Raspberry Pi 4 With Lakka May Be The Best Retro Game Console Yet
Back in June, the Raspberry Pi Foundation announced their newest single-board computer, the Raspberry Pi 4. This tiny PC packs a quad-core Cortex A72 SoC from Broadcom and up to 4 GB of DDR4 memory at a very attractive price. While aimed at emerging markets for folks new to computers, the Pi really caught on with retro gamers and "makers" in general from the start. The latest Pi has a whole lot more computing horsepower than the last iteration, but software support hadn't quite caught up—until just now. The LibRetro team released Lakka version 2.3 with a ton of new features, a retro gaming focus, and perhaps the most important is official support for the Raspberry Pi 4.
If you're not familiar with Lakka, this open source project represents the LibRetro team's efforts to create a dedicated retro gaming operating system. Lakka supports many different hardware platforms from old Raspberry Pi single-board computers, to full-fledge PCs with standard x86-64 CPUs and the usual assortment of graphics cards. If you happen to run Lakka on a more powerful system, you'll get access to emulators for lot more systems, including Dolphin for Nintendo GameCube and Wii emulation and, new with version 2.3, a PlayStation 2 emulator that's still in the early stages. The Lakka website has step-by-step instructions to download and install the operating system on a bootable SD card or USB stick, depending on your platform.
Sega's $80 Genesis mini might be hitting stores today, but it only plays a selection of games for a single system, and some folks really enjoy the do-it-yourself approach. On the other hand, basic Raspberry Pi 4 kits start at around $60, but you'll need to supply your own controller and SD card. You can also find bundled DIY kits with the SD card as well of course. Regardless, once you do that, however, you'll have access to a polished front end for emulating tons of systems, from Atari's heyday with the 2600, all the way up to Sony's PlayStation Portable and the Nintendo 64. ROMs images aren't included, of course, so what to play is entirely up to you, and of course be careful to respect copyright.
We took Lakka 2.3 for a spin on our Raspberry Pi 4 with 4 GB of memory and it's pretty impressive. Early beta versions were plagued with issues like huge audio delays and screen tearing, and the Wi-Fi didn't work out of the gate. All of that has been resolved with the official release. We also had no problem pairing an8bitdo SN30 Bluetooth controller with the system, though Bluetooth pairing still requires a little ssh work via a Linux or Mac terminal or with PuTTy on Windows. After setting a hotkey to get back to the menu via the 8-button controller, we were off to test out some games.
SNES games ran great in the current SNES9x core. On the Pi 3, SNES9x 2005 was the best mix of accuracy and performance, but it really lacked a little bit in both areas. The latest core, however, ran everything we threw at it at a full 60 frames per second, including SuperFX games like StarFox. Genesis games already ran pretty well in PicoDrive and Gens, and they were no trouble for our Pi, either. Older systems now run at full speed with RetroArch Run Ahead, which spawns a second instance of the emulator to try to predict performance and reduce input lag, and makes the system much more responsive.
While it's expected that those emulators would run well, we were more interested in more recent systems. Our SN30 didn't have enough buttons to fully play Sony PlayStation or Sega Saturn games, but it had enough to at least see how they ran. We were rather surprised to discover that Crazy Taxi on the Dreamcast was quite playable on the Raspberry Pi 4, but before we knew it we were racing from customer to customer picking up fares and racking up the big money with a D-pad. If you added an Xbox or PlayStation controller to a Raspberry Pi 4 running Lakka, you'll be in for a good time.
If you're interested in building your own retro setup using a Raspberry Pi 4, you can get full kits from Canakit on Amazon. The best value for the dollar kits around include the Pi itself, a case, heat sinks, the official Raspberry Pi USB-C power adapter, a mini HDMI cable, and a small fan. You can get a Pi 4 with 1 GB of memory for $60 or bump up to a Pi 4 with 4 GB of RAM for $80. While we've focused on the ubiquitous single-board computer, Lakka 2.3 also adds support for ROCKPro64 and plenty of other features. Check out the Lakka 2.3 announcement for a full list.