Growing up, the Amiga was very much my amigo. Hell, even in my teens, when the interests of my peers had shifted from games to Holden Commodores, I was still holdin’ onto my Commodores (I had a C64 too). Something about this brand, its advanced hardware and, of course, the games on offer appealed to me. In my mind, this smaller footprint A500 had big shoes to fill.
It’s no fanboy gushing to state that the Amiga 500 was leaps ahead of the competition in the ’80s/early ’90s. PC and Apple (Macintosh) gaming was largely bleep-bloopy stuff on monitors that couldn’t handle many colours. You could upgrade that into a better experience, sure, but that meant selling your kidneys. Conversely, your base unit Amiga was rocking 4-channel digital audio, 4096 colours and preemptive multitasking at a reasonable price point.
The Amiga built up quite the developer and games stockpile—and hey, the fact that anyone with a room temp IQ could copy disks, boosted its popularity tenfold. By the time Commodore (somehow) cocked it all up, the platform boasted 2000+ games. While you have probably never heard of it, make no mistake: Amiga was a games industry powerhouse.
Cue: the decision by Retro Games Ltd to offer retro tragics like me a diminutive version that plays nice with modern HDMI displays. They’ve also slapped 25 (mostly) iconic games into this little bundle of joy, plus you get a gamepad and a mouse that both feel era-authentic in your mitts.
So far, so good and geeky.
It’s worth noting that Retro Games already has a history with history. They’ve twice resurrected the Commodore 64 (once as a mini-me, then again as a fun-sized) along with the Vic-20. Those all went over relatively well with fans. The A500 Mini is more of the same: a decent balance of sturdiness, authenticity and adorable looks.
Size-wise, the original “beige beast” Amiga 500 was like somebody crossbred a bodyboard with a keyboard. It properly blows my mind to see this reimagined version offer considerably more grunt, but in a plastic shell that’s roughly the size of the OG’s dummy thicc power brick (25 x 7.8 x 17.7 cm).
And I do mean “plastic shell” quite literally here—the “keyboard” on offer is purely for show. If you need to tap away in any game that will ask it of you—and, like, 50% of them will—you have two solutions. Pressing the Menu button on your pad will insta-slide in an on-screen keyboard. Typically, this will unobtrusively sit in the black void that exists when you try to run a 4:3 game on a widescreen TV. Second option: you can always bite the bullet and plug a generic USB keyboard into the unit, too.
Speaking of lip service, don’t expect to get a working disk drive or even the emulated sounds of one crunching away through your speakers. The best you’ll be getting is the green light that accurately flicks to emulate “disk loading” and a red power button that will flash when your Amiga craps itself during a Guru Meditation error. (For the record, I saw none of those with the preinstalled content.)
In terms of connectivity, Retro Games has been more generous than I thought they were going to be. You’re getting an HDMI port (cable included), 3x USB-As (pad/mouse/storage expansion) and a USB-C (power cable included but BYO adapter). It’s also worth noting that, unlike the OG, you don’t need to put specific peripherals in specific ports. The A500 Mini will just instantly discern if a mouse or gamepad (or a second gamepad) is hooked up.
On the topic of plug-inables, the mouse and gamepad are mostly excellent with only one or two drawbacks. Firstly, it seems odd that they went with a pad inspired by the CD32 Amiga console which 6 people bought, as opposed to an actual joystick. Mind you, I’ve definitely come to appreciate the benefits of this 8-button, fully programmable pad in some games (having a button dedicated to “up” makes many platformers/racers better). On the other hand, the D-Pad isn’t quite the best when it comes time to find a diagonal.
I have no complaints about the mouse. Like the pad, it comes with a fairly ample 1.8m wire, and Retro Games ditched the old ball design for an accurate optical solution. Aside from the microswitch-clicky buttons, this feels like the one I used to mass murder Lemmings with, 30-odd years ago.
Before we continue, it’s also worth noting that The A500 Mini plays nice with an impressively wide array of third-party controllers. I had success with a wired DualShock 4, and Retro Games’ own C64 Joystick.
When it comes to replicating The Amiga 500 Experience, this lil’ squirt delivers more pros than cons. On the one hand, it ditches the arduous, minutes-long load times that were the norm. On the other, one or two of the intro segments of the included games get chopped off…weirdly. Also, having four thumbnailed/lockable savestates per title is a Godsend for a bunch of tutorial-less games which were basically coded to kick you in the groin from a running start.
You can chalk such design up to our primitive understanding of ‘good longevity’ back then. Almost everything was an Elden Ring, my whippersnappers.
Boot The A500 Mini and you’ll be confronted with a mostly decent list of titles. Things like: Alien Breed 3D, Alien Breed: Special Edition ’92, Another World, Arcade Pool, ATR: All Terrain Racing, Battle Chess, Cadaver, California Games, The Chaos Engine, Dragons Breath, F-16 Combat Pilot, Kick Off 2, The Lost Patrol, Paradroid 90, Pinball Dreams, Project-X: Special Edition ’93, Qwak, The Sentinel, Simon the Sorcerer, Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe, Stunt Car Racer, Super Cars II, Titus the Fox, Worms: The Director’s Cut, and Zool.
I sampled basically every game in that list, back in the day, and it feels like they’re now being emulated quite close to their original forms. Modern folks may deride the fact that they’re “only” being presented in 720p 50/60hz, but yeah, that’s way better than we got in 198X. There are also CRT/smoothing options to mess with, plus a decent range of config sliders to tweak the virtual innards of your pretend Amiga.
The latter will definitely come in handy when you dabble in The A500 Mini’s most exciting feature—connecting a thumb drive full of “LHA format” games. I’m a hoarder of video games, and an impressively large percentage of my physical collection (when converted) ran on this new system.
From here, I’ve spent many a happy day correcting the egregious gaps in the built-in library. There’s a ton of gold missing from the discographies of Cinemaware, The Bitmap Brothers, Bullfrog, Reflections, Sensible Software, Team 17, DMA Design, Factor 5 and more.
The next generation is loving it as well. My (admittedly spoiled) kids have access to almost every modern game there is, and yet all they want to do is play more Rick Dangerous, Cannon Fodder, IK+ and Shufflepuck Cafe. The Amiga truly was home to some timeless, timeless classics.
Does The A500 Mini rank among the best diminutively reissued consoles produced? Even if you don’t plan on whacking on an eyepatch and hacking it, I’d say, yeah, it’s great. A layperson can give into their nostalgia, buy this and be happy with the stock experience provided.
Even better, though, it only takes a USB stick, the purchase of a second controller and some light Googling to quickly (and legally) upgrade this experience to amazing.