Since I first started researching the power of the Raspberry Pi arcade emulator, I have desperately wanted to build my own custom arcade joystick for the Raspberry Pi. With a quality controller in hand, you can relive all the glory days of those vintage arcade titles on your Retropie emulator.
One of the beauties of the Raspberry Pi is the Retropie emulation software. Not only is the install effortless, but afterward the configurations are powerful and intuitive. I especially loved the slick features that give you the ability to configure USB controllers. Within a few seconds, you can whale on your opponent at Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat.
In order to enjoy these classic fighting games on your Raspberry Pi arcade emulator, you really need a solid custom arcade joystick or buy a quality controller online.
A simple game controller will work but the experience is just not the same.
After perusing the internet for hour upon hour and looking at arcade stick after arcade stick, I learned that building a custom arcade controller was not only feasible but cheaper than a lot of the alternatives. This put me on a quest.
If I was going to build my own custom arcade joystick, I had a few requirements.
- The unit needs to be sturdy. This unit is going to take some abuse
- The controls need to feel natural and responsive
- The price needs to be reasonable
Joystick and Button Kit
Luckily, there are several vendors that have jumped on the bandwagon. The first item on my list is the buttons and joystick unit. For this project, I used the Easyget Zero Delay Arcade Game Parts Kit for Raspberry Pi. These kits come in a variety of colors, such as, blue, black, and red. If you choose to buy another kit just be sure to pay close attention to the size of the buttons in relation to the acrylic panel and case you purchase.
Acrylic Panel and Case
Purchasing a quality joystick and buttons is great and all but you will need a base to put them in. Some folks choose to build their own base, in a variety of ways. Some folks use wood or particle board, aluminum boxes, plastic enclosures, briefcases and even shoe boxes. In this example, I purchased an Acrylic Panel and Case Kit.
Quality of Materials
After receiving the shipment in the mail, I was happy to see the quality of both of these products. All of the items were study.
The buttons are SANWA style and snap right into place. They have an easy plug-in interface, and they have a simple wiring interface that requires no soldering or customizations. In building a custom arcade controller for the first time, this brought me great joy! I will be upgrading to LED buttons in the future.
The joystick was solid, sturdy, and comes with a few screws that bolt it nicely to the base. I’ll be honest, the joystick unit was a bit intimidating at first. Looking at the bottom of the until, there were several prongs, etc. coming off the unit. The instructions that came with the unit were useless so be sure to watch the video in this article. I decided to examine all of the items closely for clues.
This was the biggest pleasure of the entire system. The unit came with a USB cable. One end plugs into the interface and the other plugs into the Raspberry Pi.
My until came with several red and black wires and a series of blue and white wires. Like I said before, the instructions left much to be desired. After examining all of the items for several minutes, I was lucky enough to figure out where everything went. All of the wiring was simple and required no soldering.
The base is very straightforward and comes with 6 buttons standard holes, plus 2 smaller holes pre-drilled. The buttons slide right into place and stay nice and secure. The unit comes in two pieces with screws to secure them together once everything is assembled.
Plugging in for the First Time
While I was assembling everything, I kept saying to my daughter, “I bet you it works on the first try.” I was just being silly of course but I was pleasantly surprised when my custom arcade joystick worked on the first try.
For those of you that are Raspberry Pi virgins, Retropie is the emulation software that allows you to play retro classic arcade and console games in one easy to use interface. The software is packed with a ton of features and setups and includes the ability to connect the until to a wireless router.
The Retropie software makes it so easy to configure a controller. Even better, it remembers the configuration, so you only have to set it up once. If you make a second controller with the same hardware, it will automatically recognize it and provide the same settings.
As soon as I got the all clear sign, I wasted no time in firing up Street Fighter II.
Even though I have years of technical training and skills, I had serious reservations about embarking on this adventure. I still can’t believe that it only took about 15 minutes to construct everything.
The buttons were more than adequate for my needs and the price is outstanding. I really want to splurge on the LED lights though.
The arcade joystick for Raspberry Pi allowed me to play Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat the way they were meant to be played. It brought back a lot of fond memories and for a brief second, I felt like I was 20 years old again.
This will not be my last custom arcade joystick. Future versions will have bright LED lights and sweet custom graphics. I’m also planning to build one until to accommodate 2 players. This will be a complete custom job so the planning stages are ongoing.
If you are a Retropie enthusiast and you are in the market for a great custom arcade controller, try building it yourself. You won’t be disappointed.