Retro 'mini' consoles are big business, but they're also a chance for gamers of all ages to experience a fairly authentic blast from the past. There have been some truly epic releases, like those from Nintendo, but in almost every case, they're just a small plastic box with minimal electronics inside.
The C64 isn't a small plastic box. This is a faithful recreation of the Commodore 64, first launched in 1982, and it even has a working keyboard. And it's really rather good.
Bottom line: If you can get hold of one, this is as close as you'll ever get to a modern-day C64, right down to the working keyboard.
- It looks just like the real thing
- The keyboard actually works
- Ample USB connections for additional joysticks
- Can sideload your own games
- Classic interface options
- Not available (officially) in the U.S. yet
- Hard to actually get hold of
- Joystick is frustrating
When 1982 meets 2020
The Commodore 64 is one of the all-time best-selling home computers, having sold over 12 million units from its launch in 1982. Before this even, there was the Commodore VIC-20. Both have been brought back to life for 2020 in the aptly named, "The C64." Available in Europe for £110, The C64 is more than just another retro "mini-console" — though there is already one of those on sale — this is a faithful recreation of the old computer.
That means a lifesize, premium beige-colored box that houses the goodness. This modern incarnation, of course, is ready for current technology, so it's powered over micro USB, outputs at 720 at up to 60hz over HDMI, and has USB ports available to hook up the included joystick.
There's absolutely no giant disk drive, though. The USB ports actually replace this, since you're able to sideload your own additional games onto The C64 without any hacking. That's pretty neat, and even though I don't have any C64 games to load up onto it, having the option to is pretty awesome. There are 64 titles pre-installed, including California Games, Paradroid, and the incredible Attack of the Mutant Camels.
What's equally interesting is the fact you're not just limited to games, nor are you limited to some modern interface. You're able to boot into both the VIC-20 and C64 classic interfaces as well as turn your hand to a little BASIC programming. No lie, the C64 has all the bells and whistles of the 1982 original for you to enjoy on a modern TV.
But even that can be tweaked, with a filter on hand to add a little CRT look and feel to your 720p HD output. In as many ways as humanly possible, The C64 is faithful to the real thing. And that's worth huge praise.
The manufacturer has an extensive resource pool for buyers, including tips on how to get started with programming, updating the firmware over USB, and loading up your own games. Every aspect of the C64 has been well thought out to give not only an authentic experience but an enjoyable one.
Some mild frustrations
Right now, the biggest problem with The C64 is nothing to do with its hardware or software. It's the fact it's seemingly impossible to get hold of. At the time of writing, it's completely out of stock in the UK, and officially it isn't even sold in North America or indeed any other non-European markets.
You can pre-order one in Italy, and Amazon's French store is saying that it will be stocked again on January 31. On the one hand, it's fantastic news because lots of people clearly want one, but it's always incredibly frustrating to see this awesome thing you want and not be able to get it. In the UK, there's currently no date listed for being back in stock, but I'll update this when I hear back from the company's PR representatives.
Away from availability issues though there's only really one thing, I don't like about the C64, and that's the joystick. At least in my hands, it doesn't feel particularly comfortable to hold, and the stick is so stiff that it's really awkward. There's nothing on the bottom to really keep it still on a flat surface either, so while a joystick is definitely the way to go for that old school experience, I feel like there could have been a better effort on this front.
What's old is new again
Ultimately The C64 is a lot of fun, and besides a heavy dose of nostalgia, it feels like a better quality product than a lot of these retro re-releases. The attention to detail is unmatched, and the fact you're getting a full-sized machine with a working keyboard sets it apart from the C64 Mini, too.
The Commodore 64 is a little before my time, but it's easy to appreciate this recreation for what it is. For many, it's a chance to relive their youth, for many others a chance to check out a piece of computing history without needing to deal with ancient hardware. Hopefully, it comes back in stock pretty soon, because it's definitely worth buying.
The best beige box around
Keep an eye out for these coming back in stock, it's an awesome dose of computing nostalgia for all ages
Richard Devine is a Managing Editor at Windows Central with over a decade of experience. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently, you'll find him steering the site's coverage of all manner of PC hardware and reviews. Find him on Mastodon at mstdn.social/@richdevine