Back when the console industry was still young, and the PC was an expensive business machine for grownups, the Commodore Amiga was one of the most vibrant and diverse gaming platforms available. Originally launched as the Amiga 1000 in 1985, its 16-bit 68000 CPU and array of graphics acceleration coprocessors promised a new era of visually and sonically advanced gaming – a prospect realised by the 1987 launch of the more affordable Amiga 500. Supported by an array of small, talented studios, and inspiring a vast community of demo coders, it was the home computer for a generation of players and creators. Now, following the success of retro consoles such as the SNES Mini and Mega Drive Mini the Amiga is back in the form of the A500 Mini, a teeny replica of the original Amiga 500 with 25 built-in games.
As with other machines in this growing category, the A500 is designed to be plugged into a modern LCD TV via an HDMI cable. Users can opt to run games in 50hz or 60hz depending on their display; they can also scale the image to fit, and there’s a decent CRT mode, which simulates the scan lines you’d see on an old cathode ray TV or monitor. However you set things up, what you’re getting is Amiga code running via an emulator rather than on the original hardware or an FPGA like the Analogue Mega Sg. However, the emulation is excellent and every one of the built-in games plays perfectly well, with no weird glitches or controller issues. The system also supports later iterations of the Amiga system, namely the Enhanced Chip Set and the Advanced Graphics Architecture of the Amiga 1200.
Control is via a USB joypad, which resembles the model that came with the Amiga CD32 console, and a pleasingly authentic (and chunky) two-button USB mouse. The latter is fine, but the joypad feels very plasticky and is not hugely responsive, which can make instinctive shooters such as Project-X and The Chaos Engine very frustrating.
Nevertheless, playing these classic games on your TV is a joyful nostalgic experience. The 25 titles include stone cold legends such as the aforementioned The Chaos Engine, the futuristic sports sim Speedball 2, the innovative driving game Stunt Car Racer and the definitive multi-platform superstar, Worms: The Director’s Cut. The collection also shows the range of the machine – and of that fecund era of gaming – where you could get formative first-person shooters such as Alien Breed 3D sitting in the charts beside chess games and pinball sims. The Amiga was very much a platform of genre experimentation, an incubator for ideas that would shape modern game design. Hence, we find prototype strategy action titles such as Lost Patrol and Dragons Breath, and we get the cinematic adventure Another World, which holds up incredibly well.
Importantly, you are not restricted to these titles alone. Players will also be able to download games from the internet and load them on to the machine via a USB stick, giving you access to a vast library. Given all the Amiga greats that aren’t on there – Lemmings, Cannon Fodder, The Secret of Monkey Island, Syndicate et al – this feels like an essential addition.
As ever, there are familiar counter-arguments to investing in a mini console. Instead of paying £120 for one of these, you could download an emulator for your PC or build your own Amiga clone using a cheap Raspberry Pi. But these solutions require a reasonable amount of technical knowhow – certainly more than simply buying a convenient readymade unit that comes with 25 tested, working games and all the hardware you need to run them on a TV. And besides, the form factor of the A500 is so cute, it’s a nice little thing to store beside your other mini machines.
The A500 is a robust piece of tech nostalgia that will give veteran fans many hours of nostalgic pleasure while also providing an accessible means of introducing younger family members to the Amiga scene. The colourful sprites, pounding techno soundtracks and sardonic wit of the beloved Sensible Software, Team 17 and Bitmap Brothers games retain their appeal and it has been fascinating to rediscover how much the modern independent gaming scene owes to this 35-year-old home computer.