A500 Mini review: An imperfect Amiga retro gaming PC capsule

The A500 Mini is a great retro gaming PC tribute that makes playing classic Amiga games a breeze, but it could do more in terms of physical features

A500 Mini retro gaming PC Amiga setup on desk with game thumbnails on screen

The realm of retro gaming PC tech is something of a rabbit hole, and it’s easy to accidentally become an antiquated Alice. From experience, I can tell you that exploring that vintage wonderland costs time and money, especially if you’re set on getting a hold of a classic microcomputer. Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to obtain a modern dinky time capsule that captures the essence of your favourite old platform, with the Amiga A500 being the latest machine to join the mini console fold. As someone who has been waiting for a classic edition Amiga for a while, I’m pleased to say this cute Commodore tribute strikes true, but a few missing subtleties mean it’s not exactly a retro home run.

The A500 Mini is the latest retro gaming PC package by Retro Games Ltd, acting as a successor to its previous Commodore tribute, “THEC64“. In a way, the company’s ambitions within the mini console scene make a lot of sense, as using original hardware to play old games comes with numerous frustrating caveats.

Unlike classic consoles such as the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive, old personal computer games tend to come on tapes and floppy discs, both of which are tremendously temperamental. The whole affair is also ludicrously expensive, with the actual Amiga A500 costing around $300 on the second-hand market. This is the point where I’d usually joke about it matching the price of the best graphics card for budget builds, but I digress.

As you’d expect, the A500 Mini nostalgia ride starts before we even open its box, as it’s a homage to retro gaming PC products of old. While the artwork on the front is more of a composite tribute to the original packaging than an exact copy, it manages to evoke a vibe that’ll resonate with anyone who unboxed an Amiga back in the day. It even makes sure to include some well-known faces from the machine’s library, like the platform’s weird gremlin ninja Zool – a character that was created to rival Sonic the Hedgehog.

A500 Mini retro gaming PC box on white backdrop

The A500 box is also kind enough to inform us of its contents, including an Amiga style USB PC controller, a beautifully antiquated USB mouse, and the device itself. Peering inside actually reveals another well-thought-out tribute, as there’s a ring-bound user manual sandwiched in the middle. Just like those old chonky stacks of paper, this new user guide delves into the A500’s functionality, including how to load game files onto the mini machine (we’ll touch on that in a bit).

To match its beige aesthetic, the A500 Mini comes with a matching USB-C and HDMI cable, something that should help you craft a 90s themed battle station. Just like every other mini console, the package doesn’t include an AC adapter, but I was able to power the device using a spare USB on my gaming monitor, making the plug and play setup even less of a faff.

Before we talk about the A500 Mini’s magical Amiga abilities, let’s talk about its detailed exterior. In many ways, this uncanny recreation is a work of art, with intricate details that could help someone convince you that shrink ray guns exist. The shell is constructed of high-quality plastic and its weight helps maintain a sense of premium quality. Yet, there’s an inherent lack of interactive hardware features included in the A500 Mini’s shell, which puts other mini console manufacturers somewhat ahead of the curve.

A500 Mini retro gaming PC on white backdrop

It’s needless to say that if the A500 Mini featured a real, functioning keyboard, it’d likely feel a bit redundant to anyone with human-sized fingers. That said, Retro Games Ltd has potentially missed a trick when it comes to physical interactivity, especially since the only button on the unit is a cheap-feeling power toggle on the back.

The A500 Mini could fool you into believing that shrink rays actually exist

Sega clearly understood the assignment when crafting the Mega Drive Mini, as it encapsulates hardware memories by including demonstrative features like a cartridge slot, removable expansion bay cover, and a volume slider, all of which purely exist to spark memories. Even the PC Engine Mini clutches onto its ancestor’s game card locking mechanism for the sake of preserving hardware history.

Admittedly, opting for non-functioning keys perhaps limits the interactive scope of the A500 Mini, but there’s a memorable element staring us right in the face – the floppy disc drive. Not everyone is going to care about this kind of thing, but transforming the device’s pretend optical drive into something you can play around with may have made a huge difference to the experience. In fact, I reckon Retro Games Ltd could have gone the extra mile and made it an SD card slot, allowing losers like me to make tiny cards that look like floppy discs. I’m not saying being able to insert and eject modern media like a floppy would grant me eternal happiness, but… actually, scrap that, it absolutely would.

A500 Mini retro gaming PC controller and mouse on white backdrop

The fact the A500 Mini comes with both a mouse and gamepad is great, but while the former feels like a beautiful nod to the past, the controller feels like it’s shackled by novelty. The included clicker might not hold up against the best gaming mouse options out there, but its captivating clickiness makes it a great weapon of choice for point and click adventures like The Secret of Monkey Island. Sadly, I can’t say the same for the A500 controller, as its Amiga CD32 inspired design makes it a painfully impractical choice for platformers, and its D-pad upsets my thumbs more than most (and I’ve used a lot of weird pads in my time).

Of course, the A500 Mini isn’t just a physical Amiga memoir, it’s also meant to be a fully-fledged emulation device, catering to both casual retro gamers and devoted enthusiasts alike. If you fall into the former category, the A500 Mini will likely check a lot of boxes, as it includes 25 games that’ll help you take a day trip into the yesteryears of PC gaming. However, while the device provides seasoned retronauts with another way to play Amiga games without original hardware, it perhaps brings the same tricks to the table as the MiSTer and Raspberry Pi.

That’s not to say the A500 Mini’s emulation isn’t up to par, as its Amiberry software is based on WinUAE, a longstanding Amiga emulator that has slowly perfected the art of accuracy. There are likely subtle differences between the real deal and the A500 Mini’s software-based take, but I didn’t notice anything particularly distracting or detrimental.

A500 Mini setup with Simon the Sorcerer Amiga game on screen

The A500 Mini’s user interface is also worth talking about, as its streaming service style layout makes it easy to thumb through its built-in games and browse your own collection, thanks to WHDLoad support. The latter effectively means you can add multiple floppy disc image files to a USB stick and instantly access your collection. Retro Games Ltd emphasises on the back of the box that “games must be obtained legally”, so you’ll want to load up libraries you actually own.

Speaking of games, the A500 Mini has 25 of them built-in. Even If you’re unfamiliar with the Amiga’s library, you might recognise staples like the Éric Chahi classic Another World (otherwise known as Out of this World in North America) and the original Worms. I could criticise the console’s pre-installed library and moan about the fact some of the greats like Turrican, The Secret of Monkey Island, and James Pond 2 are missing. However, the world of retro gaming licencing is a complicated affair, and there’s nothing stopping me from loading my actual copies of these games using USB (other than sheer laziness).

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Changing settings is also intuitive, with options for everything from CRT filters to aspect ratio options occupying the same space. An additional game settings screen makes sure to include features like an NTSC toggle and more complex optimisation parameters, allowing you to dial things in perfectly before embarking on a 90s gaming binge. The inherent benefits of HDMI and 720p output mean everything looks great on an HD display. I even played some of the games using BenQ’s Mobiuz EX3210U gaming monitor with HDRi enabled, transforming the experience into even more of a visual delight.

Ultimately, the A500 Mini is a great retro gaming PC time capsule that could help more people embark on an Amiga adventure. It may fail to encapsulate the physical experience of using Commodore’s classic microcomputer, but it’s still a captivating collectable that’s capable of producing a great experience via emulation. That said, while it’s easier and cheaper to pick up an A500 Mini rather than an Amiga, its $139.99 price tag means it’s still an expensive investment, one that’s surrounded by numerous other alternatives on the market.