- Official Store: https://retroflag.com/pistation-case.html
Remember when "classic" consoles swept the nation? From NES to SNES, Megadrive to Neo Geo; everyone wanted a slice of the miniaturised retro action, and just a year or so into this furore, Sony joined the fray with its Playstation Classic in 2018.
Though the great Classic's rush of 2017 wasn't that long ago, each console essentially failed to deliver on one or multiple aspects according to critical analysis. The NES Classic was met with critique regarding the shortness of the controller cables, the SNES Classic was rather unfairly slammed for not coming with a power plug, the Playstation Classic and the Neo Geo Mini were panned for their heinous emulation, and while the Sega Megadrive (or Genesis) version was far more favourably reviewed, it too was hit with a critique that every other device also had slapped onto it: the game selection was not to everyone's taste and therefore the option to add more games would have been a nice touch given their rather svelt libraries. Granted the various regional laws of "piracy" don't always condone people making or using backups of their legally owned games, however, this is a valid critique and an opinion that never goes away as you simply cannot please all of the people all of the time.
Mainstream (read: legal) emulation such as this flourished and as a result, uncouth people scalped these devices to high heaven, but over in my personal corner, I wondered what the fuss was all about. Why were people so flustered by these things and why weren't they just delving into the world of Raspberry Pi-based emulation solutions; after all, they were universal, expandable, easy to set up and incredibly versatile to modify with games and more thanks to projects like Recalbox, Batocera and Retropie, and have been since around 2012!
The Retroflag PiStation is a love letter to the original 1994 console's grey 90's-futuristic aesthetic, and it replicates it, intricately, on every front. The box it arrives in is also a homage to the original Sony hardware with its black and yellow colouration emblazoned around its sides echoing that iconic look we all lusted after when we first laid eyes on it.
With a footprint of just 94.5mm x 134.7mm x 38.7mm this case is compact (smaller than even the Playstation Classic's 105mm x 149 x 33mm size) but manages to house a rather powerful Raspberry Pi 4 and the safe shutdown buttons/USB socket daughterboard that redirects two of your 4 available USB sockets to the front so that you can connect your USB controllers with ease. Installation of the Pi4 is simple enough, and with a supplied magnetic crosshead screwdriver you can construct it with minimal handholding in under 15 minutes and there are absolutely zero snags or pressure points to concern yourself about during its assembly.
The reset, power and open buttons are all fully working and laid out the exact same way you remember them being with virtually identical font and font colour. The iconically CD-circular lid springs open with the same gusto and has the small tactile 8 dot grip detail on the front right side for you to run your finger over and snap it back down shut. The side vents are as dynamically styled and space-age, and it's an awesome nostalgia bomb to behold in the palm of your hand. The vents also hide a secret lift-off panel on the left side that house the LAN and USB sockets, and the underside, between the feet on the right side houses the micro SD card slot, giving you easy no-fuss access without having to take it all apart.
The controller ports on the front are well observed too, with faux memory card slot detailing, but here's where I have my first critique; the USB board is mounted internally upsidedown, which means plugging in an already A-symmetrical USB cable just feels wrong. The memory card detailing also could have been repurposed to actually house the memory card, with perhaps a nice springloaded micro SD slot that makes it feel like you're using the memory socket, for, memory, but perhaps that's a restriction of reasonable space and adaptation within the confines of the unit's elaborate internal layout. Sadly there is no way to flip over the board and remount it up the correct way, which is unfortunate, as this could have corrected this slight oddity perfectly.
Opening and closing the lid initially appears to serve no purpose, though it clearly exposes some ventilation and a dump bin for any other SD memory cards, it feels a little like an afterthought, and I don't really want to have the lid open while playing for fear of overheating. It's a bit like driving with your bonnet (hood) open to give it some form of cooling whilst you're trying to drive, it would obviously impair your vision, and it impairs your view of the LCD screen when in use. It seems an odd form over function compromise in the overall design that perhaps could have been done better and given the fact that there is very little space in between the Pi4 and the rest of the internals for any traditional cooling solutions, though you can mount a small fan to the grill and heatsinks if you want to, I vaguely understand the requirement, but I find it a tad strange to then block it all over with the circular lid.
The LCD screen attaches to the rear of the unit via two flathead screws and within a matter of seconds it converts one of the dual micro HDMI sockets to a far more user-friendly singular full-sized HDMI socket for TV/Monitor connectivity and it also creates a pass-through for the USB-C power socket. Taking inspiration from the year 2000's redesign of the PS1, craftily known as the Playstation One, the Retroflag LCD screen borrows the microsized idea of a semi-portable screen the PS One had and bolts it onto the now shrunken OG mid-90's console. It's a match made in heaven in terms of semi-portability, and please note the use of the word "semi" as the unit still needs cabled power to function even if you aren't using it on your TV or monitor. When using the device on the TV I noticed the resolution on my Samsung TV stating that it was outputting at 720p via the full-sized HDMI cable, however, if you remove the screen and output via micro HDMI you gain full 1080p according to my TV's device details. This makes me wonder if it is in fact a splitter used instead of a straight pass-through and the output resolution is that of the LCD screen it's going through, rather than what the RPI 4 itself is capable of outputting.
The screen itself is small but perfectly formed with its 4.3" diagonal displaying crisp sharp images, with no notable lag and virtually no ghosting whatsoever, making this a truly phenomenal experience throughout my playtesting. Fighting games, platformers, racing and shooting games performed admirably, though I wouldn't recommend attempting to use a Dolphin bar or Airmouse/Aimtrak/Sinden Lightgun on the diddy 4.3" screen, save those kinds of antics for use on the big screen because the cabling of it all alone is not worth it for tabletop or portable use. Perhaps a future redesign of this screen with OLED, and edge to edge display could pump out a larger and more comfortable 5.5" display which would be an upgrade to the existing one, and while it's not necessary, it could offer an alternative more high-spec option.
Requiring power to operate means you are a little restricted, and the use of an in-car DC converter or simply having access to a mains power source is all that is needed to keep you busy when travelling or perhaps when tight on space or without access to a television. It would have been great to see a truly portable option for this, with no requirement for cables whatsoever, though perhaps a meaty power bank would suffice if you really wanted to take this thing with you wherever you roam, but be warned that a recommended 3 amp 15 watts source is needed especially if using USB controllers that draw lots of power (RGB lit or the sort), though you could also opt for using Bluetooth controllers too.
The buttons on the front of the screen operate the speaker sound levels +/- from 0 to 100%, a screen aspect ratio switch between 16:9 and 4:3, and screen brightness level +/- from 0 to 100%. In testing the brightness set at around 75% seemed to offer the best non-retina burning setting, though at night you could turn it down far further with ease. The sound from the speakers, though a little tinny due to a lack of any subwoofer, is audibly pleasing and more than enough to get you fired up when selecting your game of choice. There is also a headphone jack on the rear that you can use to connect your own headset too. I didn't notice any distortion or crackling through all my testing, which was something I feared may happen, but to my surprise, it sounded great even at high volumes.
Initially, I set this up with Recalbox 8 however I experienced a few odd quirks that means I couldn't boot the device after shutting it down. Even with the safe shutdown scripts installed and the buttons all working flawlessly the image itself seemed to not want to cooperate, and so I switched the memory card to a 128GB one and the OS image to Batocera, which I had far more success with. I don't believe that it was in any part an issue with this device, I think it's purely an RPI4 hardware issue with the software rather than anything caused by the case buttons or scripts. Once set up and fully loaded, I had an absolute blast replaying not only PS1 games on this device but also MAME, Amstrad, Atomiswave and Naomi titles on this wonderful set-up. I opted to connect my two fight-stick alphas to the PiStation and it was incredible to play games like Dolphin Blue, and Street Fighter Mix along with other arcade games in the comfort of my own home, huddling around the LCD screen. This form factor paired with a 4GB variant Pi 4B, with Broadcom BCM2711 Quad-core Cortex-A72, ARM v8, 64-bit SoC clocked at 1.5GHz, demonstrates the power that PlayStation Classic owners could barely even dream of, with an LCD screen added in, for a little more than the day one spend of the $99.99 official device. At the time of writing, a 4GB Pi 4 with this $89.99 case and screen would set you back around $160, but bear in mind the sheer ability this device holds as opposed to the limited official option at the time. Nowadays those PS Classics retail for just $20, if you can still find one, due to their lacklustre stock performance.
I'm a huge fan of this case thanks to the level of authenticity provided by Retroflag. They certainly know what they are doing when it comes to building case solutions for your existing naked Raspberry Pi devices. If you were ever in doubt, please allay those fears and know that this is one of the most simple to assemble, easy to use solutions for your retro gaming needs. The build quality is top-notch and the case feels solid to the touch,
- Incredibly well-detailed shell
- Bright vibrant 4.3" screen with aspect ratio button
- Nice loud stereo speakers
- Upside down USB ports & odd cooling ideas
- 720p pass-through resolution
- No out the box battery pack options