For today, Hoju is going to take you on a nostalgic journey through the realms of pocket-sized computers, emulations and legal gray (or grey, since what I’m about to talk about originated in the UK) areas. No one game will be talked about for this go-around, as I will be discussing the DIY media platform of RetroPie.
For those of you who are not aware, the Raspberry Pi is a teensy-weensy little cute computer created in the United Kingdom that has the girth of a credit card, the hardware and mind of a typical desktop tower and is only $35 (~£27). These devices were created with the idea of expanding the education of computer programming on a budget, with a relatively easy learning curve. Suffice it to say, you could learn just about everything you need from their homepage (raspberrypi.org) or the rest of the internet. Third-party companies are also selling all-inclusive kits for the Pi, forgoing the necessities to be purchased (i.e. a microUSB power cord) in order to operate the thing. If you’re interested, I would recommend purchasing one as they only cost an extra Hamilton (Churchill and some change) and will cover the exposed motherboard. The Pi can be programmed for all sorts of purposes such as a printer server, a camera or in this case, a retro game emulation machine.
The Raspberry Pi is capable of all sorts of unique uses, provided you put in the time; however, one thing it is not recommended for is current desktop gaming. It should be no surprise, seeing as how most GPUs nowadays are bigger than your average shoe size, dwarfing the capabilities of the little single-board that could. For throwback gaming purposes though, the Pi is a dream come true. The RetroPie Project was created to convert your Pi into an extended arcade of all games from Atari to the PS1.
RetroPie is an operating system of sorts, that rides off the back of a Raspberry Pi-based OS called Raspbian. Keep in mind, that I am not going to go into detail on how to set the system up, but I can guarantee that anybody can do it provided you have a morning to spare. There are plenty of instructional videos out there, based on what version you have, and they are not hard to follow. I will say that you should make sure to have a game controller on hand (some come with kits), unless you want to use a keyboard. I would recommend the iBuffalo Classic USB Gamepad for older games, but your PS/Xbox controller will work just fine.
Now, what I will take a minute to talk about are the games themselves. Unless you own an original cartridge, CD, tape, monogram or whatever media the game originally was released on (online virtual copies notwithstanding), ROMs are pretty much illegal. ROMs are the games themselves that can be downloaded and be played on emulators, which are virtual consoles created to play ROMs from any system you can think of: ColecoVision, 3DO, Sega Saturn, Vectrex, you know all the good ones. So before you jump into this, be sure you’re aware of this important legal issue. I’ll let your moral compass decide where to take you from there.
Now, while the RetroPie is an OS that runs off the Pi, Emulation Station is automatically downloaded when you set up the system consolidating all of the best Emulators created for all your popular systems, forgoing to need to upload each one. Once booted up, none of these will show up in your main menu, unless you have ROMs uploaded to it from the internet or microSD card. The menu is easy to navigate, is highly customizable and with built-in shortcuts available from your controller, you will have instant save and load options available.
Most of the games run beautifully on the system with no hiccups whatsoever, well up to about 1995. Some PS1 and many N64 games lag and may have bugs associated with the ROMs themselves. For instance, Ocarina of Time will not even load according to some forums. Anything after the 64-bit generation, fagidaboutit, well except for handheld games and Minecraft. Let this be a lesson, not all ROMs will work properly, but I personally believe the cost and intuition in creating a classic gaming console that can fit almost anywhere far exceeds these shortcomings.
Of course, if you are not comfortable with a little physical and virtual assembly that is required, let me tell you, neither was I at first. I am not a programmer and I am far from an expert on computers, but I took the plunge and was surprised on how extremely easy it was to set up. I’ve had a blast reliving my Donkey Kong Country and Sonic the Hedgehog days of yesteryear with a machine that I’ve created myself, the way I always wanted and for $40 with a kit (figure out the conversion, I’m done with that). I mean, it’s cheaper than the NES Classic Edition and can potentially be used to play with hundreds, if not, thousands of more games. The possibilities are endless. You decide.
Hoju gives RetroPie a High Recommendation!