Categories: DIYDo It YourselfFeaturedGamingHardware

Turn A Raspberry Pi Into A Retro Gaming Console

Imagine having all of the classic games you remember from years ago in one small gaming console. That’s exactly what’s possible with RetroPie on the Raspberry Pi.

RetroPie is an all-inclusive Linux-based gaming emulator. It’s designed to be installed on a Raspberry Pi and easily set up to be a simple solution for anyone looking to play retro console and arcade games on their TV.

RetroPie supports USB variants of many of your favorite game controllers from the past too, so you can play your games the way you remember them.

What You’ll Need

There’s not a whole lot that you need to get going, especially if you’re familiar with Raspberry Pis.

  • Raspberry Pi 3
  • 5v Micro USB Charger
  • 8GB+ MicroSD Card
  • Computer with MicroSD card reader
  • USB Keyboard & Mouse
  • USB Controller of Choice

Get RetroPie

The first step in getting set up is downloading the RetroPie image. Head over to the RetroPie download page, and download the image for the Raspberry Pi 3. It’s compressed with Gzip, so if your browser can support automatically opening it, use it to do so.

If you’re on Windows, you probably don’t have something to open Gzip. There are a number of them available, though. Look into WinZip, 7-Zip, or Gzip to get the job done. In any case, you want to reduce the .img.gz to a regular .img.

Flash It

Flashing the image is also very easy. Again, if you have experience flashing images for a Raspberry Pi, this isn’t any different. If you aren’t familiar with the process, you can use a simple tool, Etcher, for the whole process.

Download Etcher for your operating system, and install it. When you open up Etcher, you’ll see a very simple interface with three columns.

In the first column, select the image. Then, select your MicroSD in the second column. Make sure that you have the right one. It’ll erase everything on the drive you select. Finally, you can flash the image on the last column.

Put Together The Pi

Next, you’ll need to assemble the Pi. Insert the MicroSD. Plug in the keyboard and mouse, and the controller, if you have one.

Connect up the Pi to your screen. Finally, when you’re sure everything is configured, plug it in.

Boot Your Emulator

After you plug in the Pi, it’ll begin booting and the automatic setup process. There isn’t a whole lot that you need to do for the Pi to make it work. Most of the setup is pretty general and automated.


When the Pi first boots up, it’ll detect your controller and try to configure it. Every controller is different, so use the graphical diagram to set up your controller to your preferences.

Make sure that you remember your controls. The controller preferences are what you’ll use to control the RetroPie interface too. Even saving the configuration itself must be done with your settings. To save, press the button you configured as “A.”

The Interface

After the controller setup, you’ll be dropped in the RetroPie home screen. There isn’t much there to start off with, but it will list out your games when you have some. For now, check out the menu.

Under the menu, you can select all of your settings. You can add additional controllers, and switch between them. You can also organize your game libraries for easier access.

Transfer Games

By default, RetroPie doesn’t come with any games. There are a lot of legal gray areas when it comes to ROMs. Generally, downloading ROMs for games that you own is the safest bet, but older games that aren’t in production tend to be alright in most cases too. In any case, RetroPie doesn’t want to get involved, so getting the ROMs is up to you.

If you want to transfer the games to your RetroPie wirelessly, you can set up WiFi through the Menu. It’s a simple(but kind of ugly) process that asks you to input the name of the network and the password. Using a wireless transfer might be more or less of a pain depending on which operating system you’re transferring from.

The simplest thing to use is a USB drive. The Pi will recognize it automatically, and you can fit a lot of ROMs on one. The setup process is very simple too.

There are a ton of places to get ROMs online, and you can rip your own given the right devices. Thanks to that legal grayness, that’s not really a topic to discuss here.

USB Setup

Get a USB drive that you don’t mind erasing. Insert it into your computer and format it to FAT32. Then, create a folder called retropie on the blank drive. Eject it from your computer.

Place the drive in the running Raspberry Pi. Wait for the flashing light to stop blinking. Then, remove the drive again.

Place the drive in your computer again. You should see a new directory listing on the USB drive. There should be additional folders under the retropie directory that you created before. Place the ROMs in the right folders for their type under the retropie/roms directory. When you’re done, eject the drive.

Place the drive back into the Pi and wait for it to stop blinking again. Then, open the main menu and restart the RetroPie. When it comes back up, the Pi will show your games.

Launch a Game

After you have your games loaded, notice the new categories that RetroPie added when adding your games. You can navigate between them with your D-pad controls. Select the one that you want with “A,” and you’ll be taken to a new menu with the games for that category listed. Use the D-pad to select the game that you want, and “A” to select it. The game will launch like you’d expect when starting up that console.

Closing Notes

Congratulations! You have a fully functional console emulator running on your Raspberry Pi. Remember that this is a Raspberry Pi, so it is limited both in processing power and actual energy draw. Don’t plug a ton of stuff into the USB ports. It’ll probably stop working eventually.

Also, keep in mind that where you get your ROMs matters. Since they are legally ambiguous, there are certainly some less than reputable ROM sites out there, and you can easily get a virus or worse if you’re not careful.

Nick Congleton :