How to play retro games on your Raspberry Pi with RetroPie

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A wooden desk with a Raspberry Pi inside a retro NES case. Two gaming controllers to its side. A screen in the background shows an old 8-bit-style game.

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!


What you’ll need

Shopping list

For the initial SD card setup, you’ll also need:

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

Choosing the right Raspberry Pi and accessories

Although RetroPie will work on any Raspberry Pi, even the $5 Raspberry Pi Zero, we recommend using one with as much RAM as possible, because this will result in a smoother gaming experience. For our 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.

If you’re using a Raspberry Pi 4 or a Raspberry Pi 400, you will need a USB-C power supply and a micro-HDMI-to-standard-HDMI cable. Older models will require a micro USB power supply and a standard-HDMI-to-HDMI cable instead.

Power supplies come in a variety of formats, and you may find that an unofficial model such as a phone charger won’t be powerful enough for your Raspberry Pi. For ease and reliability, we offer affordable official USB-C and micro USB power supplies in a variety of regional formats. If you plan to use your own power supply, you’ll see a lightning bolt in the top right corner of your screen if it’s not supplying enough power to the computer.


Installing RetroPie

We’re going to use an application called Raspberry Pi Imager to write RetroPie to our microSD card. Raspberry Pi Imager is available for free for Windows, macOS, Ubuntu for x86, and Raspberry Pi OS. You can download it to your usual computer here.

A screenshot of the Raspberry Pi Imager software

Open Raspberry Pi Imager and connect your microSD card to your usual computer using a microSD card adapter. Now we can go ahead and install RetroPie to the SD card. In Raspberry Pi Imager:

CHOOSE OS: RetroPie can be found under Emulation and game OS. Here you can pick the correct image for your model of Raspberry Pi.

A screenshot of Raspberry Pi Imager open on the Operating System dropdown. Emulation and game OS is highlighted.

CHOOSE STORAGE: select your microSD card.

A screenshot of Raspberry Pi Imager open on the Storage dropdown menu. Mass Storage Device is highlighted.

WRITE: lastly, click to write Raspberry Pi OS to your microSD card.

A screenshot of Raspberry Pi Imager writing to disc.

Setting up your Raspberry Pi

Once your microSD card is ready, insert it into your Raspberry Pi. Connect your keyboard, mouse, and monitor or TV.

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.

Lastly, connect your power supply to your Raspberry Pi.

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, and you’ll know it’s complete when the LED on your Raspberry Pi stops blinking.

Download ROMS to your usual computer

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

Add your ROMs

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/$CONSOLE. It’s now time to drop your ROMs into their respective folders and eject the USB flash drive again.

Transfer your ROMs to RetroPie

Plug the USB flash drive back into your Raspberry Pi once more and wait for the LED to stop blinking. The transfer time will depend 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 Restart EmulationStation. Once your Raspberry Pi restarts, you’ll find all your games uploaded and ready to play.

You can repeat the last three steps (download, add and transfer ROMS) 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:

Five(ish) awesome RetroPie builds

Here are five of what we believe to be some of the best RetroPie builds shared on social media

GameBoy Zero

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

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.

Retro gaming with Raspberry Pi 2nd Edition bookazine

RetroPie

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.

RetroPie logo

Help and support

If you find yourself having issues with RetroPie, the best place to visit is the RetroPie forum. But here are a few FAQs that might help you:

My Raspberry Pi won’t power up/there’s a lightning bolt icon in the top right corner

Your power supply isn’t providing enough power to your Raspberry Pi. Try another power supply or buy an official Raspberry Pi power supply.

I tried to create folders/upload ROMs to my Raspberry Pi but nothing happened

Make sure that your USB flash drive is formatted correctly and that you’re waiting for the LED on your Raspberry Pi to finish blinking before removing the drive from it. If you’re still struggling, you can take the microSD card from your Raspberry Pi and manually transfer the files to the appropriate folders using your usual computer.

Can I use my Xbox/PlayStation/Switch wireless controller?

Yes, but it’ll require more steps. You can find more information on how to use a variety of controllers on the RetroPie website.

It’s better to be safe than sorry when downloading ROMs. We recommend using homebrew ROM websites that clearly state the files are copyright-free and legal to use. You can also buy select ROMs from Steam.