The best emulators for Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi retro emulators

There are a lot of fans of retro or classic games. Gamers who have lived in the golden age of the mythical game consoles like Atari, or arcade bartop games from arcades and bars, or have handled historical computers like Commodore64, Spectrum, etc., will surely continue to have the worm of using emulators to be able to revive these mythical video games.

Even if you didn’t live in those times, but you are passionate about digital entertainment, you should know that with the Raspberry Pi you can create a game room, a home entertainment and very cheaply. Even if you are a maker and you like DIY, you can make yourself interesting cases to simulate these computers, consoles or machines of the past.

Hardware: The Raspberry Pi has revolutionized the retro game industry

Raspberry Pi 4

The Raspberry Pi has come to revolutionize the education, DIY and retro gaming sectors. With this small SBC you will be able to set up one or several retro gaming machines in a very easy way. Some of the strong points of the Pi in front of the conventional computers are

  • Cheap price: the Raspberry Pi is cheap, for just over 30 euros you can buy one of these plates, and for a little more also acquire other accessories such as SD card where to store the operating system you’re going to install and emulators, video games, programs, etc. There are even many complete kits that you can buy for a small price and that already include everything you need to create your pinball machine, home arcade machine, or retro console…
    • Raspberry Pi 4 Model B – B07TD42S27
    • Raspberry Pi 3 Model B – B01CD5VC92
    • Raspberry Pi Complete Kit – B07ZV9C6QF
      Arcade BarTop replica machine with Pi – B0813WHVMK
  • JAMMA and controllers available: in the market you will also find many controllers that imitate those of consoles of the past, like the NES of Nintendo, or housings and kits that allow to create you in a very simple way a portable console. Its price is quite cheap, and are mounted easily thanks to the GPIO of the Pi itself to other projects that can help you finish your video game system.
    • GamePad for Pi – B07TB3JTM2
    • Joysticks and button kit for arcade machine with the Pi – B07315PX4F
    • iNNEXT retro controller type Nintendo64 for the Pi – B075SYJTF7
    • iNNEXT 2 SNES type classic controls for the Pi – B01EA7MVTQ
    • EG STARTS arcade button and joystick kit – B07B66W25M
    • EG STARTS 2 arcade button and joystick kit – B01N43N0JB
  • Screens to choose from: the screen, even if the old CRTs are not available, is also another element that you can buy for a small price and choose the dimensions it should have. There are also touch screens specially designed for the Raspi, although that for emulators and retro games is not the most appropriate. It is better to use one of the LCD IPS screens sold for this SBC. Or even connect your board to a TV in the living room or a monitor, depending on the final result you want to get.
    • TFT screen module for Raspberry Pi 4.3″ – B07FD94BQW
    • 3.5″ Touch Screen for Raspberry PI – B07Y19QQK8
  • Modularity and flexibility: in addition to all the above, you can choose what you want to add to your entertainment machine, the type of casing you want to put on it (print it in 3D, make it out of wood or other materials, paint it, buy it ready-made,…), choose the dimensions of the screen, the type of controls you will use, etc.
    • Retro housing simulating a Nintendo NES system for Pi – B0787SZXMF
    • Waveshare Hat for Pi to create portable console – B07G57BC3R
    • Waveshare kit to create your own GamePi – B07XHQMNPC
    • Waveshare Hat for Portable Console Pi – B07PHZ1QNZ

Not to mention that you can combine the power of Raspberry Pi with other free hardware projects like Arduino, as well as a multitude of additional hats, gadgets, etc.

Software: The emulators

retro gaming emulators

Apart from the hardware, you also need software to be able to run retro games on your Raspberry Pi, as many of these classic games were created for platforms and machines that are very different from the architecture of the Pi. That’s precisely why you need emulators.

You should not confuse what is an emulator and a simulator. They are not the same thing, nor is the compatibility layer. For example, in the real world you have several examples of all these categories such as QEMU as an emulator, the F1 2017 video game as a cart simulator, and WINE as a compatibility layer.

A simulator is a system implemented in hardware or software that is simply dedicated to recreate an environment or reproduce a behavior of a real system. Something that does not have much to do with the emulator, since the emulator is a software implementation that aims to make the video game or program that is running on a specific platform think.

That is, emulators implement the hardware and operating system of the machine they intend to emulate so that the native software for this platform can run on the real hardware and system. For example, the hardware and system that was on an Atari 2600, or a Spectrum, has little to do with the ARM-based hardware of the Raspberry Pi.

Instead, with these emulators a layer is generated that will “translate” the instructions and calls to the system needed to run the game so that it can be run on your Pi as if it were a native machine. For that, the emulator needs to recreate the behavior of the CPU, memory, I/O, etc., of the console, computer, or arcade machine.

Best emulators for Raspberry Pi

Among the emulators that exist for the Raspberry Pi and with which you can run the games and ROMs you download, some very interesting as:

RetroPie

RetroPie

It is one of the favorite complete systems for retro gaming lovers. It is compatible with Raspberry Pi, Odroid, and other platforms. It’s based on Raspbian, and builds a complete emulation station for you to enjoy your favorite games effortlessly, with everything included and a wide variety of configuration and customization tools.

If you are wondering about the supported emulators, you have Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Atari Jaguar, Atari Lynx, Atari ST, Atari STE, Atari TT, Atari Falcon, Commodore 64, Commodore VIC-20, Commodore PET, Dragon 32, FinalBurn Neo, Famicom, GameCube, Game Gear, Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Color, Macintosh, MAME, Sega SD, MegaDrive, NeoGeo, NeoGeo Pocket, Nintendo 64, Nintendo DS, NES, SNES, DOS, PlayStation I, PlayStation 2, PSP, Sega 32X, Nintendo Wii, ZX-81, ZX Spectrum, etc.

RetroPie

Lakka

Lakka

Lakka

RecalBox

Recalbox

Among the emulators that are already included by default, you can enjoy retro games for NES, SuperNintendo, Master System, PlayStation 1, Genesis, GameBoy, Game Boy Advance, Atari 7800, Game Boy Color, Atari 2600, Sega SG1000, Nintendo 64, Sega 32X, Sega CD, Lynx, NeoGeo, NeoGeo Pocket Color, Amstrad CPC, Sinclair ZX81, Atari ST, Sinclair ZX Spectrum, DreamCast, PSP, Commodore 64, etc. See our Recalbox tutorial

RecalBox

Batocera

Batocera

Batocera is a project that implements an operating system specialized in retrogaming. It is compatible with Raspberry Pi and also with other similar SBCs such as Odroid.

This complete system integrates a large number of emulators, so it is a good complete alternative to the two previous ones. It will allow you to run retro games from Nintendo 3DS, Commodore Amiga, Amiga CD32, Amiga CDTV, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari (2600, 5200, 7800, 800, ST, Lynx, Jaguar,), Atomiswave, Commodore 128, Commodore VIC-20, Commodore 64, DOS, Sega DreamCast, Nintendo Game Cube, Gambe Boy, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Color, Sega Game Gear, Amstrad GX4000, MAME, Sega Megadrive, Nintendo 64, Nintendo DS, NeoGeo, NES, PlayStation 2, Sony PSP, PlayStation 1, SNES, ZXSpectrum, Nintendo Wii, etc.

Batocera

DOSBox

DOSBox

It is a simple MS-DOS operating system emulator so you can recover the classic program and game executables of this platform. It installs like any other package from the repositories of your Pi distribution. Once installed it is easy to use and with a few simple commands you can run the native software of this old platform.

DOSBox

Exagear

Exaggerate

Exagear is another Eltechs Software emulator created to be able to run software such as video games on x86 based platforms. It’s a paid project, but it allows you something more comfortable and simple than using QEMU to run non-compiled software for ARM on Raspberry Pi SoCs.

Exaggerate

Gngeo

GNGEO

It is an open source implementation for Linux that will allow you to enjoy the addictive and numerous video games of the famous NeoGeo. It is easy to install and you will be able to enjoy the content in a fast way. With titles like Mega Slug, SpinMaster, Blue’s Journey, Street Hoop, Blazing Star, NAM-1975, Art of Fighting 2, etc.

Gngeo

ZXBaremulator

ZXBaremulator

Along with the Commodore, another mythical platform is the famous Spectrum. If you want to give a second life to the videogames for this historical equipment, you can use the ZXBaremulator that brings you a complete bare-metal emulator (program that doesn’t need an operating system to work) for Raspberry Pi. It emulates the Zilog Z80 and the architecture of these machines to be compatible with ZX Spectrum 48K, 128K and +2A.

ZXBaremulator

VICE (Versatile Commodore Emulator)

VICE

VICE or Combian64 is one of the most successful emulators, because it can run on multiple platforms, among them your Raspberry Pi to implement a complete emulator for the famous C64, C64DTV, C128, VIC20 and all PET, as well as PLUS4 and CBM-II. If you want to revive the software of this platform, and its video games, this emulator will please you…

VICE

Stella

Stella

This is another tool that you can install on your Raspbian for Raspberry Pi with the package manager. Once installed, using the console you will be able to run your ROMs in an easy way, although not having a GUI can be a bit more complicated or less attractive for beginners.

Stella

Atari++

Atari++

Another of the Atari emulators you have at your disposal is the Atari++ project. In this case it is a Unix-based project that aims to bring you consoles like the Atari 400, 400XL, 800, 800XL, 130XE, or the 5200. In addition, it is self-configured to compile it for your platform, providing you with a lot of functions.

Atari++

RetroArch

RetroArch

It is another interesting emulator that works also on Raspberry Pi, although not recommended for beginners. It needs a configuration and a series of steps that can be somewhat complicated for the inexperienced.

The project arises as a API of libretro, a front-end for emulators and retro games that will allow you to run these video games …

RetroArch

Other resources

Abandonware

If you want to download video games, there are some interesting sites you should consider. Note that emulators are totally legal, but the method by which you get the ROMs of the games may not be. Some games can be found free, others you will need to pay for or get pirated. But this is under your responsibility, because from HardLibre we don’t incite to the piracy of any kind of software.

Among some websites where you can find these types of game and executable ROMs, I suggest you check the following:

  • I also advise you to look at the web Internet Archive, a great archive of all the past of the network of networks where you will find information that was hung and also many other retro programs and video games.

I hope that with all this stuff you can have enough for your future retro game machine…

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