HomeGamingA500 Mini review: A flawed Amiga retro gaming PC capsule

A500 Mini review: A flawed Amiga retro gaming PC capsule

The realm of retro gaming PC technology is like a rabbit hole, and it’s easy to accidentally become an antiquated Alice. From experience, I can tell you that exploring this vintage wonderland costs time and money, especially if you’re set on getting a classic microcomputer. Luckily, it’s easier than ever to get a dinky modern time capsule that captures the essence of your old favorite rig, with the Amiga A500 being the latest machine to join the mini console fold. As someone who’s been waiting for a classic Amiga edition for a while, I’m happy to say that this nice Tribute to Commodore is true, but a few missing niceties mean it’s not exactly a retro home run.

The A500 Mini is the latest retro gaming computer package from Retro Games Ltd, acting as a successor to its previous Commodore homage, “THEC64”. In a way, the company’s ambitions within the mini-console scene make a lot of sense, as using original hardware to play old games comes with plenty of frustrating caveats.

Unlike classic consoles such as the Super Nintendo and the Sega Mega Drive, older personal computer games tend to come on cassette tapes and floppy disks, both of which are extremely temperamental. The whole thing is also ridiculously expensive, with the Amiga A500 costing around $300 on the used market. This is the point where I would usually joke about it by matching the price of the best graphics card to budget builds, but I digress.

As you’d expect, the A500 Mini’s nostalgic ride begins before you even open its box, as it’s a homage to old retro gaming PC products. While the artwork on the front is more of a composite homage to the original packaging than an exact copy, it manages to evoke a vibe that will resonate with anyone who unboxed an Amiga back in the day. It even makes sure to include some well-known faces from the machine’s library, like the weird gremlin ninja from the Zool rig – a character that was created to rival Sonic the Hedgehog.

A500 Mini retro gaming PC case on white background

The A500 box is also kind enough to inform us of its contents, including an Amiga-style USB PC controller, a beautifully antiquated USB mouse, and the device itself. Looking inside actually reveals another thoughtful tribute, as there’s a ring-shaped user manual sandwiched in the middle. Much like those old stacks of chonky paper, this new user guide dives into the features of the A500, including how to load game files onto the mini machine (we’ll get to that in a bit).

To match its beige aesthetic, the A500 Mini comes with a matching USB-C and HDMI cable, which should help you create a 90s-themed battle station. Like all other mini consoles, the The package doesn’t include an AC adapter, but I was able to power the device using a spare USB on my gaming monitor, which makes plug and play setup even less of a hassle.

Before we talk about the magical capabilities of the Amiga A500 Mini, let’s talk about its detailed exterior. In many ways, this odd recreation is a work of art, with intricate details that might help someone convince you that shrink-ray guns exist. The case is made of high quality plastic and its weight helps maintain a premium feel. Still, there’s an inherent lack of interactive hardware features included in the A500 Mini’s shell, which puts other mini console makers somewhat ahead of the curve.

A500 Mini Retro Gaming PC on White Background

Needless to say, if the A500 Mini featured a real working keyboard, it would probably feel a bit redundant for anyone with human-sized fingers. That said, Retro Games Ltd has potentially missed a trick when it comes to physical interactivity, especially since the only button on the device is a cheap power rocker on the back.

The A500 Mini might trick you into thinking retractable spokes actually exist

Sega clearly understood the mission when designing the Mega Drive Mini, as it encapsulates hardware memories by including demo features like a cartridge slot, removable expansion bay cover and volume slider, which doesn’t exist only to trigger memories. Even the PC Engine Mini clings to its ancestor’s game card locking mechanism to preserve hardware history.

Admittedly, opting for non-functional keys may limit the interactive range of the A500 Mini, but there’s one memorable element that stares us straight in the eye: the floppy disk drive. Not everyone will care about that sort of thing, but turning the device’s supposed optical drive into something you can play with may have made a huge difference to the experience. In fact, I think Retro Games Ltd could have gone the extra mile and made it an SD card slot, allowing losers like me to make tiny cards that look like floppy disks. I’m not saying that being able to insert and eject modern media like a floppy disk would give me eternal happiness, but… in fact, deleting that absolutely would.

A500 Mini retro gaming PC controller and mouse on white background

The fact that the A500 Mini comes with a mouse and a gamepad is great, but while the former feels like a nice nod to the past, the controller feels like it’s chained down by novelty. The included clicker might not stand up to the best gaming mouse options, but its gripping click makes it a great weapon of choice for point-and-click adventures like The Secret of Monkey Island. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the A500 controller, as its Amiga CD32-inspired design makes it a painfully impractical choice for rigs, and its D-pad bothers my thumbs more than most ( and I used a lot of weird tampons in my day).

Of course, the A500 Mini isn’t just a physical Amiga memory, it’s also meant to be a full-fledged emulator device, aimed at both casual retro gamers and dedicated enthusiasts. If you fall into the former category, the A500 Mini will likely tick a lot of boxes, as it includes 25 games that will help you take a day trip back to the bygone years of PC gaming. However, while the device offers seasoned retronauts another way to play Amiga games without stock hardware, it brings perhaps the same tricks as the MiSTer and Raspberry Pi.

That’s not to say the A500 Mini’s emulation isn’t up to snuff, as its Amiberry software is based on WinUAE, a longtime Amiga emulator that has slowly perfected the art of precision. There are probably subtle differences between the real deal and the A500 Mini’s software take, but I didn’t notice anything particularly distracting or detrimental.

A500 Mini setup with Simon the Sorcerer Amiga game on screen

The A500 Mini’s user interface is also worth mentioning, as its streaming service-style layout makes it easy to browse its built-in games and browse your own collection, thanks to WHDLoad support. The latter effectively means that you can add multiple floppy disk image files to a USB flash drive and instantly access your collection. Retro Games Ltd emphasizes on the back of the box that “games must be obtained legally”, so you’ll want to load the libraries you actually own.

Speaking of games, the A500 Mini has 25 built-in. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the Amiga’s library, you might recognize staples like Eric Chahi’s classic Another World (otherwise known as Out of this World in North America) and Original worms. I could criticize the console’s preinstalled library and complain that some of the greats like Turrican, The Secret of Monkey Island, and James Pond 2 are missing. However, the world of retro game licensing is a messy business, and there’s nothing stopping me from loading my actual copies of these games via USB (other than sheer laziness).

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Changing settings is also intuitive, with options for everything from CRT filters to aspect ratio options occupying the same space. An additional gaming settings screen is guaranteed to include features such as an NTSC toggle and more complex optimization settings, allowing you to dial things in perfectly before you embark on a 90s gaming frenzy. HDMI and 720p output means everything looks great on an HD display. I even played some of the games using BenQ’s Mobiuz EX3210U gaming monitor with HDRi enabled, turning the experience into an even greater viewing pleasure.

Ultimately, the A500 Mini is a great retro gaming PC time capsule that could help more people embark on an Amiga adventure. It may not quite sum up the physical experience of using the classic Commodore microcomputer, but it’s still an engrossing collectible capable of producing an exceptional experience through emulation. That said, while it’s easier and cheaper to get an A500 Mini rather than an Amiga, its price of $139.99 means it’s still an expensive investment, surrounded by many other alternatives on the market.

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