Monday, July 18, 2022

The C64 “Maxi” by Retro Games Review

The C64 "Maxi" is a Commodore 64 replica by Retro Games that was released at the end of 2020. Based upon Retro Games The C64 Mini which is similar to Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition mini retro console. You may have used a real Commodore 64 for decades or may be brand new to the Commodore scene and you’re thinking, “Is this for me?” Keep reading to find out more!

Like its predecessor the Mini, the Maxi has around 64 games included, this number does change as each update includes a new game or two. The C64 also comes with a "classic" style joystick that works well and has some extra buttons on the bottom to navigate through the menus. To plug it into a tv The C64 Maxi has a standard HDMI connection on the back. It's also powered with a standard USB power cord that's included with the C64. And finally on the back is one USB port as well as two extras on the same side as the power button which is on the right side of The C64 just like a real Commodore 64.

Now we will cover what you can do with The C64 "maxi". It comes with two modes, carousel, and classic mode. Carousel mode is what you get when you power on The C64. Similar to the NES Classic it shows you the games it comes with which you can scroll through. Classic mode boots The C64 into "Commodore 64" mode. If you want to use carousel mode you can add new games to it that will show up just like the games that come with The C64. When you turn The C64 on in Classic mode it goes right to the blue screen you'd get when powering on a real Commodore 64. In Classic mode, you can use The C64 just like a real Commodore 64. 

Carousel Mode

You are able to add games and other programs, if you have the Roms that is, using a USB stick. While you can't connect an actual disc drive, tape deck, printer, etc, or insert real cartridges you can still use these through The C64's menu. 

Retro Games have released a number of updates since its release and these updates have added some much-needed features. First off you can now update which port the joystick is in, some games require port one while others need port two making it easier to play games. You can also use USB mice in programs like GEOS. Retro Games latest release is the A500 mini, a mini Commodore Amiga 500, which includes a USB replica of the Commodore 1351 mouse that you can use on the A500, The C64 mini, and maxi, and any computer that has USB ports. I want to pick one up from my The C64 but I'm waiting to see if Retro Games will release a full-size A500. 

Right out of the box a welcome feature is The C64 can be switched from NTSC to PAL mode. Some games were designed in PAL regions that when played on an NTSC Commodore 64 it will be too slow. And a game designed in an NTSC region will play on PAL systems too fast. On The C64 you can easily go into the menu and change it. 

One of the best updates allows REU support. Commodore 64 REUs is a Ram Expansion Unit for Commodore 64s and 128s. Through emulation, you can now use REUs in programs from 128k up to 2MB. With this update, you can basically do anything on The C64 that you can do on a real Commodore 64. This was important to me because I've just ordered a copy of the new Vision Basic which requires an REU to work.

As far as function, The C64 mini can do everything the maxi can do. The physical differences are mostly minor, of course, the mini is smaller and it only has two USB ports. The main difference, and the reason I skipped getting the mini, is the fully functioning keyboard. It's more than just a working keyboard as it has all the PETSCII pictures on the keys just like a real Commodore 64. The only change with The C64 is that the Shift Key doesn't lock like the real keyboard. The C64 Mini and maxi run on emulation using Vice which is probably the most popular Commodore 64 emulator. If you've ever used Vice to do anything other than play games, you'll find it's very annoying trying to use a modern keyboard because the PETSCII pictures are missing from the keys and some keys are in different places on a Commodore 64. I literally didn't have the patience and I didn't want to write on each key's function on a  Commodore 64. The C64 maxi not only made it a breeze to type with but the added features included with the updates like REU support make The C64 maxi as a fully functioning Commodore 64, the mini is also fully functional minus the keyboard.

One more function The C64 mini and maxi can do that a Commodore 64 can't do is emulate the Vic-20. In the menu, you can switch from Commodore 64 mode to Vic-20 mode and you can play games, a few are included in the 64 games The C64 comes with, as well as adding your own Roms to play. In Vic-20 mode you can do anything that you can with a real Vic-20. This feature means The C64 emulates two separate machines. It seems like most people want this as a Commodore 64 and not a Vic-20 and disregard that but it's a great feature to have.

Ok, so you've read this far and are thinking, "there have to be some drawbacks... right?" Well of course there are a few. As already mentioned you cannot use real Commdore peripherals with The C64 but like I said you can use these through emulation of the devices. Another issue is lag. All retro devices running on an emulator introduce some lag into games. When I played Commodore 64 games that I owned back in the day on The C64 I couldn't notice any lag. I'm sure there are a few games where it could be noticeable but to me, I'm completely fine with the lag.

Now we get to who would want The C64 maxi. First of all, let's put all our cards on the table. The Commodore 64 came out 40 years ago and these machines are only getting older. I own three vintage Commodore 64s and none of them work now. I can probably cannibalize them into one working machine but things get old and wear out and this is only going to get worse. The C64 lets me do everything I can do with a real Commodore 64 without worrying about 40-year-old chips breaking or capacitors exploding when I power it on.

I think fans of the Commodore 64 would want one as an easy-to-use model. You can easily hook up The C64 to any modern tv and go. You don't have to hook up disc drives, tape machines, REUs out the back, or plug your favorite game cartridges, The C64 does all this without all the clutter.

If any of this sounds good to you I'd strike now before it's too late. As of right now the Maxi is sold out on Amazon and sold copies on eBay are over 200 dollars. I paid $120 for mine new so they are nearly double in price now and I don't know if Retro Games has any plans to reissue the Maxi. I rate The C64 Maxi a 10 out of 10 and I'd get my hands on one now If you can.

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