Games Review: The C64 Mini: Memory bank

I used to wonder what would happen to the video game systems of my youth. Whether they would be left to rot once they were no longer being produced and their hardware stopped working. The C64 Mini is the latest in a run of miniaturised retro video game hardware that answers that question and, like Nintendo’s NES and SNES Classic Minis, it is slavishly devoted to recreating the vintage Commodore 64 experience.

The Commodore 64 remains one of the most revered home computer systems of the 1980’s. A do-it-all machine that could run anything from racing games to flight simulators, the C64 was the model that Atari spent years and an awful lot of money chasing.

The games industry of the day was still very much in its infancy. The people making games for the Commodore 64 were mostly of the garage programmer variety. The C64 Mini perfectly captures this era with a suite of 64 games that run the genre gamut, a wide cross section of the system’s most popular titles. Included among them, iconic titles like Boulder Dash, Alleykat, Chip’s Challenge and Monty on the Run (a game with one of the greatest theme songs in the history of the medium. Not enough games hit you with a six minute rock opera on the title screen).

Many of the games onboard remain a legitimate blast to play. Others, while surely objects in interactive creativity in their day, are now utterly inscrutable exercises in modern art. Many certainly aren’t as readable or legible as they once were and will take a bit of figuring out for players unused to true 80’s era design. Take the second level of Boulder Dash for instance — why is the entire thing such a violent shade of fuschia? It makes the game so much harder to navigate because its searing your retinas the entire time.

The C64 Mini comes with a miniaturised version of the classic brown C64 keyboard/case and a full size replica of the black and red C64 joystick. While some may be disappointed to find that The C64 Mini itself features a non-functional, molded keyboard, they may take some solace in the knowledge that almost any USB keyboard can be connected to the device. If you are in the camp annoyed by the decorative keyboard (as our Film and TV writer Carina was), you’ll be pleased to know that a full sized version of the system, with working keyboard, is on track for release later in the year.

The C64 joystick works just as you remember it, complete with its array of chunky buttons and oddly immovable joystick. If I have a gripe with the joystick at all its that it doesn’t feature the suction cups for fastening to a flat surface that the original did. Trying to keep it still or balanced in your hand while playing is quite the challenge.

The C64 Mini unit itself comes with two USB ports on the right hand side near its power button. On the back lies an HDMI port and a microUSB port for power. It’s important to note that, like the SNES Mini, the C64 Mini does not come with an AC wall dock for power but if you have an old USB phone charger lying around, that will almost certainly do the trick.

Not only does the C64 Mini come with myriad games from the platform’s hey day, it also sports two further important features — one being the ability to load any games that are missing from the game’s library onto the console with ease via USB and the second being a fully functional version of BASIC. BASIC, as most C64 fans know, was the primary language of the system and the one most of its games were written in.  Having BASIC on board means that you can use it to create your own, brand new Commodore 64 games. While something that will be a no-brainer for fans of the system, that’s absolutely wild to me. Round of applause to manufacturer Retro Games for that little stroke of genius.

The C64 Mini is exactly what fans of the retro console market have been chasing. It is a smartly designed, well-built little device that harkens back to everything that made the original so wonderful and beloved. It’s got the look right, the feel right, it’s got a great selection of games to get you started, it stands as a living museum to a time in video game history when the industry was still figuring out what a game was and what they could be. It also makes a lovely desk piece when you aren’t using it. If this is the standard we can expect from retro mini console makers going forward, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Score: 9.0 out of 10
Highlights: Solid build quality; Amazing selection of games; Era-appropriate overlays
Lowlights: Gotta get your own suction cups for the bottom of the joystick
Manufacturer: Retro Games
Price: $169 AUD
Available: Now

Review conducted using a final retail unit provided by the publisher.