While there hasn’t been a ton of discussion about miniature retro consoles this year, the one big standout during the holiday season has been The C64 Mini. This is a retro console for the original Commodore 64, an 8-bit computer made in the early ’80s, which was essentially a pretty good processor (at the time) that worked well for games on floppy disk and cassette tape. When it was released, it was one of the best-selling home computer systems of all time, and one of the last great systems before the gaming crash of 1983. So how does this mini version hold up as both a retro console in general and a throwback to the original?
First off, let’s talk packaging. For what it’s worth, this is probably the second best setup I’ve seen for a retro console. The best was the NES Classic Edition, but only because they were able to keep it simple. This is a long box with graphics everywhere, making it look super pristine and exciting. The original Commodore 64 didn’t look this good coming out of the giant styrofoam packaging it used to be in. The entire console comes with the keyboard, a joystick controller, a power cord, and HDMI cord, a guide, and a little promotion booklet.
The primary console for the C64 Mini looks exactly like the original. This thing was six different shades of brown from the keys to the switches to the framework itself. Because this is a throwback, the one item you don’t need has been removed: the keyboard. With a couple of exceptions, you used to use the keyboard to punch in specific commands to make the games work. Since everything is now in an emulator, there’s no need for it. They kept the design, which is lovely, but the keys are for display only and don’t even move.
The changes to the side of the keyboard have been modernized. Gone are printer ports and a bulky outlet slot. On the left, you have the HDMI port and the power port, while on the right, you have to USB slots for controllers and a power button. That’s really all you need and it’s nice that it looks clean. But, I would have preferred these on the front and back. I get it, they’re on the sides for nostalgia sake, but it’s also kinda unnecessary.
The C64 Mini’s joystick is from a couple different design s from over the years, ranging from the original to some of the cheaply made joystick emulators made a few years prior. You got your two primary buttons, two triangle buttons, and your A-D buttons, all highlighted in red with the joystick coming out the top. The design works well for what’s intended, but one of the issues with the old controller design is that there’s no real comfort on the wrist if you’re playing for long sessions. Again, I understand nostalgia, but if they were going to go with a modified design they should have just modified it for today’s gaming.
The game selection is where the console really shines. The menu looks like the old BASIC command screen where you can choose from a decent 64-game library of their classics and rarities, along with save files and other options. The menu was surprisingly easy to navigate through and didn’t really give me any issues. The graphics are superb and have been given what I can best describe as a ’90s upgrade. They basically look the best they ever have, if you hooked this up to a proper color monitor a few years later, managed to crack it up, and add extra RAM. There’s even an option in the guidebook to where you can load your own games into the emulator, so you can play other 8-bit titles from the era (if you have them).
I think The C64 Mini more than lives up to the hype of the Commodore 64, both as a retro console and a throwback. For those of you who are diehard retro gamers, this is a cheaper and more reliable version of the original–and you won’t have to spend hours of cleaning and repair to get it to work. Seriously, this is a miracle device for those who want to go back and play older games from this era from one of the best consoles around and not have to spend hundreds of dollars in shops and on eBay to do it. Is it a complete library? Of course not! But there’s room to play with on the emulator in case you feel like making it one. The console will run you $80, but it’s well worth it if this is your jam.