Review: Retroflag Pi cases (NESpi+, SNESpi, MEGApi) (Hardware)
It seems every company is jumping on the retro mini console bandwagon lately, we’ve had the Nintendo NES/SNES Mini, the PlayStation Classic, the upcoming SEGA Mega Drive Mini and even announcements for the upcoming TurboGrafx-16 Mini and Capcom Home Arcade. But what if the game line-ups for these throwback consoles don’t quite tickle your fancy? What if your favourite childhood game just didn’t make the pick?
Emulation to the rescue! For anyone familiar with the emulation scene, the Raspberry Pi is no stranger. This handheld computer has been a favourite for many in the homebrew scene ever since it was first released. It’s affordability and small size make it the first choice for many. Pair it up with the incredible open-source RetroPie project and you’ve got a simple and convenient emulation machine capable of emulating almost all gaming systems up to (and including - with some caveats) the Nintendo 64, with the Nintendo DS and PlayStation 1 also making the grade thanks to some exceptional work from homebrew authors.
But part of the appeal of the ever-popular mini consoles is their charm. These scaled down versions of classic consoles just look so aesthetically pleasing with their dinky little size and timeless designs. Who could resist wanting to adorn their AV setup with the likes of one? Besides, the Raspberry Pi is hardly a looker and with it’s circuitry laid bare, you’re going to want to dress it up.
Retroflag have released a line of retro inspired cases as an answer to that problem.
They’ve got the NESpi case - based on the design of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Both the SUPERPi J and U - for both European/Japanese and North American design variations of the Super Nintendo. And most recently the MEGAPi case - a SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis edition.
While not officially licensed in any way, the designs of these cases are about as authentic as you can get to their real-world counterparts save for any official logos or trademarks which have instead been replaced with Retroflag branding, though thankfully they’ve kept fonts faithful as not to look too tacky or brash.
The 4 Retroflag cases, the NESpi, SUPERpi J & U and the MEGApi all accommodate the following iterations of the Raspberry Pi:
- Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+
- Raspberry Pi 3 Model B
- Raspberry Pi 2 Model B
And they all use the same micro USB power supply that the Raspberry Pi does. I’d recommend the official Raspberry Pi 5.1v 2.5a power supply to ensure you’re delivering the power required especially if you intend to overclock and/or hook up any kind of USB hard drive or power hungry devices.
Retroflag's safe shutdown feature
One thing that sets these Retroflag cases apart from others is the inclusion of a safe shutdown feature. This allows the power and reset buttons on the cases to work as intended - safely shutting down the Pi instead of abruptly killing power which is likely to result in a corrupted SD card file system or possibly damaging your Pi. This is especially useful in RetroPie builds where convenience is key.
However, the original Retroflag NESpi case did not originally ship with a safe shutdown feature but this product has since been superseded by the NESpi+ which allows for this feature. So if you’re hunting for a NESpi case, please ensure you’re looking for the updated NESpi+ edition.
The safe shutdown feature is dependent on the installation of a script that detects when either the power or reset button are pushed and performs the necessary commands in the background to safely shutdown or reset your system. Retroflag themselves have published a script for this but I would strongly recommend a version by @crcerror that improves the shutdown process and allows for the reset button to take you back to the main menu if using RetroPie. The script is open source and can be found here:
Hardware and packaging
Now let’s take a look at the hardware itself.
We were sent all 4 Retroflag cases for review and while they all behave similarly I thought I’d take an individual look through each and share my thoughts.
The Pi cases are supplied in cardboard boxes that mimic the design of the units inside and look great. All 4 cases are supplied with a detailed instruction manual, screws and even a screwdriver which is very convenient (though I’d recommend using your own if you have one as it’s not of any particular quality and you’ll want to avoid stripping any screws if you can).
Measuring in at just 119.5 x 93.5 x 45.1mm, the NESpi+ case is about 1/4 the size of the original NES and when compared to a mint condition or stock photo NES, appears to have an ever so slightly more yellowed look to the top housing. Not unlike many consoles that have seen too much light exposure against their ABS plastic construction. Though this is not distracting at all and if anything, adds to the authentic look. The plastic finish feels authentic with a matte texture for the top and a smoother finish for the bottom half.
On the front of the case you have a power button that recesses just like the real thing with an LED power indicator sat right next to it, a reset button and 2 USB ports. Underneath the hinged “cartridge slot” you have a further 2 USB ports and an RJ45 network socket. I find the placement of the network port a bit strange, considering there is room for it on the back. But for those of us who plan to use WiFi (Pi models >3) it’s of little concern.
On the right-hand side you have the micro SD slot, on the rear - HDMI and power, and underneath, where before there was the mostly unused expansion port, is storage for spare micro SD cards.
The rear of the unit offers the power supply port, HDMI and 3.5mm audio jack.
Inside, you have space for a 30x30x10mm fan on the top that ventilates in/out (in my testing I found an outward vent lowered temperatures more) through the NES’ trademark top “stripe” which is inconspicuously ventilated on the NESpi. The fan can be inserted without the need for screws with simple tabs that latch onto the fan.
On the bottom you have the various circuitry and pass-through connectors including a safe shutdown toggle (whether you want to use their scripts or not) and fan power connector.
SUPERpi J and U
The SUPERpi case is available in 2 models - J (Japanese/European) for those that prefer the true, glorious version and U (North American) for that... other audience.
Sizing up at approximately 133.3 x 110.7 x 41mm each - the SUPERpi cases are about 1/4 the size of their genuine 90s originals. The plastic finish feels great and true to the original consoles in terms of texturing.
Both are very similar in terms of build and design but are built to match their regional counterparts. The J edition with its dark grey highlights and the U with the purple hues. Both of course have fully functional buttons, with the U model having the authentic sliding type. The cartridge slots pop open at the press of a button to reveal SD card storage, though getting cards in and out of the tiny compartment could prove tricky.
Both have 2 front USB ports and a small side cover that pops off to reveal the Pi’s original remaining 2 USB ports and RJ45 port. The rear of the cases offer the power supply ports, HDMI and 3.5mm audio jacks.
Inside the case you’ll find the necessary connectors and wires as well as the safe shutdown toggle and pins for connecting a fan should you install one. The case accommodates a 30x30x7mm fan via tabs that clamp onto it.
Rubber feet are inlcuded in the package with the SNESpi cases but are not pre-applied as you need to place them over the screws holes when the Pi is installed. I found this a bit strange for a hobbyist item as some that will use this product will likely remove and replace the Pi a handful of times.
The MEGApi case is the pick of the litter when it comes to the Retroflag cases but this may be swayed by me having grown up a SEGA die-hard. But the craftmanship does seem a step up from the other cases, while fantastic in their own right.
Again, scaled down to roughly a quarter the size of a real SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis. The MEGApi case sizes up at 91 x 120.1 x 35.12mm and is based on the Japanese model with its burgundy accent and huge 16 BIT branding. The case is finished in a smooth matte black plastic with a glossy border for the cartridge slot.
The LED, power, reset, and volume buttons from the original Mega Drive all make a fully functional appearance here. Though instead of controlling volume - the volume slider is adapted to pop open the round circular top of the Mega Drive that has been repurposed as a compartment for storing spare accessories such as micro SD cards and USB dongles. There’s a lot more space here for storage than on the NESpi and SNESpi.
On the front are the standard 2 USB ports which irk me ever so slightly as they are installed upside-down, contrary to the standard USB placement. On the left hand side under the fake grill is a hatch for accessing the micro SD card slot. On the right-hand bottom corner is a removable cover that provides access to the Pi’s RJ45 and remaining USB ports. A removable cover on the back of the unit can provide a hole for routing the network cable through if you intend to use one, which makes it sit neatly inline with the rest of the connected wires, making for a much neater set up.
It would have been nice to have the Pi’s 3.5mm audio jack rerouted to the front of the housing to match the real thing, especially if they could implement a working volume slider too but maybe I’m asking for too much!
Again, similar to the other cases, Inside is the usual circuitry and pass through cables for connecting to your Pi as well as the space to accommodate a 30x30x7mm fan. There is also the safe shutdown toggle.
Raspberry Pi installation
If you’re installing a fan into the case you’ll want to do this first. You’ll need a 30x30x10mm fan for the NESpi or a 30x30x7mm fan for the SNESpi/MEGApi cases.
I used a 30x30x8mm fan and found that the fan was pressing very closely against the heatsink I had applied to my Raspberry Pi. There was less than 1mm gap between the fan and the heatsink. This could be avoided by using a low profile heatsink though I’m sure this close proximity won’t be a problem if installed correctly. Don’t forget to connect the fans terminals to the pins on the case before you place your Pi in.
Getting your Raspberry Pi into any of these cases is fairly straight forward but can be a bit fiddly especially if you have larger hands. The placement of the Pi and all necessary wires can be a bit tight once it's all packed in, which considering the arbitrary sizing of the cases seems a bit peculiar. You’ll also need to remove your micro SD card from your Pi before installation into the case as not doing so could cause you to damage the card slot when pushing the Pi into position.
Installation simply involves connecting the pass through USB connectors to the Pi’s USB ports indicated by the manual, attaching the GPIO connector to the Pi’s pins in the correct orientation and position (again follow the manual for explicit instructions) and then simply pushing the Pi into position.
Start by angling the Pi down towards and then into the rear 3.5mm/HDMI/micro USB port cutouts then push it down until the board is flush against the mounting holes. Then screw down the Pi as indicated by the manual. Remember that some of the mounting holes are screwed down with the case lid, so be sure to follow the instructions carefully.
Remember to move the safe shutdown switch the ‘on’ position if you intend to use it that way before replacing the lid. It is set to ‘off’ by default.
Then when everything’s placed neatly and all wires are routed away from the fan (if you’re using one) replace the case lid and add the remaining screws to secure.
One thing to note is that I've encountered a few reports from users of these cases of random low-voltage warnings when using RetroPie. This may be specific to their personal set ups and it hasn't happened to me personally, but it may be worth investing in a 5v 3a micro USB power supply to ensure the Pi is getting all the juice it needs to run everything smoothly.
Retroflag have done an outstanding job with their line of Raspberry Pi cases. They are built with an impressive level of detail both inside and out and save for the Pi itself, are supplied with everything you need.
From the high quality construction that doesn’t feel cheap to the touch, to the details like the fully replicated buttons, LEDs and even storage compartments; these cases are a huge step up from the other cases on the market.
A number of small design choices are the smallest bugbears I could find, for example the placement of some ports could perhaps have been improved and the potential requirement for a more powerful power supply may add to the cost of entry but these are minor nitpicks.
Overall I can thoroughly recommend Retroflag’s line of retro inspired Raspberry Pi cases. A thoughtful, robust design and easy access to all your Pi’s ports make these the ideal finishing touch for any retro enthusiasts Raspberry Pi powered emulation project.
+ High quality with an intricate level of detail
+ Fully replicated, working buttons & LED's
+ Safe shutdown feature is a great addition
+ Straight forward installation
+ Detailed instructions and screwdriver included
- Some port placement could be improved
- May require a more powerful power supply
out of 10
For anyone looking for a case for their Raspberry Pi/Retropie setup and doesn't mind paying a little extra, Retroflag have produced some of the best Raspberry Pi cases on the market with an intricate level of detail and quality.