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How to rig a Raspberry Pi to support NES controllers

A very small investment and some minor re-wiring could have you re-living your childhood with NES games on real, retro NES controllers.

By Bryan Lunduke on Mon, 06/10/13 - 3:42pm.

I love games.

More to the point, I love older games. "Retro" games. Stuff that came out long before all this fancy “3D” mumbo-jumbo. I'm talking C64, Amiga, NES, TG-16, 1980's arcade machines and the like.

Luckily, I have a Raspberry Pi. Even luckier, there are two great, ready-to-go Linux Distros built with the sole purpose of emulating these older systems on a Pi: ChameleonPi and RetroPie.

The first is ChameleonPi. The purpose of this Linux Distro is pretty simple: provide a ready-made solution to turn a Raspberry Pi into a retro-emulation console that you can hook up to your TV. It even had a great built-in graphical launcher for starting the emulation of any given system.

And it handles emulating a pretty wide range of systems without any trouble: NES, Atari 2600, DOS, Sega Genesis, Spectrum...really just about anything you can throw at it.

All you'll need is a Raspberry Pi (I picked up the $35 model), an SD card (any size will do, though I recommend at least an 8GB card since they are so cheap) and some type of game controller. Luckily, there are a lot of options out there, but my personal recommendation is to simply pick up a USB Xbox 360 controller. They are well supported and have enough buttons to handle pretty much any game out there. [Though, if you'd rather not have an Xbox controller, there are lots of great options for USB gamepads in this fine world of ours.]

All-in-all, ChameleonPi is fantastic. But having choices is part of what makes running Linux so wonderful. Enter: RetroPie.

For most intents and purposes, RetroPie and Chameleon Pi are pretty similar: Custom Linux Distros tailored for running emulators on the Raspberry Pi. hey both even have nice launchers.

But RetroPie brings something extra to the table: drivers and instructions for connecting actual NES and SNES controllers.

Yes, you absolutely read that right. You can go pick up an SNES controller from a used game store (or pawn shop) for a few bucks, cut some wires, and you'll be able to play games using a real, honest-to-goodness, SNES controller.

The RetroPie crew makes that process a bit easier by offering a custom-built adapter for the Pi's GPIO.

Regardless of which of those you go with – or, perhaps, you'll roll your own solution using Raspbian (Debian build for the Pi) and your own collection of apps and scripts – you'll end up with just about the coolest, low-power, silent (no fan) gaming console money can buy. And it wasn't very much money – I think my whole rig set me back about $55.

Just be sure to put a nice case on it when you're done.