THEA500 Mini Review – A small Amiga 500 full of nostalgia

THEA500 Mini is a very good mini version of the Amiga 500 and can handle not only Amiga 500 software, but also software for almost all Amiga 1200 versions: from the Amiga 1000 to the Commodore CDTV. The supplied controller and mouse work well and it is possible to connect your own peripherals. The emulation options are very extensive and the configuration options are endless. However, the device is on the expensive side for the games that you get: there are only 25. Moreover, they are not all equally iconic. Retro Games Ltd compensates for this with the ability to add games yourself, without being difficult. THEA500 Mini is mainly for the nostalgic enthusiast who doesn’t want to mess around too much. You get a nice package, with all legal kickstart images and games.

Pros

  • Nice controller and mouse
  • Extensive emulation options
  • Easy to add games yourself

Cons

  • Few included (iconic) games
  • Pricey

The hype in which games industry manufacturers are making mini versions of their old consoles is in full swing. You would think that now that the most popular and best-known game consoles of the past have received a mini version, things will become a bit quieter in this area, but nothing could be further from the truth. Arcade cabinets and home computers are now next and after the success of the C64 Mini , the successor was inevitable. The company Retro Games Ltd recently released a small version of the iconic Commodore Amiga 500 home computer.

The device has been given the name THEA500 Mini and the names ‘Commodore’ and ‘Amiga’ are nowhere to be seen. The same applies to the associated logos. That’s because these are not owned by Retro Games Ltd. The ‘Commodore’ logo is owned by Polable Holding NV, the ‘Amiga’ name is owned by Cloanto/Amiga Inc. and the ‘Commodore’ name belongs to Equipo. However, that should not spoil the fun. The company has made every effort to remain as close to the original Amiga as possible. The case of the computer is therefore not an Amiga 500, but THEA500. The same font is used as with the original Amiga’s. The official logo has been replaced by a logo that resembles an element of the well-known ‘boing ball’, the bouncing ball shown on the prototype of the first Amiga.

The computer comes with a mouse, controller and 25 built-in games; that’s fewer games than you’ll find on an average other mini device. Retro Games Ltd has dealt with this by making adding your own games very easy, but more on that later.

Hardware

THEA500 Mini is 25 x 17.7 x 7.8 cm in size, more than eight times smaller than the original Amiga 500. The device has a single-board computer under the hood with an Allwinner H6 soc. The soc consists of four Cortex-A53 cores clocked at a maximum of 1.8GHz and a Mali-T720 GPU running at 600MHz. Furthermore, there is 512MB RAM and 256MB nandflash memory on board. The storage memory can be expanded via USB sticks. On paper, the device is fairly similar to a modern Raspberry Pi and thus more than powerful enough to emulate any Amiga 1200-based hardware. Finally, THEA500 Mini has three USB ports, an HDMI port with an output resolution of 720p and a USB-C port for power.

The system also comes with an optical version of the Commodore Tank mouse, which the manufacturer calls The mouse. This one is a bit smaller and lighter than the original and the mouse buttons click a lot smoother. Since this is a standard USB optical mouse, it will work on other devices too, and if you’re really feeling nostalgic, you can even use the pointing device on your modern PC.

Also included in the box is a controller, which Retro Games Ltd calls, you guessed it, The controller. It has the appearance of the Amiga CD32 controller and is equipped with four action buttons, two shoulder buttons, a d-pad, a menu button, and a home button. These buttons also feel a lot smoother than those of the original controller, so you don’t have to immediately grab something else. If you still want that, that’s no problem at all. THEA500 Mini is compatible with a wide variety of controllers, keyboards, and mice, making it very likely that your favorite controller will be instantly detected by the device. Every controller and mouse that we connected to the computer worked flawlessly, from the usual PlayStation, Xbox and Switch Pro controllers to obscure arcade sticks and media center remote keyboard mouse combos. The keyboard on the computer is only for decoration and therefore does not work, the buttons cannot be pressed. Just like the mouse, the included controller can also be used on other devices. In the box, you will also find a USB-C to USB-A cable and HDMI cable, all in the same color as the housing of THEA500 Mini. An adapter is not included, but the average (older) smartphone charger (5V, 1A) is sufficient to provide the device with sufficient energy. In the box you will also find a USB-C to USB-A cable and HDMI cable, all in the same color as the housing of THEA500 Mini. An adapter is not included, but the average (older) smartphone charger (5V, 1A) is sufficient to provide the device with sufficient energy. In the box, you will also find a USB-C to USB-A cable and HDMI cable, all in the same color as the housing of THEA500 Mini. An adapter is not included, but the average (older) smartphone charger (5V, 1A) is sufficient to provide the device with sufficient energy.

Retro Games Ltd has put quite a bit of thought into the look of THEA500 Mini. The device is well-scaled and the keys on the keyboard look as if the letters are printed on them just as well as on the original. The power and drive LEDs light up nicely and there is even an option to make the drive LED blink while reading the virtual drive and display the audio filter status, just like on a real Amiga, a nice detail.

Software and games

When you first start THEA500 Mini, you are immediately greeted with a graphical user interface that is very reminiscent of the old Workbench, the operating system of the Amiga. One of the first questions the system asks you is whether you want to set the device to 50 or 60Hz. Although you are probably inclined to choose 60Hz directly, it may be more sensible to choose 50Hz in this case. The Amiga was in fact a lot more popular in Europe and most games and applications are therefore made with the refresh rate common in Europe in mind. Retro Games Ltd says the device uses several optimizations to interpolate everything to 60Hz if this option is chosen, but the company still recommends opting for 60Hz only if your monitor or TV doesn’t support 50Hz.

After setting up the device, you are immediately treated to a carousel, in which you can choose which game you want to start. As we wrote before, THEA500 Mini comes with 25 games, namely: Alien Breed 3D, Alien Breed: Special Edition ’92, Another World, Arcade Pool, ATR: All Terrain Racing, Battle Chess, Cadaver, California Games, The Chaos Engine, Dragons Breath, F-16 Combat Pilot, Kick Off 2, The Lost Patrol, Paradroid 90, Pinball Dreams, Project-X: Special Edition ’93, Qwak, Simon the Sorcerer, Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe, Stunt Car Racer, Super Cars II, Titus the Fox, Worms: The Director’s Cut and Sole.

There is no arguing about taste, but we find the range rather on the meager side. Not only is the amount of games on the low side compared to many other mini versions of (game) computers, but there are also not that many iconic games that really defined the Amiga. In addition, most games are not really Amiga exclusives and some of those games come into their own on other platforms. The Director’s Cut by Worms, unlike the PC version, lacks various music and humorous films. Some of the games also miss the intro screen with any accompanying music. In addition, we wonder why it was possible to choose The Director’s Cut of Worms, but not the extended version of Simon The Sorcerer. The CD32 version has more animations and speech.

Fortunately, the pain of missing iconic titles can be alleviated somewhat. THEA500 Mini gives you the option to easily add games. In fact, the manufacturer even promotes it. Unlike many other mini-devices, the box of tricks does not have to be opened. The company explains in the manual how additional games can be added. This is just a matter of downloading and extracting the WHDLoad package onto a USB stick and copying the WHD images onto the same stick. Plug it into THEA500 Mini and an extra icon with the image of a USB stick will automatically appear. If you select this option, a selection screen will appear in which you can select, configure and open the relevant image. Please note that you must own these games, because otherwise you deviate from the legal path, something the company also warns about in the manual. If you do get started adding extra games, you can also immediately download the free game Citadel and place it on your stick. Retro Games Ltd offers this game ontheir website and it looks like more free games will be offered in the future.

Retro Games Ltd has spared no expense to make the emulation as accurate as possible and to make it as easy as possible for users to play all the games and customize the options of these games. The company has used Amiberry, a modified version of UAE optimized for ARM processors. Furthermore, Retro Games Ltd has teamed up with Cloanto, the company that owns the rights to the official Kickstart images, Workbench and AmigaOS. However, Workbench and AmigaOS are not included as standard.

Amiga games are known for not always using more than one button. In many platform games, this results in having to use the d-pad or joystick up to jump. That made many games much more difficult to play. By default, the included games are set up so that one of the other buttons on the controller can be used as a jump button. Even games that you add yourself are in some cases already configured in such a way that a dedicated jump button is set. This is all customizable: the graphical user interface allows you to map all buttons on the controller however you like and even map specific buttons on the keyboard to one of the buttons on the controller. This is especially useful for games that occasionally require the keyboard: you don’t necessarily have to have a keyboard connected to press a specific button. It also makes a difference that you don’t always have to get the virtual on-screen keyboard via the menu button on your controller.

In addition to these options, the emulator offers a lot of options to change the appearance of the games. From a native resolution to a full-screen image with scanlines and even the option to crop or move the image. In addition, the progress of each game can be saved in four slots. Each game has its own four slots and even your added games have four slots of their own. It is also possible to provide your games with a rating and to change the order of the games.

While playing the included games, we did not encounter any emulation differences, except that the loading times are in some cases significantly shorter than on the original hardware. We see that as a plus in this case, although this is a property of WHDLoad and not so much of THEA500 Mini. If you work with your own games, you may encounter some more differences in some cases. Certain elements will not respond as quickly as on official systems and sometimes you will encounter some slowdowns or flickers. However, this has nothing to do with the hardware used, but more with an emulation option that has to be turned on or off. Some games use a coprocessor or a special blitter setting. These options can only be set when expert mode is enabled.

In the expert menu you can set which blitter mode the emulator should use and adjust the memory configuration. Also, the (virtual) coprocessor can be enabled and other processor and video settings can be enabled or disabled. The chances are small that you will have to get started with these settings and if you only stick to the included games, you will never have anything to do with these menus. This is purely for the hardcore Amiga fans who want to get the most out of their system and want to get started with specific software or games. It’s nice that the company has taken these enthusiasts into account and makes these options, which are standard in all UAE variants, accessible. Thanks to these options, we could actually start and play all the games and programs that we tried to run on the system. Even some games that previously gave problems on other emulators worked very well on the computer. A nice touch is the compatibility of this emulator. The device may look like an Amiga 500, but the computer could also handle Amiga 1200 hardware, such as the AGA CD, Commodore CDTV and CD32 software, effortlessly.

Does this mean that there is really nothing to hack into this device? Of course, it is. THEA500 Mini was marketed by Retro Games Ltd as a real game console, but the Amiga was of course a home computer. You will not find the very advanced and powerful operating system with an accompanying graphical user interface, Workbench, on this mini version for that time. Also, the WHD images of this system will not start by default. This is not surprising, because this system has to write files to a special location and the device does not allow that. You will need to modify the WHDLoader on the USB stick to properly run the operating system installation. In any case, the community is already working hard on this.

Conclusion

THEA500 Mini is a very good mini version of the Amiga 500, but also much more. The device can not only handle Amiga 500 software, but with software for practically all Amiga 1200 versions: from the Amiga 1000 to the Commodore CDTV. The emulation options are very extensive and the configuration options are endless. For $129 you don’t get as many games as other mini computers and the included games aren’t all equally iconic, but Retro Games Ltd makes up for that with the ability to add games yourself, without doing anything difficult. In addition, the emulator is so well preconfigured that even many of the self-added games work right out of the box with the device without any changes, but that is of course mainly due to the preconfigured WHD images.

On the hardware side, it is also mustache. The supplied controller and mouse work well and it is possible to connect your own peripherals. The hard core Amiga enthusiasts can also have fun with the device. The expert mode gives them the opportunity to play around with different memory configurations, blitter settings and CPU optimizations. Still, we wonder if the hardcore Amiga fan runs to the store for this. The device costs 129 euros at the time of writing and for that money, there are other, cheaper solutions that can do the same. That those options in some cases take more work to get working is something the hardcore tweaker does not turn his hand for. That’s why we think THEA500 Mini is mainly for the nostalgic enthusiast who doesn’t want to mess around too much. You get a nice package, with all legal kickstart images and other software. The package also knows exactly how to press all the nostalgic buttons and that is also worth something. If you don’t like the included games, you can always easily add your favorites yourself, provided you have the originals in your possession of course.