Retro gaming is so hot right now. With affordable hardware and easy to configure software like Emulation Station and RetroPie, there has never been a better time to revisit classic games. Thanks to the small form factor of single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi, industrious folks have created some impressive DIY gaming systems.
In this list, we’ve selected some of our favourite DIY projects that you can complete in a single day. While each one of these projects is fairly easy to put together, some are more difficult than others. Each one of these builds requires different materials and varying levels of skill.
1. NES Pi Cart
This is one NES cartridge that you’ll never have to blow into. The beauty of the Raspberry Pi Zero is just how incredibly small it is. This makes it the ideal board for when you want to conceal it in something low profile, like an original NES cartridge. Zach, the creator of the project, hollowed out an NES cartridge and did just that. With the addition of a USB hub and a few adapters, he had a unique case for his emulation machine. Thankfully, Zach was kind enough to post a step-by-step guide online for those of you who want to make their own Pi Cart.
In the tutorial it’s recommended that you pick up a cheap NES game at a thrift store and then gut it. If the idea of destroying a perfectly good cartridge makes you shudder, you can grab NES cartridge shells on Amazon. The best part about the Pi Cart is that there is absolutely no soldering required. This makes the Pi Cart an easy, yet satisfying DIY project for all skill levels that can be completed in about an hour.
The MintyPi certainly is one fresh DIY project. Imagine the surprise of your friends when they reach for your Altoid tin to freshen their breath only to discover a handheld retro gaming machine! Like many other projects on this list, the MintyPi makes use of the Raspberry Pi Zero, thanks to its small form factor.
One of the biggest advantages of the MintyPi is the integrated hinge of the Altoids case. This allows the MintyPi to flip open, much like the Nintendo 2/3DS. Being able to fold the screen down protects the MintyPi’s components, particularly its screen, in a sturdy tin case. In addition, it also makes it that much easier to slip into a pocket. Plans for the MintyPi are distributed freely on the Web; however, it does require access to a 3D printer and some basic soldering skills. Last but not least, don’t forget you’ll need an empty tin of curiously strong mints.
The PiGRRL is a Gameboy-inspired Raspberry Pi handheld built from the ground up. Like the MintyPi, the PiGRRL requires users to have access to a 3D printer in order to manufacture the enclosure. In addition, DIY-ers will need to have some basic soldering skills. One of the major things that sets the PiGRRL apart from the others is the fact that it uses a Raspberry Pi Model B. This RPi has a little more under the hood compared to the Pi Zero, so it is capable of running a wider variety of emulators.
Another unique feature of the PiGRRL project is that it repurposes an old Super Nintendo controller. The PiGRRL makes use of the Super Nintendo controller’s printed circuit board, as well as its buttons.
4. Gamepad Zero
The creator of the Pi Cart didn’t stop at NES cartridges. With the Gamepad Zero, he stuffs a Raspberry Pi Zero inside an old NES controller. The result is a RetroPie build totally self-contained inside the controller – all you need to do is plug the HDMI into your TV. Currently, there are two versions of the Gamepad Zero you can make: one that uses a Nintendo Controller and another that uses a Super Nintendo controller.
The one you want to use will largely depend on what sort of games you want to play. The NES controller only has a D-Pad and two buttons, which would make it fine for Nintendo, Gameboy, Game Gear and Master System games. However, games released after the 8-bit era generally utilized more than two buttons. So if you’re planning on loading your SD card with Super Nintendo and Genesis games, you’ll want to opt for the Super Nintendo build.
Unlike the Pi Cart, the Gamepad Zero requires a 3D printer in order to manufacture the back housing of the controller. This is necessary due to the fact that there isn’t enough room to stuff everything you need into the existing controller assembly. In addition, you’ll need to have some basic soldering skills. Overall it’s not a complicated build and could easily be done in an hour or two, provided you have the necessary equipment.
The Odroid-GO is yet another affordable DIY retro gaming handheld. What sets this device apart from the others is the fact that it utilizes an Odroid single board computer as opposed to a Raspberry Pi. Unfortunately, the Odroid board isn’t quite a powerful as the Raspberry Pi Zero. The custom Odroid board runs at a paltry 80-240 MHz with a mere 4 MB of RAM. That being said, the board is capable of emulating the GameBoy, GameBoy Color, NES, Game Gear, Sega Master System and ColecoVision.
What’s great about this kit is that it is really affordable, retailing for about $35. In addition, it is a super easy build that can be completed in about ten minutes. The Odroid-Go does not require any soldering, 3D printing or special tools of any kind. The kit gives you everything you need and putting it together couldn’t be simpler. Furthermore, the Odroid-Go allows users to write other applications using MicroPython and Arduino.
What are some of your favorite DIY retro gaming projects? Let us know in the comments!