If ever there were a plug and play mini retro system that I couldn’t quite be sure about, THEC64 Mini would have to be the one. On the surface it looks like there’s a lot for a retro gaming enthusiast to appreciate but dig a little deeper and some of the early potential begins to dwindle a bit. Take, for example, the company behind this yet-to-be-released system, the UK’s Retro Games. Contrary to what you may read in the press releases, these guys actually successfully funded an Indiegogo campaign a few years back to produce and release a full-scale Commodore 64 plug and play unit to the world (called THEC64). And, despite a goal to ship product to backers by Dec 2016, it appears that entire venture has been put on hold to develop the Mini.
As I am not one of THEC64’s original backers, I suppose I have less reason to be upset about this than do those who have put up cash to get one and are still waiting. Of course, I’m not sure that hyping up the Mini is the right thing to do ethically either.
The move to create a Mini makes perfect sense, however. All it takes is a passing glance at what Nintendo’s been able to accomplish with both the miniature NES and SNES Classic Editions to realize that a nostalgic looking box that emulates original titles legally and pumps the images into a modern display via HDMI is the hot ticket right now.
Fortunately Retro Games isn’t denying any of this. In fact the following message can be found on their official site: PLUS – Full sized, fully working version also coming in 2018 as well! Perhaps this is to offer backers some assurance that they haven’t been forgotten.
So what exactly does THEC64 Mini propose for its March 29, 2018 global release? The $69.99 package will include a miniaturized Commodore 64 (roughly half the size of the original) shell with HDMI out and a pair of USB inputs, a single competition pro joystick and 64 licensed games pre-installed.
Interstingly, while the unit appears to be USB powered – (your TV’s USB port should be able to provide the needed voltage via the included cable), Retro Games does state clearly that no AC adapter is included in the package. A bit of a bummer for $70.
Like the efforts by Nintendo, it appears THEC64 Mini will be pushing its signal out via 720P resolution with a variety of viewing options to chose from like pixel perfect/ 4:3 aspect ratio and CRT filter. Now where things get interesting is that because the emulation running on the ARM SOC chip is designed to mimic the original’s architecture, it looks like playing Commodore 64 roms will be possible right out of the box via either of the unit’s USB inputs.
What’s more- the company says the unit runs BASIC. This may not mean much to modern gamers but users of the original will surely be delighted to discover the appeal of manually typing in old game programs from books will once again be a viable means of increasing one’s game library. I personally was all over this trend of the early 1980s. When I wanted a new game to play on my shoestring budget (often literally a shoe string), I would visit the computer section of my local library and transcribe lines of BASIC. Most of the resulting games were fairly rudimentary but maybe even more challenging was learning what lines did what so that developing games of my own was a legit possibility.
On the flip side to this exciting ability of THEC64 Mini, that shrunken down form factor means the keys here are only for show. To actually be able to type on the Mini, an external keyboard will have to be plugged into one of the USB ports. Also, do keep in mind that Commodore ran its own unique subset of the BASIC language called PET BASIC. And while the 64 included games will likely be launchable from a front end similar to those snazzy interfaces found on the Nintendo minis, it’s looking like classic commands like LOAD “*”,8,1 may be back in circulation when running roms. -If that last line means nothing to you, you probably had to be there!
So what about those 64 included games? Well, if you were around collecting for the 64 back during its initial run, you are surely aware of the reality that the library was a mixed bag at best. The reason for this makes sense too, especially when compared to the more quality-controlled library of a dedicated game console like the NES. Computer game manufacturers of the era had no “official seal” to apply for to make software available for the machine in question so shovelware abounded with reckless abandon. Hacks of other games, poor ports and clones littered store shelves. Decent games existed, of course, but finding them wasn’t always easy. And do keep in mind that we’re talking about a pre-internet era so simply popping the title you were considering into Google, reading customer reviews or checking out Youtube footage of game play weren’t even an option. You simply went to the store in those days, studied the game box and hoped for the best. More often than not, you ended up disappointed.
Retro Games claims to be well aware of this as well and hand-selected 64 titles to license that have largely stood the test of time. Among these we have some of Epyx’s more popular offerings (Impossible Mission 1 & 2, California, Winter & World Games), Boulder Dash, Star Paws, Uridium, Chip’s Challenge and Bounder to mention a few. The complete list of games can be found here.
All in all, it’s easy to think THEC64 Mini won’t inspire the type of rabid furor we witnessed with the Nintendo minis (and hopefully nor the type of hardware shortages that benefited only the scalpers) and the raw numbers hint to similar hunches. The original NES sold 61.91 million units during its run, the Super Nintendo 49.10 million. Nintendo, consequently, moved 2.3 million and 4 million Classic Edition NES and SNES respectively; their entire production runs of each.
The original Commodore 64 sold around 12.5 million units by comparison. How many C64 Minis Retro Games plans to produce prior to release is anybody’s guess. Will I pick one up once they’re released? I’m not entirely sure. While I remember many of the games fairly fondly, I can’t really attest to craving a Commodore 64 session the same way I have the NES, SNES and even Sega Genesis (thanks, ATGames). Though I am a sucker for plug and play nostalgia systems in general and that this one will be fully BASIC ready out of the box is a pretty cool feature in my opinion.
One thing’s for certain- the retro gaming movement isn’t going unnoticed and I’m hopeful we’ll be getting retro minis of those systems I foolishly passed over the first time around. If someone makes a TurboGrafx-16 or Sega Master System version any time soon, my credit card and I are in trouble.