How to build a retro arcade with Lakka

Raspberry Pi boards are superb for several projects. From cryptocurrency mining to low-powered home theatre PC (HTPC) builds, Raspberry Pi single board computers (SBC) offer tons of functionality. A top project for the Pi is creating a retro gaming console. You’ll find several options for doing so, from RetroPie and Recalbox to Lakka. Learn how to build a retro arcade with Lakka!

What is Lakka?

Lakka is a retro gaming operating system (OS) available for a variety of devices. It’s similar to OSes such as Recalbox and RetroPie, but a bit different. Whereas RetroPie and Recalbox use EmulationStation as a frontend, Lakka employs RetroArch instead. The user interface (UI) is a bit different and resembles the PlayStation 3’s XrossMediaBar (XMB).

However, Lakka doesn’t merely feature a different UI. Instead, it boasts an incredible out-of-the-box experience, rivaling that of RetroPie and Recalbox. You’ll find that its Joypad configuration is incredibly easy, eschewing a first-time set up for most controllers since it comes preloaded with preconfigured gamepad profiles. Accessing save states, enabling cheats, and similar tasks are simple even without a dedicated hot button. However, options like shaders are robust, bordering on overwhelming. The scraper isn’t quite as good as the one found in EmulationStation. Still, it’s a powerful, comprehensive retro gaming OS for the Raspberry Pi.

Pros:

  • Excellent out-of-the-box experience
  • Preconfigured gamepad profiles
  • Simple access to menu items (cheats, save states)
  • Libreto frontend
  • No keyboard required for general use (needed for Bluetooth pairing controllers with SSH)

Cons:

  • Scraper isn’t as accurate as that in EmulationStation
  • Tons of options, at times overwhelming

Lakka supports ROMs from these gaming systems:

  • 3DO
  • PlayStation
  • SNES/Super Famicom
  • Nintendo DS
  • Arcade
  • Game Boy/Game Boy Color
  • Sega Master System/Game Gear/Mega Drive/CD
  • Lynx
  • Neo Geo Pocket/Color
  • PC Engine/TurboGrafx 16
  • PC-FX
  • Virtual Boy
  • WonderSwan/Color
  • Nintendo 64
  • NES/Famicom
  • PSP
  • Atari 7800
  • Atari 2600
  • Game Boy Advance
  • Atari Jaguar

How to Build a Retro Arcade With Lakka

Before getting started, you’ll need a few items:

  • Raspberry Pi (Raspberry Pi 3 recommended)
  • microSD card (8 GB or larger)
  • Case (one of these 15 best Raspberry Pi cases would work)
  • Compatible power supply
  • Gamepad ($15-$40)
  • Keyboard (optional)
  • Lakka

Total cost: $60-$75. The best option is to snag a kit, such as one offered by Canakit which comes with everything you need. Then, just grab a gamepad separately. Most controllers including Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PlayStation 3 and 4 controllers function well. You may also pick up retro USB gamepads, including NES, SNES, N64, Genesis, and PlayStation controllers.

Download Lakka

Head over to the Get Lakka page. Select the GNU/Linux option. Then, find your Raspberry Pi board. You’ll find installers for the Raspberry Pi 0, Pi, Pi 2, and Pi 3. Additionally, there are installers for several other hardware options including the WeTek Play 2.

Download the Lakka IMG.GZ. You’ll need to extract the IMG file using an appropriate program:

To determine your SD card, run the following command to list all of your partitions and drives:

ls -l /dev/sd*

Then, you’ll see a list. Once you’ve determined which drive is your SD card, you can flash your extracted image onto the SD card. First, change directory to where your extracted IMG file is:

CD path/to/Lakka image

Then run the following command, substituting sdX for the drive listed as your microSD card:

sudo dd if=Lakka-*.img of=/dev/sdX

Alternatively, you may use software to mount your IMG once it’s extracted. After you’ve unzipped the IMG, use your preferred burning software to mount it to a microSD card:

Boot Up Lakka

With Lakka installed on your microSD card, pop it into your Raspberry Pi board, connect your HDMI cable to the Raspberry Pi, and power on the Pi. You should see the Lakka splash screen complete with its flower logo.

Wait a few minutes for Lakka to finish expanding its file systems, then reboot. This occurs at initial boot and subsequently does not occur on subsequent restarts.

When the reboot finishes, you should see the Lakka home screen which appears similar to XrossMediaBar.

Lakka Post-installation

With Lakka successfully booted up, you’re finished with the install. Now, it’s time to add your ROMs. You can accomplish this through several methods. If you’re adding ROMs over the network, you’ll need to use an Ethernet connection or configure your Wi-Fi settings. Then, look under Settings > Services and toggle on SSH Enable or Samba Enable.

Adding ROMs

With SSH and/or Sama on, look in your file browser under the Network tab. You should see an icon called Lakka. Click on that to open it, and you’ll see a folder called ROMs. Drop your ROMs here.

Alternatively, you may store your ROMs on a flash drive. I prefer this method as it allows me to keep my operating system and ROMs separate. Then, if something happens to my installation, my ROMs are self-contained and can be easily used with a fresh install.

For this method, make sure your USB stick is formatted as NTFS, FAT, or ext2/3/4. Then, load up your ROMs and plug the flash drive into your Lakka machine. Your partition is mounted automatically, and a folder /storage/roms/ created on the drive. ROMs then appear in the Lakka menu.

How to Build a Retro Arcade With Lakka: Final Thoughts

Overall, Lakka is incredibly simple to install and use. It’s arguably easier than RetroPie and Recalbox since almost any gamepad functions flawlessly out-of-the-box, no configuration required. Additionally, it’s easy to store ROMs on a flash drive, and the user interface is gorgeous.

However, Lakka includes vastly more customization options than even RetroPie. While some users may find this beneficial, it’s overbearing for others. Luckily, you can ignore most settings if you don’t care to tweak them. Its homescreen is a bit more barebones than the snazzy set up found in EmulationStation, but Lakka remains functional if a bit minimalist. Since it uses a full Linux subsystem for its underpinnings, it’s ultra functional. Sporting compatibility with loads of game systems, Lakka is a fantastic choice for retro gaming on a Raspberry Pi. While it doesn’t come with an option to run an HTPC media center such as Kodi from within its OS, you can always just create a dual boot set up and run Lakka plus OSMC, LibreELEC, OpenELEC, or another media center software option from your microSD card. Want to take your gaming on the go? Try making a portable DIY game console with Lakka as your base OS.

What retro gaming OSes are you running on your Raspberry Pi, and what games are you playing?


Moe Long

Moe Long is an editor, writer, and tech buff with a particular appreciation for Linux, Raspberry Pis, and retro gaming. When he's not hammering away at his keyboard, he enjoys running, reading, watching cinema, and listening to vinyl. You can read his writings on film and pop culture at CupOfMoe.com and check out his thoughts on movies on the Celluloid Fiends podcast.


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