In issue 63 of The MagPi we took you through a comprehensive arcade machine build, including a complete wooden build of the cabinet itself. While it’s certainly impressive, not everyone has the space, time, or money for one. This is where awesome joystick kits like this one from Monster Joysticks come in.
This article was written by Rob Zwetsloot and appears in The MagPi #63.
You’ve probably seen this type of kit before – it’s an all-in-one arcade joystick and case for your Raspberry Pi that turns it into a small and portable arcade machine. Just hook it up to the nearest television and you’re ready for some Elevator Action. It’s like the plug-and-play mini Mega Drive you got for Christmas a few years ago, or the SNES Classic Mini you missed out on this year due to limited stock. Thanks, Nintendo.
Unlike the stocking filler plug-and-play consoles, this kit requires you to build your gaming system and supply the Raspberry Pi that powers it. Construction is very simple, though: there are six acrylic panels for each side of the box and only eight screws required to fasten them all together.
The kit comes with nine genuine Sanwa arcade buttons and a Sanwa joystick, which just simply click into the acrylic panels as you build them.
To wire up the buttons and joystick, a little add-on board is provided with colour-coded wires. They can be a little tricky to properly attach to the connections as the connectors themselves are a bit tight, but you don’t have to worry too much about wires getting tangled up. You may also need to push down the top panel a bit due to resistance of all the wires, but otherwise it all fits fairly neatly inside. You can find the full build instructions on the Monster Joysticks website.
The build took us just shy of three episodes of The Simpsons, so make sure you set aside about an hour for the job. Our only real complaint about the build is that, while all the ports and even SD card slot are readily accessible, the Raspberry Pi can only be removed by taking the case apart. It will only take a couple of minutes to remove it, but we’d have preferred it to be a little easier.
The final part of the build involves attaching little rubber feet to the bottom – very welcome, as the case had been slipping a bit on the glass table it had been built on.
The stick feels solid and has a decent weight to it thanks to the included components, so you feel pretty safe giving the buttons and joystick a proper workout. The included Sanwa components are quite important as not only are they high-quality and can survive a bit of classic Street Fighter button mashing/frame-perfect combo-timing, they’re also quite customisable. For instance, if you don’t fancy the button colour scheme, you can always swap them out. The joystick itself can also be customised: the version that comes with the kit has square four-way gates, but they can be upgraded to an octagonal eight-way gate, or any other gate style if you prefer.
Software customisation for RetroPie is also very simple. With a custom add-on board to connect the controls to the Pi over GPIO, we initially feared we’d have to download custom scripts for the job. Not so, though, and while you do need to go into the RetroPie configuration menu and install an extra driver (snesdev), it’s all quick and included in the RetroPie archive. Once that’s done, you can configure the stick controls, as well as any extra controllers you’ve plugged into the USB ports. Co-op Contra, anyone?
This kit is a great, solid package and it looks good as well. We recommend investing in some nice, long HDMI and USB cables to power the box and don’t be afraid to put some stickers or a little custom decal onto the case as well. With Christmas coming up, it may just be the perfect gift for someone, especially if they missed out on the aforementioned SNES Mini.
A great little kit. It’s a fun build but also a good quality product to use. We’d prefer the Raspberry Pi to be a bit more accessible, but otherwise the high customisability is a big plus.