How to play retro games on your Raspberry Pi with RetroPie

All tutorials

Are you looking to (re)discover the joy of playing retro video games using a Raspberry Pi and RetroPie? Here’s everything you need to know to get started!

Supplies

For the initial SD card setup and to add games to your RetroPie, you will need:

  • Another computer connected to your network. We’ll refer to this as your usual computer to distinguish it from the Raspberry Pi computer you are setting up for retro gaming.

Choose the right Raspberry Pi

Although RetroPie will work on any Raspberry Pi, even the $5 Raspberry Pi Zero, we recommend using one with as much RAM as possible. More RAM means a smoother gaming experience. For this tutorial, we’ll be using an 8GB Raspberry Pi 4.

Raspberry Pi 400 is also a great choice, especially if some of your favourites use the keyboard as a controller.

Configure your Raspberry Pi

To begin, follow the Getting Started documentation to set up your Raspberry Pi. For your operating system, choose Emulation and game OS > RetroPie and select the appropriate image for your Raspberry Pi model.

During the OS customisation stage, edit settings as follows:

  • Enter a hostname of your choice (we suggest retropi for this tutorial)

  • Enter a username and password; you’ll need these later to authenticate

  • Check the box next to Configure wireless LAN so your Pi can automatically connect to Wi-Fi

    • Enter your network SSID (name) and password; you can find these in your Wi-Fi settings or on a sticker on your router

  • Check the box next to Enable SSH so we can connect to the Pi without a mouse and keyboard

Plug in your gaming controller

We’re using a generic USB gaming controller, but you can also use a variety of wired console controllers such as those made for Xbox and PlayStation. If you plan on using a wireless gaming controller that doesn’t have its own dongle, be prepared to troubleshoot some connection issues.

tip
For more information about connecting a gaming controller, see the RetroPie controller documentation.

Configure your gaming controller

RetroPie should now begin its initial start up process. When prompted, follow the on-screen instructions to configure your controller. When complete, press your newly assigned A button to exit the setup.

Add games to RetroPie

Format your USB flash drive using your usual computer

You’ll need to format your USB flash drive to FAT32 or exFAT before you use it to move your games to your Raspberry Pi. You can format it on macOS using the Disk Utility application, or on Windows by right-clicking on the flash drive then selecting Format.

Build your folders

Next, create a new folder on your USB flash drive and name it retropie. Eject the flash drive from your usual computer and plug it into your Raspberry Pi. RetroPie will now create folders on the USB flash drive for you. This should only take a few minutes. You’ll know it’s complete when the LED on your Raspberry Pi stops blinking.

Download ROMS

Game files are called ROMs. You can download them from a variety of online sources. There are a few copyright restrictions surrounding ROMs; always check that the website you’re using does not supply pirated content. Websites like itch.io provide some brilliant homebrew ROMs, and you can also find some official SEGA ROMs on Steam.

Transfer your ROMs to RetroPie

Remove the USB flash drive from your Raspberry Pi and plug it back into your usual computer. You’ll now see a vast array of folders on the drive, named after all your favourite consoles, in /retropie/roms. It’s now time to drop your ROMs into their respective folders and eject the USB flash drive again.

Plug the USB flash drive back into your Raspberry Pi once more and wait for the LED to stop blinking. The transfer time depends on how many ROMs you’re transferring, so don’t worry if it takes a while. We recommend using this time to make yourself a nice cup of tea.

Eject the USB flash drive, then restart your Raspberry Pi by selecting Start on your controller, followed by Quit, and then RestartEmulationStation.

Once your Raspberry Pi restarts, you’ll find all your games uploaded and ready to play.

You can repeat the download and transfer process to add more ROMs to your Raspberry Pi at any time without losing your existing games.

Happy playing!

Some of our favourite RetroPie DIY consoles

Makers across the world have used Raspberry Pi and RetroPie to build arcade systems and homebrew handheld consoles to play their favourite games. Here are some of our favourites:

A cool Raspberry Pi retro machine build
Five(ish) awesome RetroPie builds

Five of what we believe to be some of the best RetroPie builds shared on social media.

A GameBoy Raspberry Pi build
GameBoy Zero

We see a lot of Raspberry Pi Zero retro gaming mods, but we think this one might just take the biscuit.

An entire RetroPie setup contained in a NES cartridge
Pi Cart: RetroPie in a NES Cartridge

Using a Raspberry Pi Zero, it’s fairly easy to create your own Cart at minimal cost!

Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi

The MagPi magazine has put together a 164-page guide with everything you need to know about retro gaming with Raspberry Pi. You can download a free PDF from The MagPi magazine website, or find it in the Bookshelf app on Raspberry Pi OS.

The Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi book

RetroPie

The RetroPie logo

RetroPie is free-to-download open source software built upon a variety of emulators such as EmulationStation and RetroArch. If you’d like to support the RetroPie team, you can make a contribution via their website.