Hey Harvey!

Posted on Oct 13th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under C64 Mini, Super Nintendo Classic, NES Classic, Atari Flashback, There will never be a PS4 or XB1 Classic Flashback due to all the

Got one of these recently.  Well, the US version.  And I'm really digging it; I grew up with the original beige brick as my first computer/game system and have several years' worth of great memories surrounding it.  After loading the C64 Mini and putting it through its paces, I have a few thoughts to share that extend to the current wave of retro emulation systems and why I moved away from PC gaming.




First, let's chat about the C64 Mini.  If you have no real history with the Commodore 64, I can't recommend it as easily as, say, the Super NES Classic Edition.  The Mini includes 64 games with some great titles, and the ability to add more without mods.  That alone potentially makes this little kit a real bargain, but that bargain only extends to folks who can appreciate the specific palette of early computer games.


Some of these are a blast, and for some the best part is the cover art.

I have a soft spot for joysticks with one button, the SID sound chip is in my top three musical instruments of all time, and I have always found the abstract art of early video games as compelling as anything in 4K.  So the C64 is pretty much made for me, but I'm not so sure who else.  If you are old enough to have nostalgia for one of these, you probably grew up with a real one, and there is a good chance that early intro into computers grew into at least a competency with modern computers.  And if you have that, it's not much of a stretch to learn how to pick up a Raspberry Pi, load 'er up with every C64 game available, and have a much more robust and extendable setup for retro computer gaming than the C64 Mini offers, and possibly cheaper.  What the C64 Mini offers is great (except the controller, which I'll mention near the end) but if you grew up on Commodore and still like the games, by now you've likely scratched that itch with modern PC emulators or even the new Internet Archive in-browser emulator.  (I was going to link to it, but the front page has content that proves "adult" games have been around as long as computers.)

What I'm saying is, the recent NES and SNES closed-box systems are cheap and ping on the retro sonar with a large group of gamers, and the games are mostly accessible even to the younger crowd.  Ditto with the countless Atari-era plug-n-play stuff.  I personally think the Commodore 64 library, along with other games of that era, are not quite as accessible for the most part.  Many of the games are great, don't get me wrong, but I don't think most folks who come in cold will stay very long due to the typically clunky and esoteric nature defining the library.  I don't see Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy fans digging into the Apshai games (though I sure do!), shmup fans will likely die in Uridium or Zynaps even faster than in Mushihime-sama, and even 2D platformer fans may struggle with the eccentric feel of the Impossible Mission or Jumpman games. 

It isn't just that these games are reflective of their time.  It is also that they are reflective of a stage in video game history between quick-death quarter-munching arcade games and experimental depth-adding features that give character and personality, sometimes at the expense of easy play-ability.  The games post-Pac-Man and pre-Super Mario Bros. 3, particularly on home computers, have a wonderful variety and some surprisingly refined experiences.  Even more feature a whole lot of awkward controls, unexplained mechanics, and outright weirdness.  Many of the best games in the overall C64 library (and not just the games on the Mini) take time and patience and a crazy amount of game-overs before the nuances are understood and the annoyances become quirks or even relevant to the game design.  Sure, the same could be said of the NES and Master System libraries, but I daresay nothing on those systems go to the level of games like Jet Set Willy (which means far fewer nightmares overall.)    Naturally not all C64 games are worth a deep dive, but some of the best really come together in ways that take quite awhile to master; the fascinating learning curve of controlling the wisp in Necromancer, the barely-contained anarchy of Crossroads II: Pandemonium, the bouncy precision required for Mega Apocalypse.  These games no longer have name recognition or art plastered on Knick-Knacks, so without the cultural stickiness attached the majority of these games run the danger of being booted up, toyed with for a few seconds, and then tossed aside forever.

And that's OK, certainly not every game should be immortalized.  But it does beg the question, who is the target audience of the C64 Mini?  Well, me!  I'm the right age and demographic.  I long to boot up some of my favorites from childhood and play more of the ones I never got far into, and to finally try out a few I never got to play.  And unlike many of my contemporaries, I don't tend to game or emulate on PC, so I don't intend on building my own equivalent.

Why?  Well, I used to be quite the PC gamer in the late 1990's and early 2000's, even building PCs for friends and family.  But when it came to my PC gaming, I noticed a disturbing pattern.  I would get a new game and then spend dozens, sometimes over a hundred hours tweeking settings and replacing hardware to optimize that game on my system.  I'm a tinkerer at heart, and I would keep adjusting and experimenting until I felt I had maximized my setup for that particular game.  Then, I would play it... maybe a few hours.  And then I'd get a new game, and the process would start all over.  I would get so obsessed with tinkering to run the game at maximum efficiency that by the time I could play it, I just wasn't as interested and would move on. 

The closed-box design of console gaming meant that I could escape that and just play for fun.  And while my previous method of PC 'gaming' taught me a lot, it wasn't a wind-down or relaxing endeavor, it was a project that I wanted to complete, which would free me up for another project... ad infinitum.  Console gaming meant that I didn't have much to tweek, I could load up and enjoy.  I knew it wasn't the prettiest and 'best' but I didn't have that nagging "it would run better if..." in the back of my mind.  Of course, I know about console hardware mods and custom video boards and scaling and reducing lag and on and on, but there is something different and comforting to me to just plug in a console box and enjoy it for what it is now.

And that's why the C64 Mini is perfect for me, but not necessarily an easy recommendation for others.  If you do snag one, for Cybernoid's sake get yourself a better controller than the one included!  The joystick it comes with looks the part, but fails miserably do to mushy buttons and stiff diagonals.  There are excellent USB alternatives, including iNNEXT's SNES-style ones for pretty cheap.  Oh, and make sure to upgrade the firmware to help with the input lag.  And make sure to grab a cheap USB thumb drive to load some more games.  And-

I just can't leave well enough alone, can I?

Tongue



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Comments
 
Ah, the venerable C64.  A system I do love (for sure), but one of the examples of a system with a finite lifespan.  It's too bad, really, as there are some very awesome games to be had (and some even in NTSC!).  I bought the original C64DTV back in 2004 (the Comp Pro one designed by Jeri Ellsworth) and loved it, even though they barely scratched the surface of what the 8-bit has to offer.  That being said, I had the C64 Mini (and all the other Minis for that matter) in my sights, and if it wasn't for me branching out into Vita Land I would have picked it up for sure. 

It's funny you mentioned the PC community being about tinkering, because that is all the modern C64 community does: tinker.  It's partially the reason I stepped back a bit (if I'm going to mess with hardware, it will be PC or Mac hardware), especially with respects to such devices as the SD2IEC devices.  Sometimes I just want to pop in a C64 disc and play it, not open it in a File Manager and have to reset it three or four times, trying to figure out which file loads the game correctly (or if I can use a Fast Loader with it).
 
I so want this but that is sucky about the controller.  That is a very important part of a system.  I also wish the selection of games were better but I will still get this.  I love the C64!
 
Seems like a product that should be my target, but I'd probably go the Pi route, to avoid having to invest a bunch of money into another old computer that will require more upkeep. I have very few memories of the C64 that a neighborhood kid had, but I do remember playing Zork with him, playing a very competent port of Spy Hunter, with a great rendition of "Peter Gunn" in the background, and some other kind of single-screen platform game that I thought was vaguely Arabian themed, but I'm pretty sure it's not Tales of Arabian Nights. Either way, the C64 is a platform I need to dig into more.

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