The Amiga 500 wasn’t just a gaming machine. At least, that’s what so many of us told our parents or guardians as we tried to convince them that we absolutely needed one.
I mean, sure thing mum; it had a tremendously good game library and helped foster a remarkable, prolific game development scene that served it with fresh titles for years. But an Amiga is really a PC, and that, we insisted, made it a powerhouse for homework and the future of our education.
In fact, we weren’t wrong. The family of Amiga computers did leave a significant impact beyond games. They had a profound influence on the evolution of the production of breakbeat hardcore, jungle and all that followed in electronic music. They shaped the emergence of 3D graphics in cinema and broadcast, even seeing use pre-visualising the first Jurassic Park movie. And so impressive were their abilities with video editing and computer art that the likes of Andy Warhol became eager evangelists.
But a generation of us in the late 1980s and early 1990s wanted an Amiga 500 not as a muscular multimedia tool, but because it craftily hid a dazzling games console in PC’s clothing.
Now the Amiga 500 is back, and this time it has no shame about its gaming chops. As has happened with the original PlayStation, the Mega Drive, the Super Nintendo and so many more, the Amiga 500 has now been given the micro console treatment – and it’s definitely a gaming machine.
The result is the A500 Mini, which ultimately strives to bring convenience and modern functionality to memories of the Amiga 500. At the heart of that offering is a delightfully tiny remake of the computer itself, which has 25 classic Amiga games built into its hardware. Additionally, it openly supports adding many hundreds more, offers modern USB connections, and simplifies the likes of saving games.
Rather than wrangle with original hardware and a hulking tube monitor while loading multiple floppy disks to play a single game, with the Mini you simply connect it to your HD TV via HDMI, pop the power cable in, add an included controller, and you’re good to go. Fire it up, and you’re greeted with a carousel inspired by the likes of Netflix that lets you browse and select the available games.
How much value you see in the included list of games will essentially be defined by personal taste and your own nostalgia. Together the 25 games do offer a representative spread of what Amiga 500 gaming offered. There’s a decent variety of genres covered, and plenty of classics that absolutely defined their era. The gloomily atmospheric platformer Another World, top-down steampunk run ‘n’ gun The Chaos Engine and deft cue sports sim Arcade Pool stand out as highlights, while Zool, Pinball Dreams, Worms and Kick Off 2 all pull their weight as reminders as to what a glorious machine the Amiga 500 was. Elsewhere Paradroid 90, Stunt Car Racer, Speedball 2, and Simon the Sorcerer bring plenty else to enjoy. A great many of those games have aged rather well, and even when they haven’t, there’s a dose of pleasure to be taken from imperfect treasures like the clunky shmup Project X and primitive top-down racer Super Cars 2.
Now, a scattering of purists will insist that only original hardware delivers an authentic Amiga experience. And they’re absolutely right. With the A500 Mini, though, you get all that modern convenience, while it also does an impressive job of accurately replicating the look, sound and performance of the original games. Squint hard enough, and a colour might be shade off. Are there a handful of instances where the speed errs from absolute authenticity? That seems to be the case, but it’s so close it’s often hard to tell. And to be fair, if you’re in the audience that can quickly spot such differences, you will likely already own at least one wonderfully restored original Amiga. Or you should.
And the diminutive A500 Mini really isn’t about suspiciously eying colour pallets and frame rates. It’s a machine for nostalgic nights gaming with old friends, or perhaps introducing your children to your generation of play. To others it presents a straightforward way to taste an iconic gaming platform they might have missed – a journey well worth taking if you have an interest in the broad medium’s past. Though it should be said that your own nostalgia towards what the Amiga was will ultimately define how much pleasure you unearth here.
If thoughts of Amiga’s do get you feeling all sentimental, you’ll likely find the scaled-down computer at the heart of things overwhelmingly lovely. It’s not just well made and brimming with spot-on miniaturised detail; the power and disk drive lights even flicker just right. Indeed, the first time you get it out of the box you might well find yourself just beaming at it for five or ten minutes, as your inner monologue concentrates on happier times. Even the packaging deserves a quick nod here; not only does the box evoke a sense of the original, but the manual inside is ring bound just as it was all those decades ago. Sadly, though, the incy-wincy keyboard is entirely non-functional, being purely for show.
Still, thanks to three USB ports on the back, you can plug in a modern keyboard for games that need them. The A500 Mini also comes with a slightly scaled-down version of the Amiga’s iconic, blocky ‘tank mouse’, albeit with modern guts in place of an old school roller ball. You also get a single gamepad loosely based on that of Commodore’s less than triumphant console, the Amiga CD32. The pad is decent enough and will be your go-to in a great many cases. But to hold a tank mouse again? If you’re prone to it, that will unleash another wave of sentimentality. And thanks to it being USB this time around, you are free to embrace your hipster geek side and use it with a modern PC.
There’s a weakness on the controller front, though. When it comes to what other gamepads and sticks the Mini accepts, things are somewhat hit and miss. It would be unreasonable to expect every game controller with a USB connection to magically work here, but slightly more generous support would be a welcome improvement. Elsewhere the Mini’s range of screen filters and display options that endeavour to replicate the look of a tube display are rather too rudimentary to be effective.
And yet the A500 Mini stands as one of the best micro consoles yet released. Across its construction, performance and stock game library, it gets almost everything right. As with so many of these modern retro devices, a chorus of voices will remind you that you could craft a customised, superior, sometimes more affordable version using the likes of a Raspberry Pi, FPGA, or emulation on a PC. Yet those approaches are nowhere near as straightforward, and you’ll need to put in a good deal of effort to be sure things are running ideally.
Instead, the A500 Mini provides a dizzyingly cute means to drench yourself in nostalgia, conveniently access some heavyweight classics, and revisit one of gaming’s greatest eras.
You can pick up the A500 Mini here.
The A500 Mini might not rival original hardware, but that isn’t the point. It has its flaws, but is one of the best micro consoles yet, and a great way to visit a defining time for the evolution of video games.
- Robust, detailed and exceedingly cute
- A quality and representative game library
- Nostalgia with modern convenience
- Adding games can prove fiddly
- Constrained controller support
- Rudimentary display and other options