Review: A500 Mini – A Refreshing Alternative to the Classic NES and SNES Editions

A500 mini
Picture: Nintendo Life/Damien McFerran

When discussing video game history, it often happens that memories are dominated by consoles such as NES, SNES, Mega Drive/Genesis, N64, GameCube, etc. – but those old enough to have lived through the 80’s remember that for a time personal computers like the C64, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum and Commodore Amiga were a perfectly legitimate way to play games. games outside the arcade.

So it’s fitting that alongside the recent explosion of interest in plug-and-play “micro consoles” like the NES Classic and Sega Mega Drive Mini, we’ve seen new versions of the humble home micro; The British company Retro Games Ltd. has already produced a miniature version of the C64, and how it’s back with a pint-sized facsimile of the Amiga – a platform that, in Europe at least, was incredibly popular in the late 1900s. 80s and early 90s.

Like the aforementioned NES Classic Edition, the A500 Mini (due to complex legal issues surrounding ownership of the Commodore trademark, this name is not present anywhere on the unit or packaging) uses off-the-shelf components. modern jobs and a software emulation to recreate the vintage platform. The device is several times smaller than the real deal, with a few compromises; this miniature keyboard is purely for show and does not actually work, eg. However, he Is provide creature comforts that the original system cannot match in its unmodified form; there’s HDMI output and support for USB devices (so you can use a USB keyboard if you want, but the pop-up on-screen keyboard works just fine). Overall, the A500 Mini is easily on par with the SNES Classic and PC Engine Mini when it comes to pure product design; even red and green LEDs light up to indicate power on and drive access, just like the real thing.

The A500 Mini comes with a joypad and a mouse, the two main forms of entry into Amiga software. The controller is based on the one that shipped with the ill-fated Amiga CD32 – a noble and genuine choice, given the system’s lineage, but not one that we’d say was particularly wise. The controller, while slightly better than the original CD32, is still quite poor, with the D-Pad proving particularly problematic, especially when aiming for a diagonal entry. There doesn’t seem to be a way to use 3rd party USB controllers (the PS Classic pad caused a UI issue, while the Retro-Bit Sega 6-Button USB Controller didn’t register at all), but this may change with a future firmware update (the stick that comes with the C64 Mini Is work, we are told). For now, you’re encumbered with a buffer that only pretty much does the job, but it could be much better.

The mouse is more successful; it is based on the original two-button “tank” mouse that came with the Amiga, but has been upgraded to incorporate optical technology rather than the trackball used in the original. It’s worth noting that it’s not the most comfortable mouse in the world, but if you owned an Amiga at the time, you’ll feel to the right. You can use any USB mouse if you prefer something different.

The A500 Mini comes with 25 games, many of which are sure to be on your average fan’s “must have” list. Speedball II, Zool, The Sentinel, Simon the Sorcerer, Stunt Car Racer, Another World, Super Cars II, Worms, Alien Breed, The Chaos Engine…these are truly classic titles, some of which were so popular in the 90s that they were later ported to consoles like the SNES and Mega Drive. In fact, we’d say that what’s included here is as solid a selection of games as you could hope for, given that tracking down IP owners for many of the Amiga’s top titles must be quite a task. difficult these days.

The good news is that if your favorite game didn’t make it for some reason, you can simply sideload it using a USB stick. The A500 Mini supports the “WHDLoad” system which allows Amiga games to be bundled into a single file (many games come on multiple floppy disks, you see) and loaded easily. This means you can fill a USB drive with all of your most beloved Amiga titles (including CD32 and CDTV versions) and run them on the A500 Mini with no problem.

The A500 Mini's user interface is clean and functional, although it lacks the liveliness of other micro-console menus
The A500 Mini’s user interface is clean and functional, although it lacks the liveliness of other micro-console menus (Image: Retro Games Ltd.)

The A500 Mini uses much the same user interface as the C64 Mini and supports things like save states (four per game) and a CRT screen filter – the latter being one of the better apps that we have seen on any of these devices. . Emulation is excellent (A1200 games are also supported, the latter taking advantage of the platform’s “advanced graphics architecture”), although a peculiarity of the Amiga being more popular in Europe than in the USA is that most games were designed to run at the slower 50Hz TV standard, rather than 60Hz, which is what US TVs use.

Micro-consoles like the SNES Classic, Neo Geo Mini and even the Egret II Mini offer a very Japanese perspective on gaming, so it’s nice to see a Western system getting the same treatment – and it’s also interesting to see some of the game’s most famous properties in their original form, before being ported to Japanese consoles of the time. The Amiga may not be a “traditional” games console and was never 100% focused on games, but its legacy is considerable: franchises such as Worms and Speedball have found their commercial footing on the platform and have persisted to this day.

As such it’s an intriguing device for anyone even remotely interested in monitoring the development of the games industry – and although its £120 price tag makes it more expensive than many of its micro-console rivals, the ability to side-load games is very welcome.

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Thanks to Koch Media and Retro Games Ltd. for providing the unit used in this review.

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