Retro gaming consoles are quite popular now, but these deives are typically locked down, have a preset and unchangeable selection of games, and their availability may be limited. Often for less money and using a pi board, you can have much greater freedom to play the games you want from all the popular gaming consoles of years past. Setting up a pi board as a retro gaming console is easy and inexpensive, with no Linux expertise really needed, as the this brief review and set up guide for RetrOrangePi demonstrates.
RetrOrangePi is a retro gaming system that enables you to play games made for older gaming consoles like Nintendo, SEGA, Atari, etc. It is designed for the inexpensive Orange Pi family of pi boards plus some other boards with the H3 processor. It is analogous to the RetroPie image for the Raspberry Pi, but going the RetrOrangePi/Orange Pi route can be cheaper. Version 3.0 of RetrOrangePi was release in late December 2016, and 3.0.1 is available for download at the time of this writing. This release includes RetroPie 4.1, Emulation Station, Kodi 17 (Krypton), RetroArch/libretro, plenty of retro game theming and tailored tweaks for a gaming ready system, all riding on top of a full Armbian operating system. From a software standpoint, it is everything you need packaged up nicely.
To run RetrOrangePi, you need an Orange Pi, obviously. Some of the following compatible pi boards are as follows (affiliate links):
Optionally, you may want a case for your selected pi board. A keyboard and mouse are not strictly required, but you may want one if you ever use to the Armbian desktop.
You will be greeted with a retro game theme introduction screen. While enjoying that, the software resizes the SD card image and restarts the system into RetrOrangePi. The system boots up directly into the Emulation Station interface without the need to log in. You will be prompted to assign buttons for gamepad in Emulation Station.
At the initial RetrOrangePi screen, I hit Enter on the keyboard to continue but I later found that eventually it will continue on to Emulation Station on its own if you are patient.
First Impressions and Observations
It is a very nice, smooth, and well thought out experience. I love the way that the developers have set retro game music to play while you are in Emulation Station. For convenience, windows file sharing (Samba) of the ROM directories is already set up and accessible on your network. In general, USB gamepads should be automatically recognized and configured for immediate game play in the emulators.
Several of the more popular systems show up in Emulation Station by default:
- Apple II
- Sega MasterSystem
- Sega Mega Drive (Sega Genesis)
- Nintendo 64
- NEO GEO
- Nintendo Entertainment System
- Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Also included is Ports with the following games:
- CannonBall (Outrun engine)
- Cave story
- Duke Nukem 3D
- Goonies 20th anniversary
- Open Beats of Rage (OpenBOR)
- Prince of Persia – SDLPoP
- Quake (tyquake)
- Super Mario War
- Zelda engine – Solarus
Additional game console emulators will appear in the Emulation State menu automatically after you add at least one game ROM for the emulator. You have to restart Emulation Station in order for new games to be found.
Game Play and System Performance
I used my Orange Pi PC and spent a fair amount of time testing out various games, and then my kids and my niece discovered that we had a new game system. Between the four of us, we played quite a few games and really put RetrOrangePi to the test. I am quite impressed with the performance. I never saw any stuttering or slowness in the games, and the audio was flawless. The games just played like they should. On the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive), NES, and Atari 2600, the experience truly did feel just like when I was younger and played on those gaming consoles.
I did not extensively test out Kodi, but it came up quickly and ran smoothly in my brief testing.
And as for the kids, you would think that they would be okay playing with the Minetest server that I set up for them, but they quickly took control of my retro gaming system and were thoroughly enjoying themselves. So, I guess that this project is a success!