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Home / Tips and Tricks / There's never been a better time to roll your own emulation console – Review Geek

There's never been a better time to roll your own emulation console – Review Geek



Frustrated by the lack of Virtual Console options in Nintendo's new online service, and encouraged by a little electronics know-how in tinkering with keyboards, I finally decided to build my own RetroPie machine. I was surprised how easy it was … and how many options are available.

The classic solution is simply to take a Raspberry Pi unit and case, install it, load a copy of RetroPie onto an SD card and plug it into a controller and get started. And that's still a pretty good (and surprisingly cheap) solution if you really just want to play a few old games on your TV, without having to search for classic consoles and blow some cartridge contacts. But as it turns out, there are many more things you can do with both the hardware and the software.

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Take, for example, the world of portable gaming. Independent gadgets like the PiGRRL (See what they did there?) Plug a tiny Raspberry Pi computer, a screen, a battery, and a custom printed circuit board into a 3D printed sleeve to make a completely custom Game Boy clone. 19659002] And while there's a lack of polishing on Nintendo's handhelds, it's far more capable: The tiny, energy-efficient Pi Zero computer can handle most games up to the Super NES level (early 1990s) and the more conventional Raspberry Process Pi models Experience the full PlayStation emulation while saving hundreds or thousands of game ROMs on a MicroSD card. There are dozens of vendors who sell you a bespoke kit to make one yourself: just connect a Raspberry Pi to the kit, solder according to the instructions provided, and load the ROMs.

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A Raspberry Pi plus a 3D-printed case, battery, screen and buttons make a Game Boy clone ,

But even that felt a bit too easy for me. I wanted the best of both worlds: Nintendo's classic hardware and ergonomics, and the ability to load my old favorites from Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, SNES, and Genesis.

Despite the fact that it is now almost twenty years old My favorite portable gaming machine will always be the original design of the Game Boy Advance: it has an ideal combination of size, layout and library. I've often thought that if Nintendo had added the two extra facial buttons and a backlit screen that came with later models from GBA and DS,

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The original Game Boy Advance had a fantastic design, but its hardware is limited by today's standards.

Now that's possible, with modding and a hardware transplant. The FreeplayTech design replaces the internals of the original GBA design with a custom board, a new backlit screen, two extra buttons for playing Super NES games, a battery, and a Raspberry Pi to keep things running. It is essentially the same as the PiGRRL designs above, plus some custom software to tailor the screen to fit within the window of a GameBoy Advance shell.

The kit comes in two variants: the Freeplay Zero, which uses an Ultra -low-power Pi Zero, or Pi Zero W, and the Freeplay CM3, which contains the compact Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 (basically the Raspberry Pi 3 stuffed into a DDR3 board, minus wireless and USB options). The latter is more efficient and does not require soldering, so that's the one I chose. Both options include charging via MicroUSB, a MicroSD card slot to capture the RetroPie software image, a standard USB A port for transferring data, and even an HDMI port to play your games on a TV.

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This kit will replace the insides of the Game Boy Advance with a new Raspberry Pi console.

While you can disassemble your old Game Boy advance to complete the project, it's easier to just buy one of the many third party GBA plastic trays on Amazon or eBay. (A nice bonus: you can get colors for the case and the buttons that Nintendo never did!) After picking up a case and a nice glass cover for the cheap plastic cover of the original, I ordered the Freeplay CM3 Kit with an extra battery [19659016] freeplay, freeplay cm3, game boy advance, portable console, "width =" 3560 "height =" 1672 ” src=”/pagespeed_static/1.JiBnMqyl6S.gif” onload=”pagespeed.lazyLoadImages.loadIfVisibleAndMaybeBeacon(this);” onerror=”this.onerror=null;pagespeed.lazyLoadImages.loadIfVisibleAndMaybeBeacon(this);”/>

The Freeplay CM3 kit and a replacement GBA plastic shell

When all my parts came in, I had to spent several hours modifying the plastic wrapper so she could hold the thicker guts of the Raspberry Pi CM3 and the custom board, not to mention the new holes for the X and Y keys that cruelly depended on the original Game Boy Advance – Design

Most of the time in this build I spend extra space in the shell.

That was not so difficult, but also tedious: I had to use my Dremel tool carefully to grind the inside plastic, cut off some of the larger pieces with wire cutters, and drill exactly the new buttonholes

Then It was difficult to put the new circuit board and the new screen in place, and several spare seats were required. But FreeplayTech made these kits and helped their customers assemble them for a while, and the online building instructions and video guide were exhausting.

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After doing some research, I was not sure if I was could modify the plastic cover of the Game Boy on the first try. And while I managed to assemble and work everything, and even run games without problem, the trial-and-error approach to the process left the gathering a bit haphazard, especially upstairs where all the new ports were sitting.

After I worked it all out, I went back and reworked the Dremel work on the Secondary Shell I bought (they're only about fifteen dollars) to go a more informed, more precise way, now that I know where everything is.

I added a final piece to the project: a 3D printed top to the original cartridge slot. It's short enough not to disturb the processor cooler of the CM3, with holes cut from the top to allow heat to escape.

Add the sticker from the Shell kit and the Freeplay cosmetics sticker The project is complete

Between the Freeplay kit, the plastic cases, the battery, and the I spent over $ 200 on glass screen protection for this project – not very practical, if only I had gone out and bought an old Game Boy for a fraction of the price or bought a new 3DS instead. But if you like to tinker with electronics and old video games as I do, it's a rewarding experience, and there are much cheaper options if you are satisfied with a simpler build.

Actually, you can get low-power Android phones or tiny computers that run all those games by emulating well. Buying retro games through digital console stores or Steam is a much firmer approach. Your options to do this in your own way are almost limitless and often a lot of fun. And besides, how else do you get a Game Boy Advance that can play SNES games?


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