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You’ve installed RetroPie on your Raspberry Pi, and tried out a few classic games. But something’s not right—it’s not how you remember. Perhaps the game is slow or jerky; maybe the controller isn’t working quite as you expect.
The truth is, while setting up RetroPie is straightforward, there’s more you can do to get the most authentic retro gaming experience. Use these five tips to get the more out of your Raspberry Pi’s retro gaming suite.
No Raspberry Pi Retro Gaming System Is Perfect
If you’re looking for a way to run retro games on your Raspberry Pi, you have several options.
First, you could employ individual emulators. Second, you could use special builds of Raspbian that focus on a specific platform. For instance, you can run the Amiga-based Amibian on the Raspberry Pi.
However, if you’re looking for a more in-depth experience, perhaps a retro gaming suite will suit you better.
Several of these are available:
- PiPlay (formerly known as PiMAME)
- Pi Entertainment System (PES)
You can use each of these to manage the emulation of multiple retro platforms, from the classic Atari 2600 to the Sony PlayStation. Our look at everything you need to know about retro gaming on the Raspberry Pi explains more.
While the following tips are intended mainly for use with RetroPie, they should also work for the alternatives.
1. Are You Using the Right Raspberry Pi Model?
The first element to check is whether your Raspberry Pi device is up to the task.
Specifically, consider these two points:
- Can the emulator run reliably on your Raspberry Pi?
- Is the platform you’re attempting to emulate within the capabilities of the Pi?
For example, the original Raspberry Pi can emulate MAME and other 16-bit platforms with ease. The same goes for 8-bit systems. But it can’t emulate later devices, limiting the choice of games you might want to revisit.
Conversely, the Raspberry Pi 2 and later can emulate the Sega Dreamcast thanks to the Reicast emulator, while the Raspberry Pi 3B+ can run the Nintendo 64 and Sony PSP, albeit with some performance issues.
The takeaway here is that you shouldn’t expect too much from the Raspberry Pi when it comes to emulation. Stay within the computer’s hardware limit: currently emulators for platforms released before 2000.
Be sure your Raspberry Pi computer is up to the job of emulating the games you want to play.
2. Use the Right Emulator
Sometimes, games that you believe should run (even if checking online confirms this) simply won’t. Various issues can cause this. The game ROM might be unstable, or created with additional software (or requirements) that the emulator cannot handle.
While many emulators are included, you don’t have to stick to the default option for a particular platform.
Most emulation suites will give you the option to switch to a different emulator. For example, in RetroPie, you can open RetroPie Setup > (P) Manage Packages > Manage optional packages, and browse the list of alternative emulators. Use the Install from Source option when you find the emulator you want to try.
Running multiple emulators for the same platform shouldn’t cause you any problems. It will, however, give you an additional option if software refuses to boot.
3. Find an Authentic Controller
Enjoying classic games doesn’t just mean loading them up with an emulator. You wouldn’t play a Nintendo Wii game with a keyboard, would you? No, you would want a Wii Remote to relive that console’s gaming experience.
The same is true of titles from the 20th century. MAME arcade games will play better with a joystick and six buttons; a Commodore 64 title is best with a standard one-button joystick.
While some classic gaming platforms have been graced with USB versions of their classic controllers, others have not. Your best bet is to check online for a suitable converter, enabling classic joysticks and joypads to connect to the Raspberry Pi via USB.
Or you could just build your own classic style joypad, using a kit like this one from SJJX.
It’s best to rely on USB controllers too, especially on older versions of the Raspberry Pi. If you must use a Bluetooth controller, ensure your Pi has Bluetooth built-in (such as the Raspberry Pi 2 and later). See our list of the best RetroPie controllers for some ideas.
4. Is Your Pi’s Power Supply Up to the Job?
So many people suffer from overall poor performance on their Raspberry Pi due to a poor power supply. Forget about grabbing the nearest mobile phone charger and hoping for the best. Emulation often requires a lot of power, which means connecting your Raspberry Pi to a reliable AC adapter.
Many alternatives are available, but you’ll get the best results with the official power supply from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.
Power issues can cause hangs, forcing you to manually reboot and unintentionally corrupt the SD card. Avoid this with a reliable 5V supply.
5. Overclock Your Raspberry Pi
Finally, if you want really good performance, and perhaps a boost to the frame rate, your best option is to overclock your Raspberry Pi.
Unlike other computers, overclocking is built into the Raspberry Pi as a feature. All you need to do is upgrade to the latest version, then edit the config.txt file in the boot directory. Amend this with new values for the computer’s clock speed, save and reboot, and you’re done.
Once overclocked, however, you might well encounter further performance issues. This is why cooling is so important. You have several options available for cooling a Raspberry Pi, from heatsinks and fans to liquid cooling.
RetroPie Performance Issues Checklist
As long as you’re using an emulation platform that is supported by the Raspberry Pi, these tips should help you to get the best out of RetroPie (or whichever suite you’re using).
Keep the following as a handy checklist when you run into trouble retro gaming on your Raspberry Pi:
- Use the best Raspberry Pi model for your emulator
- Switch emulators if a game doesn’t work
- Choose an authentic joystick or controller
- Give your Pi a reliable power supply
- Overclock for enhanced performance
Once you get these problems ironed out, you’ll be ready to install your Raspberry Pi into your retro gaming center build. Not sure where to start? Our look at arcade machine builds for RetroPie will help you out.
Remember, you’re not limited to retro gaming. It’s possible for you to even play almost any video game on your Raspberry Pi! Take a look at how to build an NES or SNES Mini with RetroPie for one cool idea.