retropie games list

RetroPie step by step beginners guide (with pictures)

Today, I’ll show you how to make your first steps with RetroPie on Raspberry Pi
RetroPie is promoted as a free and easy retro gaming console
But it’s not so easy to start for a beginner on Raspberry Pi and/or Linux
If you are in this case, this article is for you

In this guide I’ll show you:

  • What is RetroPie
  • What kind of hardware do you need to play games on your Raspberry Pi
  • How to install RetroPie
  • How to find, download and install new games
  • How to optimize your RetroPie installation

Even if I recommend reading all of this if you are a beginner, you can use the table of contents below to go directly to the point you’re interested in

RetroPie introduction

retropie beginners guide

The RetroPie project

The main goal of the RetroPie project was to bring retro gaming abilities to the Raspberry Pi
Building RetroPie was a work on two dimensions: software and hardware

On the software side, the project was divided into four parts:

  • Operating system: they made the choice to use Raspbian at the end
  • Emulators: they had to bring all emulators of our favorite consoles inside
  • Setup script: they wanted the installation to be easy, and the setup script should do everything possible
  • Front-end: they needed a cool graphical interface to use Retropie as a classic game station

But it was not enough. The hardware part was also an important work
They wanted to add the ability to transform the Raspberry Pi into an arcade box
They created a GPIO adapter to plug joystick and button on the Raspberry Pi

RetroPie today

Today the RetroPie project has a dedicated website available here
They keep updated pre-made images for the Raspberry Pi
But it’s also possible to install RetroPie on other operating systems (over Raspbian or in Ubuntu/Debian systems)

The last image includes most emulators, just about everything you can dream:

  • Nintendo: NES, SNES, GameCube, GameBoy, N64, …
  • Playstation: PS1, PS2, PSP …
  • Others consoles: NEO GEO, Dreamcast, Saturn, …
  • Old computers: Atari, Commodore, …
  • And a lot of others emulators !

Retro Gaming vocabulary

Just before getting started, let’s assure that you understand two words I’ll use a lot in the next paragraphs

What is an emulator?

An emulator is a software that allow you to run games for another computer on your current computer
A N64 emulator in Retropie allows you to run N64 games on a Raspberry Pi

What is a ROM?

A ROM stands for Read-Only Memory. In gaming, this is an image from the original game
For example, on N64, you played a game like GoldenEye by inserting the cartridge in the console
On Raspberry Pi, you can’t use this cartridge. You need to have a file with the cartridge content

What is a BIOS?

A BIOS is the only software part you have on a computer before installing an operating system
On a PC, you may use it to set options like Boot devices order, date/time, hardware preferences
On a game station it tells how the computer should work, so the emulator may need it for launching games

Hardware prerequisites

To make the most of your new retro-gaming console, you’ll need hardware improvements

Raspberry Pi

Yes, you already know you need a Raspberry Pi to install RetroPie …
But I want to be sure you have the Raspberry Pi 3B + or more
On other models, games can be slow as the hardware is not powerful enough to run all games

You can try with another one for a test, but in the longer term you should buy a Raspberry Pi 3B+

SD Card

Even if any SD card could do the job, I recommend starting directly on a fast and large SD card

Fast because as you’ll see, the Raspberry Pi is a cheap console, but not the fastest for this kind of things
A fast SD card ensures that this part does not slow your games down

And a large one to store all the games you want
Yes, you can start on a small one, and change later, but you must reinstall everything, backup your save games, etc …

So first thing, find a fast and large SD card to start.
If you don’t have one, check my recommended product page for the best you can buy at the moment

Raspberry Pi case

The second point is the Raspberry Pi case, or at least the cooling
Gaming on Raspberry Pi, mainly with recent games, can increase your hardware temperature
And it’s not good for the Raspberry Pi life span

So ensure you have a well-ventilated case, heat sinks and maybe a fan
I wrote a post about how to install heat sinks if you need more information
And for the case or fan, you’ll find on Amazon.com exactly what you need (check this one for example, and change the color field if you need more or fewer things)

Game controllers

And finally, what is a good retro gaming console without retro controllers?
Even if you could play with your keyboard, it’s not the same, the time machine requires the use of an old-fashioned controller 🙂

I love the classic Nintendo controller from my recommend product page

How to install Retropie

At this point, you know what RetroPie is, the common vocabulary and you have all the needed hardware to play in good conditions
Let’s move to the installation process

Download Retropie

download retropie

The first thing to do is to download the RetroPie image from the official website: here
There are two versions, take the one corresponding to your Raspberry Pi model

I don’t recommend downloading images on other websites
Even if you can find images with a lot of games or add-ons inside, don’t trust them
You can’t guess if they are safe or not

Flash your SD card

Once you finish downloading the image, follow this procedure to create the SD card:

  • Insert the SD card in your computer (use an adapter if you don’t have micro SD slots)
  • Download and install Etcher if needed (it’s a free tool to flash SD card)
  • Start Etcher
    etcher menu
    • On the left choose the image file
    • In the middle select your SD card
  • Then click “Flash!” to start the SD card creation
  • After a few minutes, you SD card is ready

First boot

Insert the SD card and start the Raspberry Pi
There is almost nothing to do, just wait for the boot sequence to finish

The only thing you need to do is to configure the first controller

retropie controller configuration

  • When RetroPie asks you to plug your controller, do it
  • Press one key for a few seconds until RetroPie detect it
  • Then follow the wizard to configure all the controller keys
  • If you have a basic controller, without all keys, let one key pressed for a few seconds until the wizard move to the next one
  • When you configure all keys, press “OK” and the main menu appears

You can now use the main menu to follow the basic configuration procedure in the next  paragraph

Basic configuration

retropie main menu

In the main menu, select “Configuration” and enter (press A)

You should now get a full configuration menu like this:

retropie configuration menu

I’ll give you all the things to configure in this menu before going further
Obviously, you can browse all the submenu to set everything as you want
But I give you only the important things to configure

Audio

This menu is only to set the audio output for Retropie
Set the default sound output as you want

On a TV, HDMI should be enough.
On a basic computer screen you may select jack 3.5 and plug speaker or headphones

Raspi-config

If you’re used to Raspbian, this is the same menu
Note: On my installation, I needed to switch back to the keyboard to use this menu. I’m not able to make a selection with my game controller

Set what you need in this menu:

  • Localization options
    • If needed, start by configuration locale, time zone, keyboard layout and Wifi country
    • Setting the Wifi country is mandatory before the connection
  • Network options
    • Useful if you have a specific network configuration to make (Wifi or static IP)
    • For RJ45 with DHCP you have nothing to do
  • Update
    • Then select this one to update the system to the last version

RetroPie setup

This menu will help you manage RetroPie components
Try at least to update the system:

  • Updating Retropie
    • Choose “Update” in the first menu
    • Answer “Yes” to all the following questions
      This will update everything on your system
    • Then choose “Perform Reboot” to apply all changes
  • Come back to this menu after the reboot
  • Install Retropie manager
    • In the Retropie Setup menu, select “Manage Packages”
    • Then “Manage experimental packages”
    • Find “Retropie Manager” and install it from source
  • Start Retropie manager
    • In the Retropie Setup Menu, choose “Configuration / tools”
    • Select “Retropie Manager”
    • Then select “Enable RetroPie-Manager on boot” and “Start Retropie-Manager now”

Show your IP

You must know your Raspberry PI IP address later in this guide
So enter this menu and note your current IP address

Get new games

Download games

I already wrote an article about downloading ROMs for Retropie
So if you need help about this, I recommend you to read this post and come back after

Short answer:
You can download ROMs from websites like MAMEDev or ROM Hustler
But the easiest way to get all games quickly and legally is to buy an SD card on Amazon, like this one with 100,000 games or this one with over 10,000 games

Install games

Once you have downloaded one game on your computer, you need to send it to RetroPie

RetroPie Manager

retropie web manager

RetroPie Manager is a web interface to manage your RetroPie system
You can access it with your web browser at http://<RASPBERRYIP>:8080
If you didn’t note your IP address, you can find it under the “Show your IP” menu in the RetroPie configuration screen

In this interface you can find a lot of information about your system
The monitoring screen will show you the current status of the Raspberry Pi (memory, file system and CPU)
But our goal is to upload a new game on the RetroPie console

Installing a new game

  • Prepare the game files
    • Most of the time, you download a compressed file
    • You need to extract it to another folder with your favorite software (for example WinRAR or 7zip on Windows)
  • Upload the files
    • Click on “Roms” on the top menu
    • Select the system corresponding to the game
    • Drag and drop the extract files into the intended frame
      upload games retropie
    • Wait a few seconds, games are now visible in the list below

Playing your new game

Now it’s time to play!

  • You may need to reload the main menu for the new games to appear
    • Press Start on your controller
    • Then select “Quit” in the pop-up menu
    • And finally choose “Restart Emulstation”, and confirm “Yes”
  • Now your main menu should have changed
    The new game system should appear in the list
    retropie menu update
  • Select the game system you want to play (in my case Nintendo)
  • Then choose the ROM to start (you may have multiple versions in the ROM archive, find the one you prefer)
  • And then it’s done, you can play your favorite game 🙂

play tetris on retropie

Just repeat the steps from this section for each game you want to play

Retropie FAQ

The first game played on Retropie is a good start, but you’ll soon have other questions
I’ll try to answer them in this section

How to exit game?

Once in the game, you have to go to the main menu to exit and come back to RetroPie
For this you need to use the hot-key from your controller
If you don’t have configured it, it must be Select+Start at the same time

How to change the controller configuration?

You may have been fast on the first boot and want to change something?
Press “Start” in the main menu, then select “Configure Input”
It will ask you again to define all the keys

Same thing if you want to add another controller
Go to this menu and hold a button on the new controller

How to use a Bluetooth controller?

It’s possible to use a Bluetooth controller on RetroPie (like the 8bitdo SNES controller)
First, you need to set up your Retropie with a wired controller (use your keyboard if you have only a Bluetooth controller)
Then go to the configuration menu and choose Bluetooth > Register and Connect to Bluetooth Device
Finally, select your device in the list and follow the previous instruction to configure keys

How to remove games?

If you uploaded too many games or if you are missing space on your SD card, you can remove games from Retropie Manager
Get back to the web interface (http://IP:8080), go to Roms and choose the game system
Find games you want to delete in the list above, check them, and click on “Delete selected files”

How to save progress in a game?

Some games create a save automatically at some point, or when you use Select+Start to leave
If not, you can try to use Select+R1 to save and Select+L1 to load the saved game

What’s the default login and password?

If asked, default login and password are the same than on any fresh Raspbian:

Login: pi
Password: raspberry

How to start Emulstation automatically on boot? (auto login)

For me, after a few updates and reboot, the Retropie menu wasn’t launching automatically
I had to login with the keyboard and then the menu came up

To fix this go into the configuration menu > RetroPie Setup > Configuration/Tools
Then select “autostart” and “Start Emulation Station at boot”

Next time you’ll get the menu directly on boot

How to over clock my Raspberry Pi for Retropie?

First thing you need to know is that over-clocking is not possible on the Raspberry Pi 3
So if you are on this model, don’t waste your time: you can’t

For others models, you’ll find a complete tutorial here

How to use another theme?

You can install and apply other themes for the Retropie Menu
Go to Retropie configuration > ES Themes
In the list select one line starting with “Install …”

Once installed, press Start in the main menu and choose “UI Settings”
Then go to “Theme Set” and select the one you just installed
Exit and enjoy the new menu theme 🙂

You can see a preview for all themes here

Conclusion

I hope this post helps you to make a good start with Retropie and answers most of your questions

Feel free to leave a comment below if you need help on other things, or if you want to give everyone some other tips to enjoy RetroPie

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