RetroSys: Scam or huge scam?
August 29, 2019 11:19 AM   Subscribe

My Facebook feed is full of ads for the RetroSys video game system. So help me, I'm tempted.

I'm no dummy; I know it's just a flash drive loaded with a big pile of illegal ROMs and some emulation software. But assuming I actually want a flash drive loaded with a big pile of illegal ROMs and some emulation software, and I'm too lazy to roll my own, could it actually be worth the $160 price tag? Do you have any first-hand experience with this or similar products? It comes with controllers; do they actually work or are they the cheapest possible plastic knockoffs? Will I get hours of mindless button-mashing fun out of the RetroSys, or will it end up collecting dust after a week like my OUYA? Will it even arrive at my house, or is it vaporware? Advise me, please.
posted by Faint of Butt to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it's actually a Raspberry Pi with a microsd card that full of illegal ROMs rather than just a flash drive, so at least you don't have to plug a rando flash drive into your own PC.

So it's worth at least the $40 for a Raspberry Pi plus the flash card ($20?) plus the controllers ($10). So $70 of hard parts. But I have never used one so I can't comment on whether it's actually good.
posted by GuyZero at 11:31 AM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

This essentially a packaged version of a raspberry pi, power supply, two controllers and a RetroPie image... plus a bunch of technically illegal ROMs (most of which can be found on, too)

I'd concur on ~$70-80 in parts (less if you have a SD card around -- you don't need one big enough for 30,000 games). I'd rather save the $100 to roll my own... it's likely less than an hour of well-documented, easy work.

I play a handful of emulated Sega Genesis and PlayStation (v1) games (though not on a retropie). I've gotten hours of button mashing fun with it. My five-year-old is starting to appreciate Sonic 2.
posted by toxic at 11:53 AM on August 29, 2019

Looking at the port configuration, that is very very likely to be a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ in a cheap case with a cheap SD card and some cheap controllers and probably RetroPie installed with a bunch of questionable ROM images. If that were closer to $100, it'd be a better deal. Getting all that put together takes very little time, though you'd be on your own for getting games on it. As another option, the BittBoy and Pocket Go are fairly similar (although notably using custom stuff, not a Raspberry Pi and RetroPie) and go for way cheaper and also include a screen, and I'd imagine Amazon would have SD cards pre-loaded with games and such too.
posted by mrg at 11:55 AM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

That's very obviously a Raspberry Pi in a box with an ethically-iffy bundling of RetroPie (who are tired of people selling their carefully-crafted multi-game system that they give away for free) and a couple of cheapo controllers. Their only value (and one that might get shut down asap if they include Nintendo ROMs) is that they've gone to the trouble of bundling all of this.

Yes, you can play games quite well up to about a PlayStation 1 level of retroness with one of these.

As I used to work for a Raspberry Pi reseller, I can put together an exact hardware list to replicate this if you need it.
posted by scruss at 11:56 AM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

I agree with the comments above. In addition... those controllers are probably going to be garbage. Like, garbage garbage, make-you-not-want-to-use-the-thing garbage.

Also, since this 'prepared' raspberry pi isn't an actual purpose-built product and the company is selling stuff they don't have the rights to, you won't get any support in the future once they've disappeared, if something goes wrong. In essence, what you're paying for isn't worth much and you'll eventually be in the (ouya) situation you are attempting to prevent, if not right away.
posted by destructive cactus at 11:57 AM on August 29, 2019

As others have said, it’s like a day of effort to build this yourself, or maybe a weekend depending on expertise. IMHO buying it isn’t a bad value proposition if you value your time. As a console it’s fine but there is no way I would trust this enough to connect it to my network.

One advantage of the DIY route is that you could use the recently released, much more powerful RPi 4
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:13 PM on August 29, 2019

I'm thinking more and more that this is a drop-ship scam. I'm finding almost identical Shopify websites with very similar images from vendors such as Retro 720, Glotrue, New Elite Shopy [sic], Skyz Tec Store, Beckysys and best of all, "Executivez Shoppyz" (no, really). Hilariously, one of the vendors has a games list link that points to another vendor's website. I've asked on the RetroPie forum if anyone knows about this. I urge caution.

(on preview, don't use a Raspberry Pi 4 just yet. The drivers aren't quite together enough for this, and the thermal management isn't very good at all.)
posted by scruss at 12:35 PM on August 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'd roll your own and take the money saved and buy nicer controllers. Makes a huge difference to the actual fun factor of having an emulated games system.

The 8Bitdo SF30 is frequently recommended; it's a Super NES style controller but with Bluetooth.

Really though, depending on what console you are most interested in playing games from, I'd see if you can play with the actual OEM controller from that console. OG Nintendo, Super NES, N64, Genesis, and Atari controllers can be used with USB adapters. (However before you get too excited about playing GoldenEye with a real N64 controller, be aware the RPi3 doesn't seem to have enough oomph to emulate it well. The Pi4 may, I think the jury is still out.) You can also use many modern controllers if you prefer, with appropriate adapters.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:58 PM on August 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

My kid picked up a BittBoy, a little handheld retro emulator, as an upgrade to a dentist visit reward (she paid with her pocket money) and has been pretty obsessed with it. It's about US$40 and decently put together.

We got it because it was there at the shop and she was playing Street Fighter for fifteen minutes straight, but if I'd done more research I would have picked something like the ODROID which has some building and coding and a community to it.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:24 PM on August 29, 2019

That ODROID-GO's rather neat - but it is based on an ESP32, so an order of magnitude less powerful than a Raspberry Pi.

I priced out two very complete RetroPie capable systems, using a US Raspberry Pi official reseller (not named/linked as they are a friend of mine):

Raspberry Pi 3B+ — total US $133:
  • Typical official reseller kit (1 GB Raspberry Pi 3B+, power supply, case, PSU, 32 GB µSD card) — $67.00
  • HDMI Cable — $6.00
  • 2× Logitech F310 game controllers (for a long time, these were the controller that was recommended and mostly just worked with the various systems that go together to make up RetroPie. Other controllers may need a bit more work to get going) — $40.00
  • Logitech K400 keyboard (you probably don't need this if you're just playing console systems, but if you're emulating systems like the Amiga, having a keyboard is essential just for managing the emulator itself) — $20.00
Raspberry Pi 4B — total US $136:
  • 1 GB Raspberry Pi 4B — $35.00
  • PSU — $8.00
  • Case — $5.00
  • Pimoroni Fan SHIM (pretty much essential, because of the Raspberry Pi 4B's thermal tendencies. You may be able to get away with an always-on fan for less $, but you need active cooling for this machine unless you like thermal slowdowns) — $10.00
  • 32gb µSD card — $12.00
  • µHDMI → HDMI Cable (only one; I don't think you can game on dual monitors quite yet with RetroPie, even if the Raspberry Pi 4B might have dual HDMI outputs)— $6.00
  • 2× Logitech F310 game controllers — $40.00
  • Logitech K400 keyboard — $20.00
I've not yet found the ready-to-go 32 GB SD card image that has all the games, but it might be an old version of RetroPie or have other issues. Best bet is to download RetroPie, flash it to the card using balenaEtcher, review the docs for the systems you're interested in, and then go hunt for ROMs. It may be more work than you're interested in doing.
posted by scruss at 8:47 AM on August 31, 2019

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