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ICYMI, the newest gaming 'mini' isn't a PlayStation, Nintendo or SEGA system of old, or even a console at all, but a compact recreation of Commodore's Amiga 500 (albeit with emulation capabilities up to the Amiga 1200). As revealed by manufacturers Retro Games Ltd on August 10 2021, the A500 Mini will ship with a very era-accurate mouse, a control pad clearly modelled after the one that came with the short-lived Amiga CD32 console, and 25 built-in games. It also features the option to run your own ROMs, four save slots per game, display options, and full-size keyboard support (as this, being a mini, doesn't actually have working keys).
I understand that for a lot of people in the world, this announcement won't have them counting the days until the A500's release (sometime in early 2022, since you asked). But as someone who loved video games in the early 1990s and whose parents wouldn't buy them a console for a few years, the Amiga was everything to me for the period between having a second-hand ZX Spectrum and finally getting my hands on SEGA hardware.
Check out the reveal trailer for the A500 Mini, below...
Commodore's Amiga range sold close to five million units in its lifetime, mostly in the UK and continental Europe, so I'm fairly confident there are plenty of others, just like me, who are thrilled to see the name returning to gaming circles. But the A500 Mini isn't a product of pure nostalgic appeal, on the form factor alone - it's also a vehicle to return some really brilliant, still-playable games to the here and now, in a convenient and fully licensed fashion. Games that players in America and elsewhere may have previously missed out on due to the Amiga's localised commercial success.
While the 16-bit SEGA and Nintendo consoles had their share of bangers - many of which showed up on the Mega Drive Mini and Nintendo Classic Mini: SNES Edition - the Amiga was also blessed with an array of outstanding titles. Developers like Codemasters, The Bitmap Brothers, DMA Design, Delphine Software, Team17, Bullfrog, Sensible Software and Gremlin were producing incredible experiences that, while not always exclusive to Commodore's machine, absolutely shone on it. There are many legendary Amiga games that are hard to easily pick up in 2021 - but the A500 Mini can go a long way towards changing that.
Retro Games Ltd's previous downsized hardware release, THEC64 Mini (later given a full-size makeover), missed a host of arguable essentials from its pre-installed 64 games, and many of its 8-bit inclusions are really showing their age. But with the Amiga's audio and visual capabilities rivalling that of the Mega Drive and SNES, at least superficially, many of its best games still look great and play fantastically well - just like Super Mario World, Sonic 2, Super Metroid and Streets of Rage 2 do, today.
Alongside the A500's reveal, Retro Games Ltd confirmed 12 of its 25 pre-loaded games. Amongst them are evergreen winners from The Bitmap Brothers, Team17 and Delphine - and it's this quality of software, rather than anything to do with the actual hardware, that should see this particular mini elevated to one of the best we've seen so far, right up there beside the SNES, Mega Drive, and 2020's exceptional PC Engine Mini.
From The Bitmap Brothers we get The Chaos Engine - a superlative co-op run-and-gunner with gorgeous steampunk pixel art - and Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe, a futuristic sports game where bodies are broken as quickly as points are scored. Neither of these games was only playable on the Amiga, but both are utterly synonymous with the computer. A third Bitmap title, Cadaver, was only released for home computers (Amiga, DOS, and Atari ST), never transferring to console. It's a wonderfully colourful, isometric-perspective jaunt around a puzzles-filled castle, and one of a few games on the A500 Mini that many a user may be experiencing for the first time.
The included mouse will come into its own for the point-and-click adventure of Simon the Sorcerer. Adventure Soft's 1993 title was something of an Amiga and DOS must-have at the time, but it didn't travel far from its debut platforms - its only console port was on the ill-fated CD32, and a 25th anniversary release in 2018 was restricted to PC and mobile. Full of warm-hearted humour, it's one that all fans of Lucasfilm games like The Secret of Monkey Island, and the newer breed of Thimbleweed Park, absolutely have to check out.
Elsewhere, Kick Off 2 is no Sensible Soccer, but was adored by Amiga owners who loved their football sims played at a furious pace. Team17's ATR: All Terrain Racing is something of rough diamond of its genre, an arcade-accessible top-down racer in the vein of Blizzard's Rock n Roll Racing that actually kicked up controversy when one reviewer of the time only rated it 38%, leading to lawsuit from its publishers (which came to nothing). It's better than such a score suggests, albeit not in the same league as the Codemasters-published Super Skidmarks, which would be a great inclusion in the as-yet-unseen final 13 included games. Fingers crossed, there.
Team17 also slips Alien Breed 3D and Worms, in its 'Director's Cut' version, onto the A500 Mini, and the fact that the company's CEO Debbie Bestwick was quoted in the PR for the system makes me wonder if more of the venerable British studio's Amiga titles will made the cut. Having the action-filled horror of Alien Breed II and Street Fighter-ish Ultimate Body Blows on this thing would be terrific. Battle Chess is in the dozen, and I played so much of Interplay's very-stabby chess sim back when; and Delphine's tricky cinematic adventure Another World, published by Interplay, is here too.
Rounding out the 12 games are Gremlin's Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension - a kind of Sonic-alike with a particular taste for lollipops - and Digital Illusion's Pinball Dreams, which funnily enough is a pinball game (and a great one, at that). With every announced title accounted for, that gives the A500 Mini a wealth of cornerstone classics that a huge percentage of Amiga owners in the '80s and '90s will have enjoyed.
Whereas the PlayStation Classic's built-in games were more misses than hits, and THEC64 and, arguably, the NES Mini are just too old-fashioned to generate much newcomer appeal, what we've so far seen of the A500 is highly encouraging. These are games that feel at home in the 21st century, and hopefully a lot of players who never experienced them before will be tempted to take a punt. I'm optimistic that what's being held back for the next announcement will only expand on the essentials - Delphine's Flashback, perhaps, and maybe the Bitmaps' Xenon II? Is it asking too much for Sensible World of Soccer - and if we get that, why not Cannon Fodder too, given we've a mouse for it? And will I finally be able to (legally) replay Moonstone? Now that would truly make this Mini a must-have. I don't ask for much but, retro-gaming gods, if you're listening...
Featured Image Credit: Retro Games Ltd, The Bitmap Brothers/Rebellion Developments
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