Retropie handhelds are becoming a more popular purchase for those that want to play their old retro games on the go, especially the newer consoles such as the Playstation 1 and the Nintendo 64. The reason why these are selling well is because some of the Chinese handhelds that are out there can’t handle what the Raspberry Pi powered handhelds can. This is just due to the power behind the Raspberry Pi CPU and because it’s so cheap to buy, many can afford to add it into a hand to make it one of the best retro handhelds around with the ability to out power other cheaper handhelds at a higher frame rate.
But we’ll admit, because most RetroPi handhelds are not mass produced they are a lot more expensive than most handhelds on the market. We advise buying a DIY kit, or building your own to keep the costs down, but buying one straight out is easier for those that don’t know how or don’t have the time to build one. So, below are the best retropie handhelds for us nostalgia nerds.
1. Retroflag GPI Case – $90
The GPI case is one of the most popular Retropie handhelds on our list, and it’s not just because it resembles the classic Gameboy, but because its easy to put together and somewhat cheap because they get you to build yourself instead of them building everyone they ship.
This device allows you to drop in a Rasperry Pi Zero (or Zero W) and emulate all of the major retro consoles we love. Before the GPI Case, modders in the PI Gaming community were building PI GameBoys out of official GameBoy shells, this involved monumental amounts of soldering, plastic cutting and hot gluing. That pain is no longer, the guys over at Retroflag have decided to make this a lot easier for you, with a kit that allows you to assemble it yourself in under 30 minutes.
It comes with a 2.8”, 320×240 IPS display, injection moulded buttons and a slightly smaller Gameboy aesthetic. The only slight downfall with this Retropie handheld is the fact that it needs some software installation and not easy installation at that, it’ll take time to do and some coding knowledge will help. But that a side a great way to introduce yourself into the retropie world with an affordable DIY project!
2. MintyPi – $120+
The MintyPi is hands down the cutest Retropie handheld on the list and it was created by members of the community instead of an actual company. The MintyPi is a handheld games console within an Altoids tin. Yep, you read the correctly, many modders have managed to create and sell parts that are purposely made to fit into a mint tin for the community to buy and build themselves.
You can buy all of the parts from different sites, so it’s a little hard to buy it out straight, but we’re sure if you talk to the sellers nicely, they’ll happily build it for you for a price. The MintyPi has a 2″ screen, a D-PAD, ABXY buttons, start/select and a little stand to keep the Altoids tin from closing on your fingers. It’s an adorable handheld that feels like a miniature version of a Nintendo DS. It can play a wide number of old school consoles such as SNES, NES and even up to Playstation 1 ROM’s because of the Raspberry Pi 3 inside.
Comfortability wise it might not be the best, but this isn’t something you play with for long periods of time, it’s more of a pick up and play handheld that fits in your pocket. We absolutely love the idea of this, and it’s a genius way to use a cheap, but well-rounded durable shell from a $2 mint tin. All of the parts together will cost you between $100-$150, so it’s not cheap, but you can bet you it’ll be awesome. Our good friend @marky_pi on Instagram can hook you up with one should you want to buy one.
3. Retro CM3 – $150
This is one of the most popular Retropie handhelds known as the Retro CM3 is for those of you that want to buy a pre-built games console that you can pick and up and play straight out of the box. No soldering, screwing or installing needed, turn it on and you’re ready to play your favourite retro games.
The Retro CM3 is a new handheld, one that we scored 7/10 in our full review, not bad, but not perfect. The handheld works great, and can handle any game you chuck at it, but it does lack N64 emulation, and for a $150 this may pull customers back from purchasing. The shell is made out of injection moulded plastic which sounds great, but in reality it still feels like a cheap Chinese console. However, putting that aside, it has a great screen, strong shoulder buttons and superb emulation.
If you are looking for a handheld that rarely drops frames, has no screen tearing and can play all the Playstation ROMS you have ever dream of then this Retropie handheld is for you. It’s just a shame that the build quality doesn’t follow its emulation quality. We should also point out when we ordered this product it didn’t come in a box, it was just in a low quality case surrounded in bubble wrap. That wasn’t something we expected after spending $150.
4. N+ Digi Dock – $200
This Retropie handheld is still awaiting an official release, or even any kind of information for that matter. It has been floating around China over the last few weeks with a rumour that it has the ability to play PS2 games. We find that hard to believe but some videos have been revealed and it looks as if this thing could become reality sooner than we think.
It’s a very large handheld, the likes of Nintendo Switch Lite sized, it comes with a large 5″ screen, two analogue sticks (yes that red one below the ABXY is one) and a sturdy metal body. Not only that it has two USB ports, a TF card slot, two shoulder buttons, USB-C port and a HDMI out slot. Many sources say that it has a Raspberry Pie inside that runs on Windows, allowing for PS2 emulation, but with out certain specs of this device it’s hard to tell if that’s actually possible.
But from what we can see it can run all of the best PSP games including Nintendo 64, Dreamcast and even Nintendo DS games straight out of the box. Price wise, again we’re not sure but we’re certain it will be priced around the $200 mark because it’s smashing all of its competitors out the park with build and emulation quality. If you want to watch a video of the leaked handheld, you can see it here. We will update this article with more information when its released.
5. Gameboy 1UP XL – $250
The big boy. The 1UP XL. The small loan handheld. Whatever you want to call it, this is a beastly handheld and one that we’ve used for a few months now. This Retropie handheld is for those of you out there that have no budget but want something that just POPS. The Gameboy 1UP XL is a superb handheld that can be either pre-built, or came as a kit for you to build yourself. This is one of best handhelds out there to run your Nintendo 64 games while you’re travelling. And in case you’re wondering, yes, you can get this on an aeroplane, we’ve done it twice and no questions were asked, even if it does look a little… dodgey.
It’s a large, heavy handheld we’ll admit, and although it’s not comfortable for long periods of play time, it is very immersive with its Bright 3.5-inch HD IPS wide-angle display that can handle 60-FPS image quality. If you sync it up to your TV via the HDMI out port you’ll get a 1080p resolution. We basically used this is a portable N64 player most of the time, and used the included USB ports with our controllers, and boom, you got yourself Pokemon Stadium or Mario Kart 64 on the bring screen with your friends.
It’s not the “cleanest” of Retropie handhelds, but we love the transparent aesthetic, it makes it look different to everything else on the market. Just make sure you’ve got some strong biceps, because after an hour of use it will feel like you’ve been repping a car.
6. Waveshare Game Hat – $100
Here we have a cheaper Retropie handheld that looks like it’s straight out of a cereal box, but you’ll be surprised and how well this thing performs. The Waveshare Game Hat comes in parts, and you by a DIY kit which comes with a Raspberry Pi 3 in the box. It comes with a bunch of instructions so if you’re new to DIY kits, this should be a nice introduction.
It can run most of your old games, such as SNES, NES, Neo Geo, Sega Mega Drive and Gameboy games, but it won’t run N64, PSP or PS1 Games. The build quality on this thing is really good, our favourite part is the big rubberised analogue stick, it really helps with game quality, and going back to a smaller analogue stick for example on the Bittboy Pocket Go 2, you just feel like you’re missing it all the time.
The main reason people pic these up is not only because its a cheap introduction to Retropie Handhelds, but because its highly customisable. A lot of people create their own shells for this using 3D printers, or you can even buy 3rd party shells on eBay if you don’t. It’s easy to make this thing feel like YOURS and deep down, that’s what the Retropie community is all about. Building stuff and helping others do the same. We love it.
7. Freeplay CM3 – $200+
If you’re a big fan of the Gameboy Advance then this is a handheld you need to take a look at. This is the Freeplay CM3 Retropie handheld, a DIY kit that uses a Custom Gameboy Advance shell as its body. Inside is a Raspberry Pi 3 that can power Nintendo 64, PSP, PS1, Gameboy, SNES and a lot more.
This is aimed at someone who knows what they’re doing, if you have no experience with tinkering around with electronics then you might want to skip this one. But if you do, this one should be a lot of fun and it feels as if you’re working on a secret hidden end Gameboy from Nintendo! It is an expensive handheld, and the $200 doesn’t even cover everything, when you pick up a kit you’ll still need to buy the shell, the SD card, the battery, and then you have to install the software once you’re done, so it is a bit of a chore.
But once you’re completed your build it is a great little handheld that feels nostalgic, it performs well, the screen is backlight so you can actually see your Gameboy screen and with extra buttons and an analogue stick it makes you feel like you’re a kid again opening up a Gameboy Advance for Christmas. It’s just a shame about the mighty price tag, there’s certainly better choices out there in our opinion, but we understand if you’re addicted to Gameboys like us!
8. Gameboy 1UP Micro – $200
If you loved the Gameboy 1UP XL but didn’t like the size of it, then the Micro might be right up your street. Imagine all of that power in a pocket sized handheld? That’s the Gameboy 1UP Micro. Created by the same guys this Retropie handheld not only looks like it’s straight out of Transformers but it can also power N64 ROM’s and most consoles before that very well.
You’ll have no frame rate drops, no issues with crashing not even massive bicep issues, because this light handheld is being powered by yet again, a Raspberry Pi 3. It has a 2.2″ screen, an analogue stick, a bunch of buttons, HDMI out and yes USB ports so you can use it as a portable N64 should you want to.
It’s small, powerful, looks great and plays better, it’s the ultimate tiny handheld for those wanting to play retro 3D games, but the large price tag might put people off, and we don’t blame you, you can get a Nintendo Switch for that price, but can a Switch play Pokemon Snap? No, not it can’t!
9. GamePi20 – $40+
The cheapest Retropie handheld on the list is the GamePi20, a very easy DIY kit that could be for kids should they be into it that can play thousands of old retro games. Inside fits a Raspberry Pi Zero (which you’ll need to buy) which can power the smaller retro games such as SNES, NES and Gameboy, but won’t power PSP, PS1 or N64. The shell it comes in is… okay, nothing special and nor is the whole quality of this handheld to be honest, but its very much a cheaper version of some of the bigger DIY kits featured in this article.
It comes with shoulder buttons, a speaker, SD card slot and a small 2″ IPS display that just about does the job. It’s not the best out there, but this is something aimed towards kids or adults that want to take the first step into doing it themselves. The nice thing about it is that if you have a Raspberry Pi Zero already, it’s only $40, once it’s made if you still don’t like it, take out the Pi and try a different kit. Simple!
10. Retro ARTcade – $400
We wasn’t going to feature this handheld due to the fact that the Kickstarter campaign failed, but it’s too beautiful to ignore. This is the Retro Artcade, one of the finest Retropie handhelds made by a member of the community called David Johnson. David has a goal, and the goal was to create a high end, premium Retropie handhelds that looked like no other handheld on the market, and he did just that.
The Retro Artcade Kickstarter campaign was cancelled in March 2017 due to not hitting its funding goals, but if we look back at 2017 we’d say there just wasn’t enough attenting on the handheld scene, now, speed almost three years later and the retro handheld community is thriving, what better time to come back, hey?
The handheld was crafted from premium woods, incased with a glass front, and metal buttons. With a Raspberry Pi inside this thing could easily power your retro games in style. It’s heavy, thick, but fits in the hand like its been crafted by the high elves just for your fat hobbit hands. The metal buttons feel just like that of a metal gameboy, and we can imagine playing games on this thing is like playing games on something sent from the heavens. It’s a real shame it hasn’t been mass produced, but you can bet your bottoms that David has a unit or two somewhere in his collection, and who knows, for the right price it could find its way on eBay. If you really want to get more information on this handheld it’s worth talking to David Johnson himself here.
So there you have our list of the top 10 Retropie handhelds! Raspberry Pi’s are only getting stronger and stronger by the day, being able to power some fairly large games, but honestly the Chinese market are catching up, with the likes of the Supretro Handheld being able to play Dreamcast games for just $180, and the Retro Game 350 nailing PS1 ROMs for just $80. It’s a competitive world, but if you’re into building it yourself Retropie Handhelds are the way to go.