When I was growing up in the early 1990s, consoles were king, and when I wax nostalgic, I think of the NES and SNES. For those a few years older than me, though, the Commodore 64 was a machine of choice. The C64 Mini brings that classic computer back in a mini-console format that offers 64 games and a working version of BASIC. The package also comes with a joystick controller, which ends up being the weakest link of this product.
The C64 Mini Review: Looks Are Everything
The C64 Mini unabashedly taps into your sense of nostalgia, and the packaging and console itself are meant to be as alluring to the buyer as what the device actually does. The shrunk down beige casing complete with tiny, non-functional keys and classic rainbow badging beg you to think of childhood memories. Even for someone like me who didn’t grow up with a C64, the design cues are enough to take me back to the days of 8-bit gaming.
On the side of the C64, you’ll find two USB ports and the power button, which is the only functional button on the console. On the back, you’ll find the power port (a standard micro-USB) and an HDMI port. The system comes with an HDMI cable and a USB power cable, but no adapter, though, any cell phone charger should provide enough juice to run the C64 Mini. It’s a simple device, but it’s cute and looks great either on display on a shelf or sitting in an entertainment center.
The joystick is modeled after the venerable Competition Pro 5000 and contains extra controls for things like accessing the system’s menu and keyboard. The two together make an attractive package, and any C64 fan can appreciate the care taken to replicate these iconic products.
The C64 Mini Review: Killjoy-Stick
Unfortunately, The C64 Mini has one glaring flaw. The mini-console itself is beautiful and worked admirably throughout playtesting. However, the joystick is one of the least responsive controllers I’ve ever used. I wouldn’t particularly say it was of low build quality. It feels sturdy enough. Instead, the problem is in the action of the stick itself.
The C64 Mini’s controller emulates the short-throw joysticks that were common during the time the Commodore 64 was in its prime. This gives it a stiff feel, which could take some getting used to, but isn’t inherently a bad thing. Instead, the big flaw in the controller is that you can’t feel when the joystick has been actuated.
The joystick lacks microswitches, so there’s no indicator to let you know when a movement is registered. For some of the slower games included this isn’t much of an issue, but there are quite a few platformers in which this can be a significant frustration.
Luckily, the C64 Mini is compatible with other USB controllers, but it’s kind of a crapshoot as to which ones work. You can definitely use a PS4 controller wired with USB, but some standard PC controllers gave no response when I tried them.
The C64 Mini Review: Everyone’s a Wally?
Appropriately, the C64 Mini comes loaded with 64 classic Commodore 64 games, as well as BASIC. These games run the gamut from “great” to “kinda bad” and are an exciting spread which give a pretty good picture of the range of the C64.
The full list of games included on the C64 Mini is:
- Armalyite – Competition Edition
- Battle Valley
- Boulder Dash
- California Games
- Chip’s Challenge
- Coil Cop
- Cosmic Causeway
- Cyberdyne Warrior
- Cybernoid II: The Revenge
- Cybernoids: The Fighting Machine
- Everyone’s a Wally
- Gateway to Apshai
- Gribbly’s Day Out
- Highway Encounter
- Hunter’s Moon
- Impossible Mission
- Impossible Mission II
- Jumpman 2
- Mega Apocalypse
- Mission AD
- Monty Mole
- Monty on the Run
- Nobby the Ardvark
- Nodes of Yesod
- Pitstop II
- Robin of the Wood
- Silicon Warrior
- Skate Crazy
- Skool Daze
- Speedball 2 – Brutal Deluxe
- Star Paws
- Street Sports Baseball
- Street Sports Basketball
- Street Sports Soccer
- Summer Games II
- Super Cycle
- Sword of Fargoal
- Temple of Apshai Trilogy
- The Arc of Yesod
- Thing on a Spring
- Thing Bounces Back
- Tower Toppler
- Uchi Mata
- West Bank
- Who Dares Wins II
- Winter Games
- World Games
Now, none of these are household names, especially in the US, but they provide a fascinating look at a chapter of computer gaming that a lot of people my age (30) and younger might have missed. Many of them are strange and charming in their own way.
I was particularly partial to Everyone’s a Wally, a side-scrolling game in which you can die because a baby is crawling at you at a brisk pace. In the days of the Commodore 64, games really required you to read the manual to figure out what’s going on. Luckily, on the official C64 Mini website you can find an abridged version of how to play each game.
The C64 Mini Review: Strength in Expandability
One of the greatest strengths of the C64 Mini is that its firmware can be updated and it has built-in support for homebrew ROMs. Unlike many microconsoles, the C64 Mini will be actively supported by developer Retro Games and will gain more capabilities with the release of new firmware.
Up until the latest version of the firmware, the C64 Mini required you to load ROMs through the BASIC interface, and you could only have one on your USB drive at a time. With version 1.1.2, which is available now, the microconsole has a built-in file loader which allows you to play ROMs off a properly formatted drive. This means you can backup and play the breadth of the C64 library easily.
The emulator that the C64 Mini uses to play games supports disk and tape files, so pretty much any C64 game can be backed up and played on the console. You can also add flags to the filenames or create configuration files to have them launch in a particular way.
The one drawback to using ROMs on the C64 Mini is that there are only two USB ports. So, you’ll have to get a hub if you want a joystick, USB keyboard, and flash drive hooked up at the same time.
The C64 Mini Review: A Great Look Back at an Iconic Computer
I missed the Commodore 64 when the original was on the market, and I’m glad I got a chance to take a good look back on the machine through the C64 Mini. It has its drawbacks, but it’s a great way to experience what the Commodore 64 with little hassle. The console itself is well-designed and works well, and is only held back by the low-quality of the included joystick.
You might have to work a bit extra to get the perfect experience with the C64 Mini, but there’s no easier way to experience Commodore 64 classics on an HDTV. At $79.99 the C64 Mini is a bit pricey, but the expandability adds extra value and the prospect of expanding the built-in library considerably.