Retro Review The C64 Mini

The C64 Mini Review – A Fascinating Retro Revisit

The success of micro versions of the consoles of yesteryear was always going to lead to expansion. Half-pint consoles from Nintendo, Sega and even the ZX Spectrum have graced us so far, but it was a matter of time before the world’s best-selling home computer joined the party. Now it is here, The C64 Mini.

This half-sized recreation of the classic, nay iconic, Commodore 64 features an apt 64 games, the famous joystick, and a teensy replica of the keyboard which sadly does not function as anything other than the housing for the system’s internal gubbins. It is at least, a pretty solid housing, with the right texture feel for the actual keyboard it pays homage to.

THEC64 supports HDMI at 720p and makes the ageing games look as sharp and clean as they possibly could on modern TVs. Handily, if you’re not keen on everything looking fresh (understandable as much like some older movies, restoring some old games can highlight just how naff they look now) the C64 Mini provides you with CRT filters and US/Europe display mode options.

There’s plenty of game variety on the C64 Mini

There are two USB ports. So you can plug in a USB keyboard (a necessity in my eyes as using the joystick to write things is the stuff of nightmares) This means you can use the C64 Mini as a fully functional home computer, as it comes complete with C64 BASIC. Alternatively, you can add a second joystick for two-player fun. Though you’ll have to purchase that separately).

This also means you can download software updates through a USB flash drive. So any fixes needed or possible additional games are at least a possibility for the future. In fact, you can add your own games and files if you follow some rather detailed step-by-step instructions on the C64 website.

The C64 Mini: The Games

The C64 Mini is powered by a USB power lead, but no plug is included in the package. I personally just plugged the USB cable into a USB slot on the side of my TV, and it worked just fine, but you can attach a USB plug head if you wish.

The star attraction, at the very least in how it is made, has to be the joystick. It’s a frankly superb reproduction of the peripheral. It plays a big part in recapturing that nostalgic feel you expect from it. It does so more effectively than most of the games on offer in fact.

And about those games. No, they are not categorically the ‘best’ 64 titles to ever grace the Commodore 64, but they are a fairly wide variety, and do feature some heavy hitters that still hold up incredibly well to this day. No mean feat given how simplistic they are in both look and mechanics..

The biggest obstacle with any of them is, initially at least, getting used to the joystick again. Years of hard-wired control methods have overwritten much of the instinctive feel of using a joystick, and had it not been for using arcade sticks, the transition would have been a far more painful one. When you throw in the fact you’re trying to remember how to play many of these games (which given the era they come from makes the majority of them bastard hard), then it’s quite the challenge to overcome. The fact is it can be overcome, and if you’re into the C64 Mini, you kinda knew what it might entail.

The menu is sleek, simple, and full of information on the games

So what are the highlights of the 64 titles available preloaded on the C64 Mini you ask? Personal preferences obviously play a part, but clearly some games have stood the test of time better than others. Skool Daze remains a good time, instilled with that very British sense of humor. I have a love for customising in-game characters to represent real people, and Skool Daze is one of the games that kicked that passion.

Then there’s California Games and World Games, which both retain that air of competitiveness that made them so appealing back when. Speedball II: Brutal Deluxe, despite not being the best version of the game, is still as enthralling as ever. The Impossible Mission titles stand up well (thought the first one’s difficulty curve can take a short jump into a room full of rotweilers), and Pitstop II is a warm reminder of where racing games get their D.N.A. from.

Unfortunately, a good chunk of the games have either not aged well at all, or were never all that good to begin with. Nobby The Aardvark for instance is a painful platformer that surprisingly comes from the later years of the C64’s life. It features the kind of fussy platform action that would have Crash Bandicoot swearing.

The C64 Mini: Variety and Creativity

Side-scrolling shooters tend to be weak on C64, with several ageing horribly either by being mechanically decrepit. Or in the case of IO, difficult to the point of insanity, even with the C64 Mini’s in-built save/load system (an absolute godsend for a lot of these games). Good thing Uridium is there to show that it needn’t be a weakness. Uridium is a fine shooter that’s keeps a tough exterior, but allows for a bit more flexibility.

The one thing you can commend this selection for universally is that there’s some fascinating seeds of ideas that would echo outward into the years that followed. The quality might be hit and miss, but the creativity is fairly consistent.

While the games may have aged in different ways, the Commodore 64 had a fine selection of soundtracks featured in them. The C64 is where gaming soundtracks really kicked off as a viable thing to listen to, and while it wasn’t my favourite gaming device, it did play a big part in my love of gaming soundtracks. It’s probably the system’s most significant legacy.

Impossible Mission C64 Mini
Just a screenshot is enough to bring back the cold sweat

The target audience for the C64 Mini is clearly those who grew up with the original Commodore 64 and these kind of games of the 80’s, but anyone with a fascination for gaming history should consider trying for the intriguing peek into the bones of many a modern title. The arcade-minded design of many of the games found here mean deliberate frustration and difficulty is thrown at you to prevent you finishing games in under ten minutes. However, that doesn’t stop quality showing through in the ones that matter.

The biggest plus about the library is that you can find something interesting in a good 90% of them. It lacks some big hitters, and there are some devs/publishers who feature a little too heavily, but the selection is still a varied platter that represents the C64’s heritage pretty well. That’s what any retro bit of kit should aim to do.

The C64 Mini was provided by Retro Games Ltd for Review

Score

8

The Final Word

The C64 Mini is a robust little machine with a nostalgia-pleasing joystick and a couple of modernising touches. The 64 titles found on it are a mixed bag in terms of quality, but what is there is bursting with variety. Die-Hard Commodore 64 lovers are the target audience, but there's plenty to recommend about the C64 Mini for anyone interested in digging into an important, physical piece of gaming history.

  • oo Yungstar oo

    have to say that this is the only mini I’ve been excited to get (unless they announce an Atari 800 mini) and playing Boulder Dash on it was worth the asking price for me.

    if i’m to find fault it’s how they achieved putting extra games on the system via USB at only one at a time and then having to rename it to there protocols. but hey, i did buy this to play those old games that come with the system and that… it most certainly does.