My Experience Gaming on the Raspberry Pi

This post takes 8 minutes to read.

I’ve been thinking about learning how to use the Linux operating system for a while now. I never really knew how to go about it. One day I casually came across this video 👇🏻 and my world changed forever.

EVERYONE needs to learn LINUX - ft. Raspberry Pi 4
You got me you bearded devil.

After a few weeks of research I decided that I was going to start my own Raspberry Pi build.

First and Foremost

This is not meant to be a tutorial or a walk through. One of the things I found myself wanting the most when I was doing my RPi research was an exposition on what it was like to actually use it. There are plenty of forums and YouTube videos to help you understand how to get started. The goal of this post is to show you how awesome the Raspberry Pi is and why you should get started using it as a retro gaming device. This post is not sponsored or affiliated these are my own raw thoughts.

After reading, if you find you are wanting more details drop a comment and I will amend the information that I have here.

Here’s What I’m Using

I also scrounged up a regular old HDMI cord and a monitor and keyboard from Facebook Market place. I had to get some external speakers since my monitor doesn’t have internal ones. I already owned a wireless PS2 game controller that I’ve been using to play with.

Altogether this cost about $100.

To some, that might seem like a lot but wait until I tell you everything I can do with it.

RetroPie

Retropie is pretty cool. It’s an open source Linux distribution which combines a bunch of emulators, settings and media options into one place that you can control all with a Controller.

I’ve heard its possible to get an onscreen keyboard and even type with a game controller although I definitely do not recommend this. Just get yourself a cheap USB keyboard, fam.

Getting everything set up takes a little bit of configuring. Everyone wants there games to run a certain way. Getting it just right can take a bit of patience but, there’s a great Retropie community online that can help you should you get stuck.

Its possible to Secure Shell (SSH) into the RetroPie operating system. This means you can use your phone or laptop to enter the RetroPie command line and manage your system remotely. Making it even more possible to use RetroPie without a keyboard (if you’re trying to go that route.)

RetroPie is great because it comes with a repository of all the emulators and fun little bells and whistles you might need in order to run all your favorite games.

Not to mention everything else you didn’t know you’d want! The RetroPie Repository includes Kodi, A virtual Desktop, and even has some experimental packages that might let you run some games you might not have expected like Nintendo DS Games! (Even without a touch screen!)

The repository even includes some free Open Source Games! Here’s a list of some of the ones that I think are interesting:

You can get a full list of all the supported games and other ports here.

What is Emulation Station?

Emulation Station is the Graphical User Interface (GUI) that runs the front end of RetroPie. What that means is when you power on your RPi with RetroPie installed for the first time, after you get past the booting screen the first thing you will see is going to be Emulation Station with a bunch of RetroPie logos and themes all over it.

While you use RetroPie most of what you’re doing is through Emulation Station. Think of emulation station like the desktop environment for RetroPie.

What is RetroArch?

RetroArch is the software that basically allows you to play almost any game that the Raspberry Pi’s GPU can handle. That includes everything from Mr. Game and Watch, all the way to Nintendo DS games. (Although for NDS games I recommend using the Drastic emulator which is not apart of the RetroArch core but is available in the RetroPie Repository.)

RetroArch is owned by a company called Libretro. Most of the emulators that RetroArch uses are made by Libretro. They usually have an “lr” in the name indicating Libretro. For example, the emulator that I use and recommend for Nintendo 64 games is called “lr-Mupen64Plus”.

With RetroArch you can control virtually everything about your games. You can take screenshots, record videos and even livestream yourself to YouTube and Twitch right from your Raspberry Pi.

RetroArch is where I find the most enjoyment from gaming on the Raspberry Pi. RetroArch gives you a lot of freedom in how you game.

There are a LOT of features to unpack here. So, instead of just telling you about everything you can do on the Raspberry Pi, I thought I’d try to show you in action.

The Pokémon Series on RetroPie

Pokemon is one of the most popular gaming series. So, we’re going to be looking at the Raspberry Pi and it’s components mainly through the lens of the Pokemon world.

Emerald Version – Game Boy Advance

Emulator: lr-mGBA

Right before the Pokémon designers started running out of ideas for new creatures, (I’m looking at you Eternatus and Trubbish) there was a brief golden age of Pokémon that transcended time.

Pokemon Emerald attempts to aggregate the storylines from Ruby and Saphire versions and also adds the Battle Frontier to the game. An addition, which if the player chooses to engage takes a very long time to complete. 

The graphics and music of the game are pretty good. This generation introduced more color and better sound quality. 

The storyline is pretty standard to its predecessors. There’s a Team Magma and Aqua who want to take control over the world… blah blah blah. 

With the help of Rayquaza and some other tight legendary dragon Pokémon, you battle your way into their operation and set the world at ease. 

You control the Pace with RetroArch

One of the most cumbersome parts of all the Pokémon games is traveling. It takes like a half hour to walk from one town to the next. And sure, you could whip out the bike that you got from Rydell back in Rustboro city, but then you would have to listen to that unbelievably annoying biking song that comes on whenever you use it.

There are a lot of improvements to the third generation of Pokémon. Running shoes are one element of gameplay that set this game apart from its predecessors. They are a saving grace that make travel just a liiiiittle bit faster and a titch more endurable.

Of course, I’m playing this on a Raspberry Pie through RetroArch’s lr-mGBA emulator which means I can also just set the frame throttling to 3x faster and then attach a controller hotkey to it so that with the touch of a button I can just fast forward through all the boring walking sequences from one town to the next. (This is also an extremely nice feature when it comes to grinding out some Pokémon training so that you can crush the Elite Four at the end of the game in one try.)

Hacking out the bad parts

I could go on about the annoying Match Calls that pop in throughout the game play for no reason and for no purpose. Or I could whine about the absurd amount of water in the Hoenn Region. (Seriously. There is soooo much. At the end of the game you almost hate the surfing song as much as you hate the bike song.)

The thing is, if you don’t want to play these parts, you don’t have to. RetroPie preloads cheat files into each emulator so that, if you want to, you can very easily use the ol’ GameShark or CodeBreaker codes and just skip through all the parts that you don’t want to play.

Don’t want to spend forever trying to catch Rayquaza with an Ultra Ball? Just cheat and use a Masterball! Heck, why not just give yourself x99 of them and never have to worry about it again!

Want to catch Mew? There’s a cheat that can take you to Far Away Island where you can find, battle, and catch Mew at any point in the game! (This was previously only available at special live Pokemon events.)

You can get rid of all the Match Calls, and even skip all the surfing with just a few cheats!

Disclaimer: Cheats don’t always work and can in some cases wreck/break the game. Make sure you have some save files and save states backed up before you try a new cheat.

Crystal Version – Game Boy Color

Emulator: lr-gambatte

Welcome to the greatest Pokémon game ever. This Pokémon game beats all other Pokémon games.

After Red and Yellow version blew up, I suppose the developers really got excited because of all the versions available this one seems to have the most love and attention to detail woven into it.

Before I go any further I just want to say that I know the newer versions outplay Crystal version by a landslide but in my opinion if you weigh its value relative to the era it came from, then Crystal version comes out on top.

This legendary game had so many firsts:

  • First to allow you to play as a girl
  • First Pokémon game to include dynamic color
  • First and I might add only game to effectively include the cell phone. (The option to delete people’s numbers is seriously underrated.)
  • First and possibly only version that lets you change the background music with a radio. (AND THE RADIO STATIONS ARE ACTUALLY BANGIN.)
  • First and to my knowledge only version that lets you retroactively travel to the previous versions and play (with limited freedom) in the Kanto Region.

This one had it all. New Pokémon (that weren’t loads of trash), challenging puzzles, LOADS of cool legendary Pokémon that send you on strenuously grinding hunts (but are still so worth it in the end) and possibly some of the coolest starter Pokémon ever.

Except you Feraligatr.

You should go back to whatever child’s nightmare you came from.

Alright. Enough of that.

Customize your Gameboy Color emulator

What did you have growing up? Was it the old school GameBoy Black and White? Maybe you had one of those fancy Super GameBoys. Maybe you’re like me and grew up playing on a regular old purple GameBoy color.

Each of these GameBoys had their own color palette and some even had a custom screen bezel. If you’re feeling nostalgic and want to take it back to the good ol’ days lr-gambatte can let you do just that.

If you just want to play the game with an updated color palette, then the lr-mGBA emulator can help you play all these games just as easily.

Unlock Achievements in RetroPie

With the PS3 and Xbox 360 there entered a new dimension to the gaming world that many people have come to love. Achievements.

Doesn’t it just tickle you a little bit when you’re playing something like Borderlands and you willy nilly hop onto a maritime vessel and all of the sudden an achievement pops up: “You’re on a boat!”

Retro games missed the boat when it came to all the Easter eggs and deep satisfaction that achievements brought to the video game world.

BUT NOT ANYMORE!

Now, as long as your Raspberry Pi is connected to the internet, you too can enjoy the thrillingly euphoric in-game pop ups that are achievements.

Click here to learn how to set up achievements in RetroPie.

Final Thoughts

It takes a bit of work. If you’re just getting started with Linux or Raspberry Pi The RetroPie setup is a pretty great start. You will learn so much and come away with a great gaming device that you can show off and have some legitimate fun using.

If your goal is to game, I’d recommend using emulators on other computers. You’ll have a much smoother experience and won’t need to spend so much time learning a bunch of new concepts. Other computers are also probably more powerful than the RPi and that means you can expand into other games and consoles that the RPi can’t support.


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