Amiga A500 Mini Review - Hits and Misses

The A500 Mini on a blank backdrop.

I'm far too young to have played any games on the original Amiga 500. Wikipedia tells me it came out back in 1987, so a whole ten years before I even existed.

Still, I'm a sucker for modern reimaginings of old stuff, thoroughly enjoying the likes of the Nintendo Classic Mini on which I was able to play old-school bangers like Tecmo Bowl and Castlevania.

So, does the A500 Mini, a remake of the Amiga 500 console created by Retro Games, stand up in the present day? Are older games worth playing, or are they best left as relics of the past?

An A500 Mini console, along with James' dog, Benji.
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There's an ongoing discussion on video game preservation and the extent to which older titles and systems should be readily available for the general public, lest the games and memories are lost to time and no one remembers Battle Chess anymore.

The A500 Mini is a strange one, as it makes an attempt to offer the same experiences as the old home computer, but deals with limitations which one could argue make it a wholly different experience. Above, you can see what the console looks like (along with my dog lounging like the king he is). However, that isn't a real keyboard - it's just a cooly-styled box. Instead of that, you play using a gamepad and a two-button mouse, both of which connect to the back of the 'keyboard' via USB.

Some games do clearly require a keyboard to get the most out of them, though. It's amazing how complex some of them are (F-16 Combat Pilot is a particularly challenging one), but along with the depth of gameplay comes the requirement to translate keyboard controls onto a gamepad controller. Some games do it better than others, and you can open a cumbersome virtual keyboard if it's utterly necessary, but it feels about as familiar as you could reasonably expect from this transition to a more streamlined control scheme.

You're also able to sideload more games from a USB provided to you with the console. I wasn't able to try this out, but it should offer old heads with existing copies of Amiga games (in WHDLoad format) to install them and play them without having to lug their ancient home computers out of the attic.

The pool table from Arcade Pool on the A500 Mini.
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When it comes to the games pre-loaded onto the A500 Mini, it's a real mixed bag. As mentioned, some felt utterly incomprehensible to me, with F-16 Combat Pilot being the perfect example. It really made me feel like I'd been thrust into the cockpit of a plane I'd never flown before.

It's not all like that, though. Games that use the mouse are always reliable. The likes of Battle Chess and Arcade Pool do exactly what you'd expect and give you the exact gameplay experience players got back in the '80s. Some games work brilliantly with the controller too, such as Kick Off 2, a top-down football game that stripped things down to the sport’s utterly barest level.

There's a lot to enjoy on the A500 Mini, whether that be exclusively as a novelty experience to take a trip to the past like it was for me, or a joyous return to the good old days of gaming like it will doubtless be for others.

Most of all, it got my dad hooked. I tried out the A500 Mini on a visit back home, with neither of my parents being particularly avid gamers, but both of them having grown up bunging coins into arcade machines for more and more tries. My dad absolutely loved the A500 Mini, sitting himself down for session after session to try to beat my high score in Pinball Dreams. Sure, it's a simple game with a simple premise and not an original of the Amiga 500, but it just had him absolutely hooked like I've never seen before. Perhaps consoles like this can connect generations in ways modern games will always struggle to.

A screenshot from F-16 Combat Pilot from the A500 Mini. This is from the instruction manual, with a bunch of numbers players can refer to in order to understand what's going on.
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Despite the amount I (and my dad) enjoyed the A500 Mini, it's definitely got a target audience who would get more out of it than me. Folks who had the console back in their day, or who weren't able to play the games no matter how much they nagged their parents for a new computer, will likely relish the opportunity to try out an aspect of a forgotten childhood, just as I'll be shelling out for the first Game Boy Advance remake that comes out in 20 years time.

Sure, not every game is perfect. The keyboard isn't real and the controller doesn't translate 1:1 with all the games included on the console, but there's something about it that made me stick around. Maybe I'd rather be playing Elden Ring, but I wasn't. I was playing pinball with my dad and dog. That's got to say something.

A500 Mini
The A500 Mini will be a nostalgic delight for anyone who grew up with the system, but it doubles as a link between generations. Both super-complicated odysseys and pick-up-and-play classics combine for a mostly enjoyable, if short-lived, experience.
7 out of 10

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