DIY Gaming

Forget the SNES Classic: 5 Retro Consoles You Can Emulate on the Raspberry Pi

Christian Cawley 16-10-2017

The trend among console companies for releasing tiny versions of their classic gaming systems shows no sign of stopping. In fact, given how successful Nintendo’s classic re-releases Nintendo's NES Classic Edition Outsells the Wii U Nintendo has a bona fide hardware hit on its hands, but it's an old console repackaged. The NES Classic Edition is so popular it's outselling the Wii U by a huge margin. Read More have been, it could be set to expand beyond consoles and into the world of retro home computers.


But do you really need to spend $100 for a palm-sized version of your favorite 1980s game console? Surely there’s some sort of alternative?

Well, of course there is. It’s a device that most fans of retro gaming have possibly already heard of: the Raspberry Pi The Raspberry Pi 3: Faster, Better, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Today, the Raspberry Pi foundation announced the release of the Raspberry Pi 3. It's the most significant update to the popular line of low-cost computers yet. Read More . Here are five retro game consoles that can be emulated on the Raspberry Pi with ease.

1. Nintendo Entertainment System

First up is the NES, which can be comfortably emulated on the Raspberry Pi. It all depends how you want to do it. One option is to employ an emulation suite such as RetroPie Retro Gaming on Raspberry Pi: Understanding ROMs, RetroPie, Recalbox, and More The Raspberry Pi is ideal for playing classic video games. Here's how to get started with retro gaming on your Raspberry Pi. Read More or RecalBox. If you want more of a genuine NES experience, however, you might try a standalone emulator.

Available from GitHub, the NesPI emulator is straightforward to install. Once you’ve manually downloaded or cloned the project to your Raspberry Pi and installed it, the NesPI emulator will play NES game ROMs. Here’s how your project might turn out:

All you need are the ROMs (these can be found online, unless you’ve created your own) and a suitable game controller. Classic Nintendo Entertainment System controllers with USB connectors can be bought online.


Remember: By law, you have to own the original games in order to legally download ROMs!

A genuine NES Classic released in 2017, will cost considerably more than a Raspberry Pi.

2. SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive

The SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive Classic has been available since 2009, having been repackaged in various formats, most recently in 2016.


But you don’t need to spend all that money on one of these! Just set your Raspberry Pi up with the default operating system, install the emulator, find some gaming ROMs and you’re off!

You can get started with a standalone SEGA Genesis emulation experience with the Picodrive project on GitHub. Here’s a look at how well the SEGA Genesis emulator plays some of the platforms greatest games. The video also includes some tips on installing a Raspberry Pi inside an old SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive case.

There is literally no point in paying for a repackaged SEGA Genesis when you can create your own!

3. Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Nintendo’s place in the annals of game console greats is assured. They’ve produced four great home consoles and two top handhelds (the jury is still out on the Nintendo Switch). So, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Super NES/Super Famicom can also be emulated on a little Raspberry Pi computer.


All you need is the Pi, the Raspbian operating system, some suitable game controllers (USB versions of the originals are available) and the PiSNES project, again available from GitHub.

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Once up and running, you’ll be able to launch your favorite game ROMs and relive the classic gaming era!

Here’s a great DIY build for your own Raspberry Pi SNES case, from YouTuber Rated-e Mods:


4. Atari Games Consoles

The Atari Flashback series of mini consoles has been running for some years, often bundling around 100 games with the compact hardware.

Of course, you don’t need to buy one of those systems if you can build your own. Standalone emulation is a bit tricky for the Atari, however. While the Stella emulator will run on older versions of Raspbian, post Raspbian Wheezy (Jessie was released in 2015 5 Ways New Raspbian Jessie Makes Raspberry Pi Even Easier to Use Following the release of Debian Jessie in July, the Raspberry Pi community has been blessed with a new release of the Raspbian variant, based on the "parent" distro. Read More ) it’s a bit tricky. Although Stella is available via the Libretro project, it’s probably far easier to simply install RetroPie if you’re looking for some Atari classic gaming.

Here’s what that might look like, courtesy of YouTuber ETA PRIME:

Naturally, Atari-style joysticks and paddles are available with USB connectors from Amazon and other online stores.

Innex Retro Link Classic Console USB Controllers Atari Innex Retro Link Classic Console USB Controllers Atari Buy Now On Amazon $15.50

5. Commodore 64

“Hold on,” you might be thinking, “the Commodore 64 wasn’t a games console!” Well, not initially, no. But there was a version of the classic home computer called the C64GS. This was basically a C64 without the keyboard, and a cartridge slot on the top. So, to all intents and purposes, a console.

Sadly, this has been lost to history, but fans of the old beige box will be pleased to know that a new Indiegogo campaign is set to revive the computer.

Of course, it doesn’t matter to the owner of a versatile Raspberry Pi. With this handy device you can build a Commodore 64 handheld console, or a small desktop computer. You have two top options here. Either rely on the VICE emulator as a standalone system, or the PiPlay (formerly PiMAME) disk image which will also bundle in the other systems listed here.

Other Retro Gaming Options for the Raspberry Pi

It doesn’t end there. The retro gaming options for Raspberry Pi users are considerable. As mentioned above, dedicated retro gaming suites (each consisting of these and many more emulators) are available, emulating not just consoles but retro home computers.

RetroPie and its rival retro gaming suite RecalBox Install RecalBox on Your Raspberry Pi for Retro Gaming With Style We'll show you how to set up RecalBox on a Raspberry Pi 3 and why you should bother, even if you already have a RetroPie setup. Read More are among the most popular, and each have their own strengths and shortcomings. On the whole, however, they’re both easy to install, straightforward to use, and deliver good results. All of the above platforms can be found in these retro gaming suites. Many more can be found too, for systems as diverse as the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Atari Lynx, classic Apple Macintosh, Nintendo 64, even the Sony PlayStation 1!

Meanwhile, both systems have the Kodi media center Install Kodi to Turn Your Raspberry Pi Into a Home Media Center If you have a Raspberry Pi, you can turn it into a cheap but effective home media center just by installing Kodi. Read More built in. Basically, they’re complete TV entertainment systems! If you’d rather avoid the frills, however, take a look instead at Neil Munday’s Pi Entertainment System.

What’s Next? 3D Print a Case!

With your gaming system installed and game ROMs copied to it your Pi’s microSD card 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a MicroSD Card Buying MicroSD cards may seem simple, but here are a few critical mistakes to avoid if you don't want to regret your purchase. Read More , you’ll be ready to play. But one thing you can’t do is make your Raspberry Pi look like a SNES Classic or a PC Engine.

Or can you?

Thanks to 3D printing, it’s possible to place your Raspberry Pi into an appropriate case. All you need is a 3D printer (or the funds to place an order for some printing) and a suitable case design. You’ll find many sites online that offer 3D printing designs, but to get you started, here are 27 3D-printed case designs suitable for Raspberry Pi retro gaming systems.

Meanwhile, some game console-themed cases can be bought on Amazon.

RETROFLAG NES CASE Functional Power and Reset Button NESPi Case for Raspberry Pi 3, 2 and B+ RETROFLAG NES CASE Functional Power and Reset Button NESPi Case for Raspberry Pi 3, 2 and B+ Buy Now On Amazon $24.99

It’s safe to say that the Raspberry Pi is the ultimate compact retro gaming system. What’s your favorite console to emulate? Have you tried it on the Pi? Tell us in the comments!

Image Credit: LanaSweet/Depositphotos

Related topics: Emulation, Raspberry Pi, Retro Gaming.

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