If you think you would like a NES classic, SNES classic, or Sega Genesis classic, you are wrong. Sure those are great systems and you will have great memories of playing them when you were a kid, but if retro gaming is what you want there is a better product that costs less.
The Raspberry Pi is a tiny $35 low powered computer that you can use as a computer for a variety of projects. Last week I wrote about how I used one as a home computer. It isn’t powerful enough to run the latest and greatest games, but has plenty of power to run games from older game consoles you might have had as a kid such as the Atari, Commodore 64, Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and even the N64.
As simple as using a Raspberry Pi as a home computer is, it is even simpler to use as a classic gaming console. We will get back to that in a minute, but first let’s cover the legality.
Is it legal to create your own game console?
Well… probably not. There are two parts to making your own game console. The first part is an emulator which is the software that pretends to be the old game system. That is all perfectly legal.
The second part is the software that runs the games, which are called ROMs. These are easily available on the internet for free from a variety of sources. I am no lawyer, but from the research I have done it appears that in most cases downloading ROMs is a violation of copyright laws. In case your curious I also did a couple of searches to see if anyone had ever gotten in legal trouble for downloading ROMs and was unable to find anything.
So, this whole thing isn’t really legal. I am not advocating illegally downloading ROMSs, but just in case you figure out a legal way to get ROMs, I’ll go ahead with the rest of the article.
What you will need
First you will need all the stuff to make the Raspberry Pi run, which are a Raspberry Pi version 3 model B, a charger, a case, a TV/monitor with a HDMI connection, a keyboard and a mouse. See my article on using the Pi as a home computer for how to get all that stuff set up.
In addition to the computer stuff, you will need 3 more things.
You have to have something to control the games of course. You will need a controller that plugs into a USB port. An XBox 360 controller will work for all systems if you happen to have one laying around. If you don’t I recommend checking your local game store. If you cant find one anywhere else here is one rated 4 stars on Amazon for $20.
If you want a more classic feel you can get 2 NES controllers for $13. If you go this route you should be aware this controller doesn’t have enough buttons to play games from other systems such as the SNES.
With these 2 SNES controllers for $17 you have all the buttons you need to play games on many more systems.
If you are a Sega kind of person, here are 2 Sega controllers for $9.
A Micro SD card
Just like you need a micro SD card to run your Pi as a computer, you also need one to run as a game system. No, you can’t use the same one for both, you need 2. The good news is once you have each micro SD card set up your machine can switch from plain old computer to game system and back in seconds. Amazon has a 8GB micro SD card for $8.
A USB drive
Remember that the Pi has no harddrive, so we need somewhere to save those game ROMs to. If you don’t have a USB drive laying around Amazon has a 16 GB drive for $5.
How to set up your game system
It is easy to do. Just head over to retropi.org and follow the directions. The good folks at retropi won’t tell you how to get the game ROMs because of the whole being illegal thing and nether will I. I have heard of a website called google where these kind of questions can be easily answered, though.
That’s all there is to it
It is as simple as that. If playing old video games sounds like fun getting a system up and going really is that easy. If you already have a Pi as a computer, the whole thing is super cheap. If you don’t, it is still cheaper than buying the official Nintendo products.