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The C64 Mini

It's time for another mini trip down memory lane.

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Almost everyone who owned a Commodore 64 back in the day will have fond memories of playing classic games on the iconic computer, despite the fact that it wasn't always smooth sailing. The C64 was, in its heyday, the best-selling home computer going, and as a result, it ended up in homes across the world. So if you're old enough, even if you didn't own one yourself, chances are you played one at a friend's house. Either that or you didn't, and you were left to defend your Spectrum in the playground despite secretly being jealous of that kid you didn't really like anyway who smugly told everyone at school about all the fun he was having on his precious C64. If that's you, well, you'll be delighted to hear that now your time has come.

It's feelings of nostalgia that are the driving force behind the C64 Mini, a miniature-sized version of the best-selling home computer that has just launched in Europe and costs around £70 / €80. Included on this pint-sized replica is a fitting total of 64 games, including a handful of classics that'll take those of a certain age back in time. Just like we experienced with the recent releases of the NES and SNES minis, nostalgia can be a powerful thing, but those consoles (and the mini Mega-Drive/Genesis to a certain extent) also enjoyed the benefit of offering games that still hold up very well, even to this day. For all the memories that the C64 is able to stir, that's something the console isn't able to offer with the same consistency.

The C64 Mini
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That's not to say that all of the games on the C64 Mini are a bit naff, because that's not the case, and among the 64 included there are some that remain playable. Classics like Boulder Dash, Impossible Mission II, Skool Daze, and Speedball remain amusing for a time, and we discovered a few (such as Nobby the Aardvark) that boasted really cute graphics. That said, even the highlights haven't aged with a huge amount of grace, and it doesn't help that the lineup isn't what you might call definitive, and for every California Games there'll be a title or two that you've never come across before. It's good that you can add more games yourself (just do it ethically, ok!) because there are going to be gaps to fill. With so many thousands of titles released during the console's life cycle, there was no way they were going to be able to make everyone happy, but at the same time it's clear that they weren't able to get the rights to some of the popular titles that many of you will no doubt be looking forward to revisiting.

We took a brief look at nearly every game included in the library, and there are some fun little titles in there, both that we remember from our youth and that we'd never even heard of until this week. That said, there are some that are borderline unplayable, and others that were much better but that still took far too long to get up and running. Maybe we weren't getting into the spirit of things, but we think a product like this should make it easy to revisit these games, presenting them to you in the best possible light. The C64 Mini, however, insists that you take the rough with the smooth.

Getting setup is extremely easy, and once you're plugged in and switched on you're accompanied by a catchy tune while you scroll through the extensive carousel wheel filled with titles, most of which have nice little descriptions telling you about the game and what you have to do. Best of all, some of these blurbs also include basic controls, so it's worth taking the time to read before you start a game up, because many of them use wildly different control schemes and adjusting to each one is a challenge in itself. Indeed, it's not always crystal clear what buttons you need to press, and a number of more complicated offerings (such as judo title Uchi Mata) are rather impenetrable as a result.

The C64 Mini
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The device itself looks really cool, that much we can't deny, but perhaps it's a missed opportunity that the keyboard is just moulded plastic. If you're going to type something you have two options - plug in a cable via one of the two USB ports on the console, or use the virtual keyboard. We'd recommend plugging in a keyboard every time and twice on Sundays because the virtual alternative is almost unbearable to use with the joystick included in the box. Many of the games rely on keyboard inputs, and oftentimes these inputs aren't explained at all, and so even with a keyboard plugged in, getting into certain titles can be an unnecessarily challenging experience. Casual players will likely not bother the moment they meet any resistance, and alas resistance is something you're going to be greeted with from time to time when you're playing on the C64 Mini.

Perhaps the thing we liked the least was the joystick. While we loved the look and feel of the console itself, we didn't much appreciate the build quality of the controller. The plastic felt a little cheap in the hand and we noticed occasional input lag or unresponsiveness more than we'd have liked (and when you're playing a game where the controls aren't obvious or which demands accuracy, it makes things doubly hard). It doesn't help that there's only one in the box, and if you want a second to tackle two-player games with both of you enjoying the same input device, you're going to have to fork out £25 for another one.

The C64 Mini

The joystick plugs in via USB, in the second port next to where your keyboard will go, and the whole thing is powered by a micro USB cable (although a plug adaptor isn't included, you'll have to source your own). The device then connects to your television via a HDMI port at the back, but this inclusion and the lack of alternative options did make us wonder who the C64 Mini is actually for. The fact that it's HDMI only suggests it's being aimed at a more casual audience, but the lack of accessibility elsewhere suggests a product intended for enthusiasts. It's arguable that it doesn't clearly define itself as either, and we felt it was something of a missed opportunity to more elegantly introduce a new generation to the wonders of '80s gaming.

Perhaps our favourite part of the whole experience was listening to some stunning chiptune music, and among the many games included there are some real toe-tappers (our favourite was probably the soundtrack to Rubicon, which remains funky as hell even to this day). The ability to save your progress is also going to be a big help if you want to really dive deep into some of the games, and if you've got some favourites among the titles included, this might even be a great opportunity to put some demons to rest and complete the unbeaten classics that drove us to obsession and back all those years ago. Finally, it looks great, and if you've got a soft spot in your heart for the system, when you're not playing it's going to look great in your office or on top of a slightly more modern console in the lounge.

It's a mixed bag, then, with a number of positives offset by some accessibility issues and a joystick we didn't much like. It's nice that you can view the action through different filters, and the inclusion of Basic is another nice touch for those who want to play around and do some programming, but in general we have to report that our time with the C64 Mini hasn't really scratched the nostalgic itch that we thought it would. When this mini console arrived at the office we were genuinely excited because a polished, user-friendly trip down memory lane to visit some of the games of our childhood sounded like a lot of fun, but that's not exactly what we got. If you're happy with a warts-and-all return to the often frustrating days of 8-bit gaming, the C64 will certainly deliver that, and the list of games included may well speak to you more than it did to us. However, this is not a polished experience akin to what Nintendo delivered with the SNES/NES Mini, and if you go in expecting that you might end up disappointed.

The C64 Mini
05 Gamereactor UK
5 / 10
overall score
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