore 64, and if you still have some of those old Compute’s Gazette magazines lying around, you can type in those programs and make them run! You will need a USB keyboard, though. The keyboard on the actual Mini is just a prop; it looks good but doesn’t work.
The included games might also be different than what you’d find on the versions sold in other countries due to different license and distribution agreements Retro Games was able to make with the people who own those properties. Regardless, since you can install whatever games you want, this really shouldn’t be an issue.
200 PRINT “Who’s It For?”
The Mini is meant for anyone who loves classic 80s video games. Some of the greatest games of all time are represented (as are, honestly, some very mediocre titles.) Of course, as I mentioned earlier, you can also load your own programs, so you can grab a game from any of the websites out there that have downloadable .D64 files, plug it in, and play.
Kids can also play some of the games their parents (or even grandparents) grew up on. My kid loves some Jumpman, and we’ve been known to sit down to a friendly game of Wheel of Fortune (that’s one you’ll need to find out there on the web.) What’s more fun than watching TV game shows at 7:00 every weeknight? Playing your own game show on your TV.
500 INPUT “Do I Want One?”, A$
The Mini is a fun trip down retro lane. I tested one for a few days, and while it recaptured some of the feel of the 1983 classic, it also has some drawbacks. The “keyboard” on the unit is just a chunk of molded plastic that doesn’t work, and there’s no place to plug in a cartridge, the old 9-pin joysticks, or a real disk drive. There is also no network connectivity of any kind. (The lack of an online app store feels like a missed opportunity.)
The USB ports do let you load games. Retro Games has done that better than any of the other retro consoles. I don’t need to crack the system to run downloaded games; I just need a $5 USB stick and a downloaded file. While the current software is a little limited, Retro Games promises a new firmware release before the ship date, giving users more freedom to mount disk images and customize the carousel.
I also have some concerns about the joystick; it’s a little bit stiff, and several people in the Facebook group have reported accidentally breaking theirs. One of the best things you can do for yourself is to order a set of USB gamepads (any of the SNES style USB pads with eight buttons seem to work just fine) if you find yourself spending a lot of time on the Mini. You’ll also want a USB keyboard. Any USB keyboard should work.
Finally, if you’re comfortable with installing emulators, you might find that an emulator on the PC will do everything you want. The software inside the Mini is a customized Linux distribution with a customized build of VICE living on top of it. So there’s nothing in the Mini that you can’t get with a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer running Vice (or maybe Commodore 64 Forever, if you want a nice game launcher.) There are even retro emulator packages for the Raspberry Pi, such as Combian or RetroPie, that can handle c64 games.
RUN : To the store
Still, even though it’s not perfect, I want one. I can’t wait to plug it into the living room TV and, once again, take over the television while everyone else wants to watch Magnum PI.
Image Credit: thec64.com