This Month’s Retro Gamer had a look back at the Amiga 500 as its feature piece, looking at the hardware, its impact on the industry and of course the games and developers that helped an era. I didn’t have an Amiga 500 (or 500+); my computer was an Amiga 600. Nevertheless, the trip down memory lane whilst travelling on the tube to St Pancras last Friday was most welcome.

It was October 1992 when I received my new computer. Rather than replace the broken C64 Datasette which someone thoughtlessly trod on (trapping in my copy of Bubble Bobble), I was given a brand new machine. There was a little… keeping up with the Jones (read Hales’) going on here. Not that I was going to argue however, a new computer is a new computer. And it was clear there had been some behind-the-scenes manoeuvring as there was an arm full of…copied games (just to reiterate, I don’t condone video game piracy – I’d be pretty narked if I worked for ages on a piece of software just to find some schmuck ripping me off) as well as some purchased titles.

Not only was there the Amiga, but a monitor too so I didn’t have to worry about borrowing the kitchen TV on a regular/semi-regular basis. I’m not sure what my first games were; I recall all the games I received with my Commodore 64 almost 27 years ago (Xmas 1986) but the Amiga games are a mystery. Except Lemmings – that came with the computer and I think was the first time I got to use the Commodore Neos Mouse which I felt was a better ergonomic fit than the mice they used at school. I think I was given a copy of Drip, Rainbow Islands, Robin Hood, Monkey Island, WWF and a couple of others.

By this stage in my gaming career, we’d had the Master System around a year and I was very much used to playing with a joy pad. I don’t know what it is about the damn thing which weaned me off of my Joystick skills but I just couldn’t use one again and as there were very few 9-pin joypads on the market at the time (pretty much the Sega machines only as Nintendo used its own settings), I was stuck using the Master System pads. Oh, and I feel the urge to correct Retro Gamer; in its article it claimed that only one button was usable on a game pad. Not true, some games such as Project X made use of two buttons; one to fire the weapon, the other to cash in the upgrade collectables.

The novelty of souped-up games which loaded in a period of time measured in seconds rather than minutes was still quite new. Oh the Master System and Megadrive (you might say Genesis if you’re in the USA, we say Megadrive) and NES were far quicker of course but they never felt fully 16 bit. Many Megadrive games at the time were quite crude and the sound chip was appalling. Sonic the Hedgehog aside, there weren’t many Sega games at the time renown for their music. And the SNES had only just landed on our shores and had yet to spread.

I’m not sure what my favourite game on the Amiga was as many of them were replayed over and over again. Sensible Software were probably my favourite team – Cannon Fodder and Sensible Soccer were definitely two games that were heavily replayed though Team 17 and Alien Breed, Project X, Body Blows and Superfrog were a close second. The Amiga is where I was introduced to the Civilization Franchise and many lost hours of just…one…more…turn. I thought the conversion of Desert Strike on the Amiga was better than the console versions though the Street Fighter 2 remake was appalling (and slow).

Alas, the Amiga 600 didn’t last long as a computer, chiefly as the games had an irritating habit of getting stuck inside the disk drive. I constantly had to open the machine up with a screwdriver in order to prise the wretched things out and then the eject button broke on the drive meaning games had to be wrenched out. It continued to sputter along until about 1995 when it died altogether as the CPU burned itself out and it wasn’t replaced.

It’s a shame that the Amiga legacy really died around this time – the CD32, the successor project to the Amiga promised so much but delivered so little (see the earlier blog entry). The Amiga 2000, 3000 and 4000 models did survive into the early interweb era but were aimed at developers rather than casual users; Windows was (at least as far as I know) never released on the Amiga otherwise the machine could well have continued in a recognisable format today (I’m not including the recent revival of the Amiga brand in that).

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