The C64 in all its fine splendour. Picture: A Banks
The C64 in all its fine splendour. Picture: A Banks

This is one retro wave you need to ride

My original 1984 Commodore 64 greeted the brand new, 2019's "The C64" from Retro Games in the same way that Ripley viewed Ash in Alien: immediate scepticism and hostility.

And it was understandable. This was a replicant.

 

Ripley didn't really get along with Ash in Alien. Picture: supplied
Ripley didn't really get along with Ash in Alien. Picture: supplied

 

Here was a newer, shinier model that offered greater built-in file compatibility and video options - you'd think the older model would be grateful for a breather. But no.

Sadly, they were not to be friends.

My old C64 felt thoroughly slighted about having to reapply for its existing job as the coolest retro gaming device in the house.

Meanwhile, the new C64 was doing its best to dazzle me with its scan lines, Vic-20 mode, games carousel and pixel-perfect HDMI display.

It was not a fair fight at all.

 

The C64 Home Computer now has a full working keyboard
The C64 Home Computer now has a full working keyboard

 

For the Commodore 64 purists, the machine is as much about what's under the hood as what the package looks like. And for the most part, you will never convince them that this new version will supersede the original hardware.

But we should not look at The C64 as aiming to replace the 30-odd-year-old computing masterpiece.

Rather, this is clearly a labour of love: an ever-improving homage to a golden era of gaming which should be applauded and embraced.

From its working, sturdy keyboard to its accompanying solid, micro-switched joystick, The C64 is a marked improvement on the earlier mini version.

This is pure plug-and-play beauty that Windows 10 can only dream about. Even modern consoles can take longer to boot up. And aside from the occasional (non-compulsory) firmware update, there is no need to ever download patches or to wait for an online connection to start playing or coding.

Load up a flash drive with games in a variety of formats (including d64, crt and tap, plus multi-disks) and read it from any one of the four USB ports at your disposal via the built-in menu.

The C64 comes with a small (original C64-style, without the ring binder) manual, but you can download a free, larger guide (along with firmware updates) from the official website.

Cabling includes a power cord and AC plug, a HDMI cable and a joystick.

The built-in games have plenty of hits (Impossible Mission, Winter Games, Uridium among them), and a few misses, of which there are 64 pre-loaded in total to choose from and scroll through via a handy carousel menu that you can boot into at start up, or choose to be greeted by the original Commodore 64 splash screen.

 

 

I won't go into what it doesn't have compared to the original Commodore 64, because frankly the costs start to skyrocket when you add peripherals and the like, so let's just say this: The C64 is the cheapest solution available to get the closest experience of owning an original Commodore 64.

Believe me, I owned an original Vic-20 and Commodore 64 in the 1980s and this year paid quite a bit for a 1984 model, so I've now experienced all there is with this new edition and I can tell you, the similarities are plenty.

When you're young, you want new and fast and this latest C64 delivers that with almost zero load times for games and original case colouring. With the original model, there is always the fear some internal component or chip will fail and some of them are not cheap to replace. The old tech needs a bit more care and attention, while the new model relieves most, if not all of that stress.

Those who argue the original SID chip (music) cannot be properly emulated, these are the same types of folks who argue vinyl sound is better than CD quality - they're probably right, but for the most part people just want to play the games and have fun.

As a Christmas present, The C64 is at an extremely reasonable price point for what you get in the box and while it's true the software can be emulated on a PC, nothing beats the look and feel of a working keyboard.

 

The C64 micro-switched joystick comes with the keyboard.
The C64 micro-switched joystick comes with the keyboard.

 

The custom-built joystick I have for my original Commodore has spoiled me now, so I find the one that comes with The C64 still a bit clunky, stiff and awkward, but it's a damn sight better than the mini version they released and I've heard you can even plug in cheaper d-pad USB controllers and they work just as well, which you cannot do with the original machine without port adaptors.

Definitely do not write off The C64 as just another in a long line of retro remake devices - the Commodore 64 community is strong and vibrant and continues to make games to this very day. If you dig around online you'll probably find some home-brew software which will allow you to build your own games menus and other clever features.

It's true, 8-bit gaming is not dead. Get in the game and snap up one of these devices to keep up with the Commodore as we head into 2020.

Order The C64 through JB Hi-Fi or EB Games in Australia.



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