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The C64 Maxi Micro Computer review – Commodore reborn, again

This has been a good year for retro mini consoles. The Mega Drive Mini was just as good as its Nintendo counterparts and the news of the PC Engine Mini coming out next year was very exciting. And while it’s not quite the same thing, and much more expensive, the Capcom Home Arcade was a wonderfully uncompromising recreation of some classic 90s coin-ops.

Clearly these mini consoles are very popular, but the obvious problem is that companies are running out of classic ones to release. Rather than just give up, some are likely to go back and redo existing ones – the PlayStation Classic could certainly do with a second try – because that’s already been the approach with the various 8-bit computers that have been given a similar treatment.

There have been multiple ZX Spectrum devices already and this is the second Commodore 64 release in as many years. Nicknamed The C64 Maxi by fans, it’s very similar to last year’s The C64 Mini, but with two major differences: it’s not mini and it comes with a proper microswitched joystick. And it costs £109.99.

The C64 Mini was a pretty good attempt at replicating the classic mini console experience for an 8-bit computer, but it was let down by a terrible joystick that made many of the bundled games almost unplayable. The joystick included here still isn’t an actual Competition Pro, even though it’s trying to look like one, but it’s close enough and the microswitched controls are precise enough to cope with all the more difficult action games.

It also has four additional buttons for performing various meta functions and there’s some complex instructions in the online manual on how to reprogram the buttons. It’s also available separately for around £20, so if you have The C64 Mini and don’t feel like upgrading you can get one of the main benefits of the Maxi separately.

The other big draw is that instead of a little shrunken down computer with a fake keyboard the Maxi is an almost exact replica of the original 1982 design, complete with a fully functioning keyboard. That not only makes it easier to play some games (sadly the only text adventure is the obscure Planet Of Death) but also to program your own and make use of the Commodore 64’s original BASIC interface.

Alternatively, you can use the optional carousel style interface that allows you to get straight to the games, along with a small suite of options that includes CRT screen filters and the chance to switch the emulation between UK and US versions, and between the Commodore 64 and the older VIC 20 computer. This time round at least, designers Retro Games seem to have thought of everything in terms of hardware, but the software is still an issue.

As with the Mini, there are 64 games included with the device itself, but while they’re mostly the same there are some additions and subtractions. You can see the full list below, with the manuals available here, but most of the missing ones are from publisher Thalamus. We assume that means there was some kind of rights issues, which is a shame as it means key titles Armalyte and Creatures are no longer included. There’s also no Skool Daze anymore, which is a real shame.

The original line-up was never great but losing some of the few genuine classics it had is unfortunate. Other games have been added to replace them, including a number of Jeff Minter titles like Attack Of The Mutant Camels and Gridrunner on the VIC 20, but overall the selection is slightly worse than what was already a fairly random collection of mostly non-classic titles.

Although Galencia is interesting, in that it’s a brand new C64 game made recently and sold by Protovision – even if turns out to be a fairly uninspired Galaga clone. Of course, one of the main appeals of The C64 Maxi is that you can play any game on it you like by loading other files from a USB stick. The documentation skates over the legality of using ROMs of commercial games though, even as the device supports all common emulation formats, including multi-disk games and cartridges.

From that perspective the Maxi is perfect because you’ve got the whole keyboard and a decent joystick just waiting to play any game you want. Given all that, the price really doesn’t seem so bad and if you assume they’ve done the best they can with the game selection this is as good as a re-released C64 could probably ever be.

However, unlike the Mega Drive Mini or Classic Mini Nintendo consoles the selection of games is nowhere near the best the format has to offer, with many of them barely worth playing more than once. Unlike the retro consoles, The C64 Maxi is not a ready-built time capsule of everything that was great about the original computer – but it could be if you’re willing to put in the effort to curate it yourself.

The hardware and emulation is solid and goes a long way to justifying the £109.99 asking price, it’s just that opening it on Christmas Day is inevitably going to be a disappointment unless you have a USB card full of games ready and waiting. Which you may well have, after reading this, and if so we wish you a very merry retro Christmas!

GameCentral - Source


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