RetroPie is one of the easiest and quickest ways to turn your Raspberry Pi into a fully operational retro games system. The new version 3 of the software represents a major update to the original system.
In this article we test the features and stability of the new release and find out exactly how well it emulates the consoles and computers it supports in this new version.
A slice of Retro
Previous versions of RetroPie were flawed. Side by side with PiPlay, it seemed to promise a lot while delivering little. But this was discovered to be not quite the case. The beef was that the graphics in games and the interface were sometimes scrambled, so much so that many things didn’t run properly and it was all but useless.
Interestingly, the problem turned out to be that the Pi used for testing was an original model B, which is about the plainest and most vanilla Raspberry Pi you can get. Testing on a Raspberry Pi 2 showed RetroPie works better if you have more memory and speed.
This tends to suggest that the real reason RetroPie was rubbish and PiPlay seemed good was that RetroPie is optimised for faster machines and anything less than full power resulted in poor performance, which thinking about it was fair enough.
The best new feature is the RetroPie (or config) menu in the Emulation Station GUI.
This was apparently available in previous revisions but was not enabled by default. Now it is. The main configuration tools are accessible from the RetroPie menu, including WiFi, a configuration file editor, and a proper (although Terminal-based) file manager. This makes you feel a bit less like you have no control over the system, another huge beef with previous versions.
In addition, there is a new arrangement of ROM folders, which is a welcome change as the old system was complex and baffling.
What can you play?
There are twenty or so game systems supported by the software (listed at the end of this article). But “supported” does not mean “will work” or “playable.” For example, you can successfully run a lot of Playstation games, but if they are particularly graphically intense, they will cough a bit on the Raspberry Pi, even a Pi2.
Clock cycles seem to be allocated on a load basis, so as the load on the processor goes up (to accommodate graphics, etc.), the speed goes down. And some of the graphic bitmaps in the games are not loaded to save time, making the games look awful which reduces the fun. So, “playable” perhaps but not smooth or enjoyable.
The same can be said of the Nintendo 64 emulation; it “works” but is not smooth or enjoyable. It grinds to a halt when there are a lot of 3D elements on screen, and again, bitmaps are not so gracefully removed to save space while rendering, making the games at best ugly and at worst unplayable unless they are really frugal with graphics.
Bizarrely, machines you’d think were too rich for the Pi’s blood run really well, like Atari ST and Amiga run in real time for most things. That said, and as long as you don’t set your expectations too high, just about anything you want will run with the following provisos:
- It should be an old game from an old system (the very definition of retro).
- It should be emulating a system which was equal to or slower than the Pi (not always the case).
- It should be expecting no external graphics processor (which when emulating it takes up memory and hits speed)
So ancient arcade games, GameBoy carts, C64 disks, ZX Spectrum titles, PC Engine cards, Megadrive carts, Super Nintendo carts even NEOGEO carts, etc. just about all run flawlessly. But as you get out of the 80s and enter the 90s, it all starts to slow down.
So yes, it does run Playstation PSX games, but as well as the graphics loading problems mentioned above, you also start hitting problems of physically fitting the games into the system SD/TF card. Most game disk ISOs, originally CDs of course, run to about 700Mb in size which limits the amount of games you can fit in.
The six months they put into rewriting this new version from scratch was well worth it. This is a tight and playable game system and on the whole serves the machines it replicates very well.
Get your copy of the new RetroPie 3.0 here.
Supported Games List
The following system emulators are installed with RetroPie:
- Amiga (UAE4All)
- Apple II (Basilisk II)
- Arcade (PiFBA)
- Atari 800
- Atari 2600 (RetroArch)
- Atari ST/STE/TT/Falcon
- C64 (VICE)
- CaveStory (NXEngine)
- Doom (RetroArch)
- Duke Nukem 3D
- Final Burn Alpha (RetroArch)
- Game Boy Advance (gpSP)
- Game Boy Color (RetroArch)
- Game Gear (Osmose)
- Intellivision (RetroArch)
- MAME (RetroArch)
- MAME (AdvMAME)
- NeoGeo (GnGeo)
- NeoGeo (Genesis-GX, RetroArch)
- Sega Master System (Osmose)
- Sega Megadrive (DGEN, Picodrive)
- Nintendo Entertainment System (RetroArch)
- N64 (Mupen64Plus-RPi)
- PC Engine / Turbo Grafx 16 (RetroArch)
- Playstation 1 (RetroArch)
- Super Nintendo Entertainment System (RetroArch, PiSNES, SNES-Rpi)
- Sinclair ZX Spectrum (Fuse)
- PC / x86 (rpix86)
- Z Machine emulator (Frotz)
If you have any opinions about RetroPie 3.0, let us know in the comments below.