RetroPie is an excellent way to relive all of your video game nostalgia without having to blow into cartridges. As cool as it is to lap your friends in Super Mario Kart or beat up baddies in Streets of Rage, the default version of the RetroPie user interface is designed for functionality. Unfortunately, this means things can look a little bland. Thankfully, there are ways to customize the look of your RetroPie build to make it more pleasing to the eye.
1. Change the Splash Screen
The splash screen is the first thing you see when you boot up RetroPie. It is the image that you see as RetroPie is loading. The default is simply the RetroPie logo. Admittedly, it’s a pretty cool logo, but it can get a little boring. Fortunately, you can jazz up your RetroPie build by changing your splash screen to something with a little more personality. You can create your own splash screen, or you can choose from a variety of pre-loaded splash screens.
To choose a new splash screen, let RetroPie boot up and head over to the RetroPie/Configuration menu. From there, scroll down to “Splash Screen” and hit the “A” button on your controller. This will bring you to a grey menu against a blue screen. The menu has several options.
If you want to check out the splash screens that are pre-loaded, choose option 7, “Preview splash screens.” To see if there are any new splash screens available, select option 8, “Update RetroPie splash screen.” Once you spot a splash screen that catches your fancy, select option 1, “Choose splash screen,” to change the splash screen to the one of your choice.
Note: We recommend using a keyboard, as navigating these menus with a keyboard is much easier than using a controller.
2. Download New Themes
RetroPie uses EmulationStation as a front end. Think of it as the User Interface that organizes all of your emulators and games. This user interface is known as a theme, and the default theme for EmulationStation is easy to navigate and looks pretty good to boot. Unfortunately, the default theme is fairly minimal and can get old relatively quickly. Luckily, you can inject some life into your RetroPie build by applying a new theme. This ensures that your build will never look or feel stale.
To find some new, more exciting themes, head to the RetroPie/Configuration menu. Scroll down and select “ES Themes.” This will bring you to a grey menu window on a blue background. The first thing you’ll want to do is select “Download Theme Gallery.” Once the themes have downloaded to your Pi, you will be asked to “choose an option for gallery.”
Since we don’t want to remove any themes, we’ll ignore option number 3. “Update Theme Gallery” can be used to check for newer themes that become available. “View Theme Gallery” produces a slideshow of all the themes available to download. Once you’ve cycled through all of the available themes, you will be given the opportunity to download your chosen themes. Simply scroll down to highlight the ones you want and select them. You can download as many themes as you’d like.
3. Apply a New Theme
To apply a new theme for your RetroPie build, open the Main Menu by pressing the “Menu” button on your controller (usually mapped to the Start button). In the main menu, scroll down to “UI Settings.” From there, scroll down to “Theme Set.”
You can use your controller’s left and right directional buttons to select one of the themes you downloaded earlier. When you’ve landed on a theme you’d like to try out, simply back out of the menu and the new theme will be applied in a few moments.
Why Games Don’t Look Right
If your games don’t look the way you remember them, it’s probably due to the fact that you used to play them on CRT screens. Modern television screens are simply too sharp, often making retro games look worse than they did when they originally came out. This is due to the fact that video game publishers understood the limitations of CRT TVs, and actually relied on their lower resolutions in order to mask much of the rudimentary nature of the graphics.
Because modern TVs are a much higher resolution and are capable of producing a much cleaner, clearer picture, many of these graphical mishaps are no longer hidden. This results in sprites that appear more jagged, and games that look harsher overall. Fortunately, there is a way of replicating the “fuzz” of a CRT TV on your modern display.
4. Apply Shaders
Emulating the look of a CRT monitor can be achieved by applying shaders, which alter the image seen on screen. Many shaders aim to replicate the “scan lines” found in older games. These are dark horizontal lines that appeared on CRTs, giving the image more contrast and definition.
The easiest way to apply a shader is to press Select (or whichever button you’ve selected as your hotkey) + X. This will bring up the RGUI menu. From here, navigate to Quick Menu -> Shader Options -> Load Shader Preset. At this point, select a shader and back out to the Quick Menu. Scroll up to “Resume Content” at the top of the menu and select to jump back into your game with the shader applied. Different shaders alter the image in different ways, so you may have to experiment to find which ones look best to you.
Do you have any tips for customizing the look or feel of RetroPie? If so, let us know in the comments!