What retro games can you emulate on a Raspberry Pi Zero in 2021?

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The Raspberry Pi Zero might be coming to old age in terms of electronic components from the Foundation, but it’s still a very viable heart of many projects. Its small stature and full 40-pin GPIO set make it more than enough to run as a headless (no screen) device that you can connect to via SSH to make any needed changes once it is embedded in a project.

However, most of the time, it seems to be used for gaming and building little handhelds, but what can it really do? Can it actually play much outside of 1990s? Well, sort of. A little. It can play Gameboy Advance games and that’s about your lot.

Without overclocking the onboard ARM chip, it’s a fairly limited device, but limitations usually breed the best innovations and I find that having a lack of games to choose from can help me figure out what to play next. So it’s like an innovation if I just didn’t have my pick of grey-area acquired games.

Either way, you can use the following emulators on the Raspberry Pi Zero running RetroPie:

CompanyConsole
NintendoNES
SNES
GameBoy
GameBoy Color
GameBoy Advance
VirtualBoy
Game & Watch
Pokemon Mini
SEGAMaster System
Mega Drive
Sega CD
32X
Game Gear
ArcadeMAME (Pretty much anything not overly reliant on 3D)
CommodoreCommodore 64
AmigaA500
A500+
A600
A1000
A1200
A3000
A4000
CD32
Atari520ST
260ST
520STM
STf
520STE
1040STE
MEGA ST
MEGA STE
TT030
Falcon
2600
5200
7800
Lynx
NECTurboGrafx-16
SuperGrafx
PC-FX
Neo GeoPocket
Pocket Color
Neo Geo
PC (DOS)286/386
MSXMSX 1
MSX 2
MSX 2+
TurboR
SinclairZX Spectrum
ZX81
Misc.Amstrad CPC
ColecoVision
Vectrex
Intellivision
Sharp X68000
Thomson TO8/TO8D
Magnavox Odyssey
LaserDisc (MAME)

As you can see, the Pi Zero makes for a great emulator for handheld devices but stumbles at anything more than 3D for the most part. As long as you stay within the 2D range and the older consoles (or at most, 32-bits like a GBA), you should be fine and dandy without having to do any other tinkering.

This is why you’ll see Pi Zeroes in a lot of portable projects and such, as you’ll rarely need the power of the Pi 4 or something similar to recreate handheld memories.

The Raspberry Pi is incredibly fun to tinker with, which is why we’re currently pushing with multiple projects across the board. Be sure to keep tabs on our dedicated hub for more projects like this in the future!

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PC guide
A lover of janky games, Magic the Gathering, and going down rabbit holes, Joel still finds time to goof off on the internet and trying to not find another new hobby.

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