During the home computer boom of the mid-to-late ’80s, the Amiga stood out. The Commodore is a formidable successor to the immortal C64, which debuted in 1985, and has fostered some unique creative and technical achievements that remain compelling to this day despite the platform’s unexpectedly rapid downfall. Its libraries and software, while memorable to those who grew up with it, are seriously underrated when it comes to retro gaming content. Now Retro Games Ltd. offers us a new plug-and-play solution, the A500 Mini, which promises to make the Amiga library easy and comfortable for all ages and interests. Let’s take a look at what it offers and how much it costs.
Inspired by the Amiga 500 released in 1987, the A500 Mini is the most popular of the Amiga series. The original device ran on a Motorola 68000, clocked at about 7MHz, and had 512KB of memory, the latter specification giving the console its name. The A500 Mini is a bit more modern, with an All Winner H6 ARM chip and Amiberry emulation software running at 720p base resolution. Like the other recent “mini” releases, this is a complete emulation solution, in this case tightly based on the Raspberry Pi 3 hardware support, due to its origins from WinUAE (the de facto emulation solution for the whole Amiga ), and therefore higher accuracy and compatibility.
Taking inspiration directly from a full-size console, the A500 Mini features a non-functional miniature keyboard, tiny power button, three USB ports, HDMI and USB-C power. It’s a nifty little unit that gives me some warm fuzzy feeling, and the plastic is fairly high-grade, but the power button lacks feedback and feels cheap.
The system comes with a mouse and an A500 gamepad required to play all games provided natively. The mouse is a smaller replica of the original that feels authentic, albeit a bit lighter, and now uses an optical sensor instead of a rubber ball. The controller was inspired by the Amiga CD32 controller that debuted in 1993, so this provided some sort of new “standard” for the Amiga release. Again, the build feels usable, and the button layout has been modernized from the ’93 original. The d-pad has also been swapped out from the disc-shaped original design for a more precise but feel too stiff PlayStation-style alternative.
To find a better solution, I tested dozens of controllers – but the device mapping was often incorrect. Only the 8BitDo SF30 controller worked perfectly with the device and I ended up switching to it entirely. Hopefully this can be improved with future firmware, and if mouse emulation could be added – say, an analog stick – we’d really be in business.
Once you power up your device, you’ll see a Netflix-like front end showing the 25 games on offer. Not all are true classics, but the complex licensing situation means that some obvious inclusions may not be feasible. Each game is broken down in the video embedded above, but due to its unique atmosphere and reliance on CPU-controlled characters, I’d like to recommend Another World as the standout option here. In general, the game’s emulation is correct, with only minor differences in graphics, sound, and running speed between the A500 Mini and the original device.
You can also access the options menu. Note that when offering a choice of 50Hz and 60Hz output, don’t think the latter is better. Most games are built for the European 50Hz standard, so run more accurately here. You can also resize the screen to dynamically crop and scale the image to better fit modern monitors, which is more than enough. There are also some filters, including CRT filters, but these are a bit crude and best avoided. Finally, the lights on the unit can be set to respond to disk activity, which helps distinguish a game that crashes from one that just loads the next level.
The last big selling point of the A500 Mini is WHDLoad support. This is essentially an archive image file of the game, optimized and configured to run best on the original hardware. It is sometimes referred to as an emulation solution, but in fact WHDLoad was developed for original hardware, and performs the same performance there as on any emulated device. On top of that, WHDLoad compiles a floppy disk into a single drive image, essentially eliminating the need for any disk swapping and creating a single file solution for any game on the system. For the A500 Mini, that effectively means it further integrates the gaming experience with simple setup, and running them is just a drag-and-drop operation.
Retro Games themselves provide a WHDLoad configuration file on their website to download to a USB drive, from which you can then prepare and dump your own Amiga floppy, an admittedly complicated process. From there, basically the entire Amiga world is at your fingertips – you even get extra per-game options to dial in the emulation to your liking.
So in the end, when looking at these mini devices, we got the usual two answers. For rekindling childhood memories or exploring the Amiga library for the first time, the A500 Mini is indeed a very popular device – especially given its openness to sideloading games. It offers a more modern console experience, allowing access to some incredible games that were previously hard to find as original copies and difficult to dial in under emulation. But for those of you who have already dabbled in original hardware or extensively configured their emulation boxes via Recalbox or MiSTer devices, there’s nothing new here, and you’re probably better served by your own custom setup infrastructure.
Like the C64 Mini before it, it will be fascinating to see if the A500 Mini will lead to a boom in new commercial versions based on Amiga hardware. With this mini-console, the developer sees an opportunity to target a “new” platform for its modern retro version, and sales are steadily increasing as fans old and new see new software optimized specifically for aftermarket devices, which could be further Develop A500 Mini with WHDLoad. The A500 Mini could usher in a new wave of Amiga fans and software, but it remains to be seen whether Retro Games Ltd. can pull that off.