Does RetroPie come with Emulators? A Helpful Guide

RetroPie is a comprehensive platform on which gamers can enjoy thousands of classic video games on their Raspberry Pi. If spending some time playing vintage games on a Raspberry Pi sounds great, you may be wondering if RetroPie comes with the emulators preinstalled.

RetroPie comes with dozens of preinstalled emulators from RetroArch, a Linux-based OS, and an easy to use graphical interface from EmulationStation that makes switching between games and systems a breeze.

The base package of emulators included in RetroPie can emulate thousands of games, and there is also room for expansion. However, the manually added emulators can pose technical challenges and can often suffer from glitches.

What is an emulator?

Emulators are computer programs that act as software equivalents of retro video game consoles, arcades, and computers. They enable modern computers to play games from just about any classic platform.

What systems can RetroPie emulate?

Right from the start, RetroPie contains emulators for the following hardware:

  • Amstrad CPC
  • Atari 800
  • Atari 2600
  • Atari 5200
  • Atari 7800
  • Atari Lynx
  • Nintendo Entertainment System
  • Nintendo Famicom Disk System
  • Nintendo Game Boy
  • Nintendo Game Boy Color
  • Nintendo Game Boy Advance
  • Nintendo Super NES
  • Nintendo 64
  • Sega Game Gear
  • Sega Genesis / Mega Drive
  • Sega Master System
  • Sega 32X
  • Sega CD
  • Sega SG-1000
  • NeoGeo
  • NeoGeo Pocket
  • NeoGeo Pocket Color
  • TurboGrafx-16 / PC Engine
  • Sony Playstation
  • Vectrex
  • ZX Spectrum

Adding Emulators to RetroPie

Computers, gaming consoles, and emulators are in a constant state of evolution and improvement. As such, new emulators are introduced and updated on a regular basis.

RetroPie is built for expansion and updating. For example: Redream is an excellent Sega Dreamcast emulator that runs very well on the Raspberry Pi 4. Redream is not found in the initial RetroPie setup, but you can easily install it on your own. This feature greatly improves the functionality of your Raspberry Pi.

There are many more emulators to add that expand your gaming horizons. Redream is just one such example.

You can add emulators to RetroPie by going to:

RetroPie Menu > RetroPie Setup > Update RetroPie Setup Script > Yes > OK > OK > Manage Packages

From here, you have two main options:

Option 1: Go to Manage optional packages. This will bring you to a list of stable emulators you can install on RetroPie. All of these emulators will work well with RetroPie.

Option 2: Go to Manage experimental packages. These emulators are still in development and are highly prone to glitches, bugs, and crashes. I only recommend them for people with substantial emulator experience.

Either way, here are two tips for installing additional emulators:

  • Pro Tip 1: The emulators are listed by emulator name, not console name. Keep an internet enabled device handy for a quick Google search if you have any questions.
  • Pro Tip 2: Emulators that start with lr grant you added in game menu options by working with RetroArch.

After selecting an emulator, you’ll need to install it. For most gamers, select install from binary. Installing from source is for people who want to view the code of the program. Then select Yes.

Next close out of the menu. RetroPie will automatically create a folder for the roms. You can drag and drop your roms as you normally would.

Options for switching emulators

The Raspberry Pi runs on a Linux OS, which is a huge benefit for gamers. Luckily for you, multiple emulators exist for Linux for just about every vintage console. This gives gamers several options should they run into a problem with their RetroPie system.

Sometimes, certain games or features just won’t run properly on a certain emulator or display no matter what you do. Fortunately, many emulators exist for the Linux OS. RetroPie allows users to download and use different emulators if the preinstalled emulator doesn’t function properly.

Keep in mind that the preinstalled emulators run very well, and you’ll probably never need to switch from a default emulator. However, the option to change things up in the event of a problem is a very nice addition to RetroPie.

Updating emulators

Emulators are computer programs. As such, they require occasional updates. The Raspberry Pi 4 connects to the internet either by Wi-Fi or ethernet.

To update RetroPie, go into the RetroPie Menu > RetroPie Setup > Update RetroPie-Setup script > Yes > OK > OK. Next, go to Update > Yes > OK > OK.

How much does RetroPie cost?

RetroPie is a free software available for download on the internet. While it is free, there are development and hosting costs associated running something as robust as RetroPie. If you’re so inclined, you can make a donation to RetroPie by following this link.

Further, there is no cost to add new emulators or switching emulators.

How to use an emulator in RetroPie

RetroPie comes with dozens of preinstalled emulators, and they work right out of the box. RetroPie also offers an easy to use graphical user interface. This interface allows users to easily navigate between systems and games.

You’ll notice upon initial bootup that you cannot see any available gaming systems or emulators. Fear not. Everything is fine.

In RetroPie, the option to select an emulator does not appear in the GUI until after you’ve placed the game files (commonly called roms) into the appropriate folder.

Once RetroPie detects that compatible roms are in the right place, the ability to select a gaming system and games activates.

After that, you’re good to go. RetroPie enables you to use your controller of choice to play games. When the game is selected, it’ll run just as it did years go.

Controllers for emulators

The original console controllers in your closet will not work natively with RetroPie. This is due to the modern connections on the Raspberry Pi. The Raspberry Pi 4 has 2x USB 2.0 ports, 2x USB 3.0 ports, and a Bluetooth 5.0 antenna. All of these work with a wide variety of contemporary video game controllers.

The good news is that after it is calibrated with RetroPie, one modern Bluetooth controller will work with multiple systems. That means you can switch between consoles and games without changing controllers.

You also have the option of adding multiple controllers to RetroPie. This is handy when button layouts between different systems don’t match. For this reason, I personally use a Bluetooth 6 button Genesis controller for my Sega games and a Bluetooth SNES/PSX style controller for everything else.

It is possible to map controller buttons in any way you desire. However, keep in mind that it can be extremely difficult to unlearn the muscle memory of using a video game controller from decades ago.

RetroPie Bluetooth vs USB controllers

As previously mentioned, the Raspberry Pi 4 has 4 USB ports and a Bluetooth antenna. This gives you a ton of options for modern controllers. Current generation console controllers will work, and there’s an ever-expanding assortment of aftermarket controllers available for purchase.

One point of personal preference for controllers is the choice between a hard-wired USB controller or a wireless Bluetooth controller. The choice essentially boils down to input lag and freedom of movement.

Input lag is often measured in milliseconds and is the measurement of time between a button press and the desired action on the television screen.

A hard-wired USB controller will give you the lowest amount of input lag. Since USB controllers plug directly into the Raspberry Pi, they enjoy the shortest input lag. USB controllers also do not require batteries as they draw power from the Raspberry Pi.

Bluetooth controllers free gamers from the tethers of yesteryear and simultaneously prevent the tangled mess associated with controller cords. The drawbacks to wireless controllers are slightly increased input lag, and the introduction of another battery to keep charged.

Closing thoughts

RetroPie running on a Raspberry Pi grants gamers the ability to enjoy thousands of games on dozens of systems. Many emulators come prepacked with RetroPie, and those programs enable countless hours of entertainment right out of the box. Should the need arise, gamers can switch to a number of emulator options for any classic system. Further, emulators are constantly updated and improved giving gamers almost infinite possibilities for electronic entertainment.

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