Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi: RetroPie vs. RecalBox

When it comes to video game emulation, the Raspberry Pi family of single board computers are arguably the best bang for your buck. However when it comes to the software side of things, you have a couple of different options. RetroPie is the most popular operating system when it comes to building a retro gaming machine, but RecalBox is gaining its share of fans.

RetroPie and RecalBox are full blown operating systems for the Raspberry Pi that revolve around retro video game emulation. Both RetroPie and RecalBox have a graphical user interface based on Emulation Station. They are both capable of emulating a wide selection of video game consoles, as well as arcade systems and PCs. Furthermore, both projects are free and open source.

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At first glance, Recalbox and RetroPie look and behave very similarly. However while the overall look and feel may be alike, RetroPie and Recalbox both have their share of advantages and disadvantages. If you’re thinking about building your very own retro gaming machine, but you’re not sure which OS to go with, don’t fret. We’ll hash out all the pros and cons to help you decide which system is best for you.

Generally speaking, RetroPie is older and more established, whereas RecalBox is newer and more streamlined. Due to RetroPie’s popularity, there is a much larger community of users and developers behind it. This means two things. First is that updates are much more frequent. These updates can be things like improving the emulation, increasing game compatibility or additional features. Secondly, if you run into any problems, you’re more likely to find the support you need in a timelier fashion.

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This doesn’t necessary make RetroPie the better option. The biggest advantage that Recalbox has over RetroPie is its emphasis on being user friendly. While both systems require some basic prepping to get everything up and running, Recalbox simplifies virtually everything. However this noob-friendly approach comes at a price: customization.

As we mentioned earlier, Recalbox has positioned itself as being easier to set-up and configure. Essentially, Recalbox wants its users to jump in and start enjoying their video game nostalgia as quickly as possible. To this end, Recalbox automates much of the finicky aspects of retro gaming via emulators. Recalbox automatically forces games to run at their lowest possible resolution, increasing the speed at which the games run. This helps to avoid slowdown, choppy frame rates and other problems that can occur with emulation. RetroPie users can adjust the resolution as well, however they will have to do it manually. So if you want to increase the chance of all of your games running smoothly without mucking around, Recalbox is the way to go.

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In addition, RecalBox is compatible with many popular controllers, straight out of the box. Wireless PlayStation 3 Bluetooth controllers and wired Xbox 360 controllers work with no additional set-up needed. RetroPie also supports a wide variety of controllers, however you will have to manually configure them before they will work.

Finally, Recalbox comes bundled with a number of games. You’ll be treated to a number of homebrew games on a wide variety of systems, and you’ll even have Doom installed! This means that you can enjoy some quality titles straight away, before you even begin to transfer your own ROMs. Unfortunately, RetroPie does not come with any games, you’ll have to transfer yours over before you can start playing.

RetroPie is the older, more popular option when it comes to building an emulation machine. As a result, there are many more users compared to Recalbox. Ultimately, this means that there is a larger community from which to draw support. As a result, RetroPie troubleshooting forums tend to be more active if you need to ask for help. Furthermore, since many people use RetroPie, it’s likely that any problems you run into have already been addressed, meaning finding a solution is quick and easy. In addition, because the community is larger, RetroPie is updated more often. This means that kinks get ironed out quicker and you can take advantage of new features sooner.

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RetroPie offers way more customization options. You can tweak just about anything from emulator settings to custom shaders. The potential to tweak virtually everything is there, provided you’re comfortable with the command line.

At the end of the day, both Recalbox and RetroPie let you enjoy old video games from yesteryear. RetroPie is a little less user friendly compared to Recalbox. However if you’re the type of person who wants control, RetroPie is your best bet. Are you the type of person who wants something simple and easy that (for the most part) “just works”? Then Recalbox is for you.

What do you use to emulate your favorite old school video games? Are you a fan of RetroPie or Recalbox? Let us know your opinion in the comments.

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