You’ve seen the Lego NES? Admittedly that is pretty cool (and I am definitely jealous), but how many hours of fun is that really? Six? Eight? You can definitely do better. What if, instead of making your own NES out of Lego, you make your own NES Mini out of Raspberry Pi with a custom case?
Unbeknownst to me until minutes before this post, there is a company named Retroflag that makes custom Raspberry Pi cases for the NES, SNES, Sega Megadrive, and even the original Game Boy. Ironically the latest and most powerful Raspberry Pi (the 4 / 4B) is only supported by the updated NES case, but the Raspberry Pi 3B that works in the SNES and Megadrive cases is no slouch either.
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In any event, these custom cases aren’t just a pretty facade for your beloved single-board computer, no; Retroflag also makes scripts that integrate with RetroPie, the emulation-specific linux distribution used throughout the retro gaming community. These scripts integrate Retroflag’s custom buttons, allowing something called “Safe Shutdown” and “Safe Reset.” When triggered, this will actually shut down the software and the hardware as opposed to just yanking the power, which can lead to data corruption. It just takes something that’s, you know, a little on the DIY side and makes it nice, and I appreciate that.
Now, reading through some of the reviews we can see a few small criticisms come to light. First, people seem to be breaking their MicroSD cards when they install their Raspberry Pis. Apparently you absolutely must take the card out before installation. It would also appear that Retroflag has read the room, so to speak, with the NESPi 4 case by adding an included fan, heatsink, and even made the cartridge into an SSD adapter which is, frankly, genius. You love to see it.
Retroflag also makes gamepads that mimic classic SNES and Megadrive controllers. These plug into the front of the consoles via USB, and they’re not too expensive at around $15 a pop. All-in-all, between these ~$15-70 cases and $15 controllers, you’re really not out much if you’ve already got a RetroPie setup. Though, for future-proofing’s sake, I would recommend getting the NESPi 4 (even if you don’t plan on playing too many NES games) if only for the raw processing power. Because yeah, it might be weird playing N64 games on an NES-style mini console, but with a RetroFighters Brawler64 controller, a Zelda mod, and a few hours of downtime, who cares?!