In 2022, the view of retro gaming is almost always tilted towards classic console systems, leaving the computers that were for many of us foundational aside as mere curios. That’s a huge shame, because it ignores a rich trove of gaming history, creativity and innovation. If you’re talking all three of those points, you can’t overlook Commodore’s Amiga.
Sure, the Commodore 64 was the workhorse machine of the masses, but the Amiga was the truly sexy model with dedicated sound and graphics hardware that put it leagues ahead of what the 8-bit computers and consoles of the time could manage. It’s why when you purchased (or just browsed) games back in the day, the back of the box always had an Amiga screenshot on it, even if you were buying for a C64, Spectrum or Amstrad. They just looked better and sold more games, and accuracy and consumer satisfaction be damned!
Retro Games’ latest mini system, the A500 Mini, follows on from its successes with miniaturised Commodore 64 mimicking systems in a rather predictable way.
You won’t find a single Commodore logo on it anywhere – which is why it’s “The A500” rather than the “Amiga 500” – but Retro Games knows what it’s doing here. The A500 Mini is a delightfully recreated tiny Amiga 500, rendered in a variety of period-accurate beige shades. Just about everything about the A500 Mini is beige, including the HDMI cord and USB C power cord. There’s no beige power supply in the box, however, so you’ll need a phone charger handy to get it up and running.
Even the mouse, in its classic “tank” shape is wonderfully beige. It works surprisingly well, too, although thankfully Retro Games didn’t go the whole hog and make it a ball and socket mouse. Some technologies can stay back in the 1980s where they belong.
The beige nature of the A500 Mini is a definite plus for accuracy, but if there’s one detail in the system that I wish Retro Games hadn’t opted for, it was in accurately recreating (more or less) the CD32’s weird controller. Yes, it’s period-accurate for the three people who actually bought a CD32, but it wasn’t a good controller then… and it’s even worse now. Button feedback is poor, and the best thing I can say about the d-pad is that it’s split to make it harder to accidentally hit up, used for jump in just about every Amiga platform game. Smartly, you can remap buttons on a per-game basis, and Retro Games has already done this for the 25 included games onboard.
The good news here is that the A500 Mini will take most – but not all – USB game controllers. I’ve had no joy with Xbox controllers, but PS4 controllers work wonderfully. It feels almost sinful to play Speedball 2 or The Chaos Engine with a Dualshock controller… but it also feels oh-so-right at the same time.
All of the casing is naturally just window dressing, because it’s not as though Retro Games has sourced new stock of Fat Agnes, Denise, Gayle or Paula to speak of to cram into the A500 Mini’s tiny innards. No, I haven’t just finally gone senile; that’s what the Amiga’s designers called the wide variety of custom chips for everything from graphics to sound to floppy drive control that made the Amiga so particularly special. Instead, the A500 Mini offers emulation built around the Amiberry emulator with Cloanto’s licensed Kickstarter ROMs on board to keep it (mostly) above board from a legal perspective.
The big benefit here as distinct from setting up an emulator yourself on (say) a Raspberry Pi or similar is that it’s mostly pre-configured and ships with a clean emulator carousel UI that makes picking from its 25 preinstalled games a breeze. The included games do run a gamut of some of the Amiga’s true classics, as well as some titles that haven’t aged quite as well. In order you get:
Alien Breed 3D
Alien Breed: Special Edition ’92
ATR: All Terrain Racing
The Chaos Engine
F-16 Combat Pilot
Kick Off 2
The Lost Patrol
Project-X: Special Edition ’93
Simon the Sorcerer
Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe
Stunt Car Racer
Super Cars II
Titus the Fox
Worms: The Director’s Cut
There’s some absolute bangers in that lot, including titles that really have stood the test of time. Team 17 will clearly still be making Worms games until the heat death of the universe, and maybe even past that time, but its Amiga debut still has loads of charm. Likewise, I’d defy anyone who doesn’t understand the concept of fun not to enjoy Speedball 2, especially in a multiplayer setting. Battle Chess is both compelling and cute, and Another World remains a must-play great after all these years.
Retro Games has also paid attention to more modern features and ideas as well. At setup you can pick between 50Hz and 60Hz refresh rates, though contrary to what you might think 50Hz is the correct choice here, because much of the Amiga’s best development was European where 50Hz TVs were the norm back in the day.
Scaling is supported with three screen modes, and you will need to tweak around with those to avoid either playing some games in postage stamp-sized screens on a modern TV, or losing details at the edges if you opt for a more screen-filling mode. Save states are supported on a per-game basis, too, though there’s no inbuilt rewinding facility. Or at least, not yet, anyway.
For any other mini retro console, this is the point where the community would step in to ‘hack’ the system to add less-than-legal ROMs to the system via complicated hacks. The nice detail here is that you don’t have to hack the A500 Mini in any way at all to add additional Amiga classics to it. Retro Games has directly included the ability to load WHDLoad game images via USB, so if you’re (correctly) more of a Sensible Soccer fan than a Kick-Off 2 fan, you’d just need its WHDLoad image on a USB drive of your choosing.
Strictly, and legally speaking within Australia, you’d also need to not be in Australia. As per current copyright law, even if you do still have that copy of Sensi from back in the day in your retro collection, you’re not entitled to digitally transfer it that way.
It burns my brain that Australian copyright law says that every CD, tape, LP or book I own from that period can be mine digitally as long as I do the transfer myself, but not games… but I digress. The reality here is that WHDLoad images are not hard to come by, even though they’re dancing around copyright laws locally. I just never told you where to find them or told you to do so, OK?
The elephant in the room here is that Amiga emulation is nothing new at all. Even within the legal space, I can recall writing about commercially available Amiga emulators more than two decades ago. If you’re so inclined to tinker, it’s not massively tricky to set up a PC, Mac or even a Raspberry Pi as a virtual Amiga to play on, although individual game configuration can sometimes be a work of wizardry. That does involve more tinkering, and the beauty of the A500 Mini is that the hard work is mostly done for you.
It’s also worth noting that Retro Games has a fair reputation when it comes to software updates based on what’s happened with the existing C64 Mini and full-sized models, so there’s scope for expansion to the A500 Mini still. Even if there isn’t, while they didn’t need to, the Internet can’t help itself, and there’s already folks prodding and probing ways to get full Workbench access and load other Amiga file formats, such as ADF files directly.
There’s a danger with retro emulation consoles and nostalgia that does apply to the A500 Mini as much as any of them, because some of these games might appeal to you more if you were a big fan back in the day. Conversely, if you date from after the Amiga was a genuine retail presence, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. The reality here is that disk-based systems like the Amiga are on borrowed time even more than cartridge ones, with fragile floppy discs and CDs rotting, disk drives breaking and more. The A500 Mini makes it very easy to preserve that kind of gaming history while still keeping it immensely playable.
Just don’t try to do so with that awful CD32 controller, OK?