I was recently contacted by Piepacker about their new retrogaming platform, and it just so happened it was right after I had heard about them on either The Retro Hour or This Week in Retro podcasts. Their name had stuck with me and their offering had sounded intriguing. So when they emailed me I was definitely interested.

They offered to give me a preview access to their Beta service and I jumped at the chance. This isn’t a paid promotion and I said to them I would have to give them a totally honest review. But let’s back up a minute and ask, what exactly is Piepacker?

Well, Piepacker is a few things. Firstly it’s a way to play retrogames online. Nothing massively groundbreaking there you may say, but the main difference with Piepacker is that their whole platform is based around playing online with friends and having video chat in the corner of the screen the whole time you’re playing. You see yourself and your friend(s) while you play, and you can wave, shout or angrily gesticulate at your mates while you’re playing. It really is pitched as being the next best thing to actually playing on the same sofa as your friends. But there’s another interesting aspect about the Piepacker too. Read on.

The games
At the moment I believe they have about 60 games available. Some of these are recognisable, fully licensed games from the past. Sensible Soccer, Worms World Party, Earthworm Jim 2, Street Racer, Descent 2 and Zero Tolerance are probably the most well known games. They also have some other retro games I hadn’t really heard of, and also some recent indie games, as well as currently one new game specifically developed for Piepacker, I believe. They are hoping that after the Kickstarter finishes they can convince other licensors to allow their games to be a part of the platform too. I would love to be able to play the likes of Speedball with my mates online. But even if they aren’t able to get the licence to have a particular game ROM hosted on their platform, there is another way…

The Piereader
One of the most interesting and unique things about the Piepacker platform is that they will be offering a peripheral, called the Piereader. This device will allow you to insert one of your own original game cartridges and play that game online with your friends. It’s totally legal, as it’s not saving or dumping the ROM. It’s just playing the ROM on your screen and then sharing your screen with your friend. But also allowing them to control the game. That’s the bit I don’t quite get, but it will be amazing when it works. A very cool idea. It’s initially available for games for NES, SNES and Genesis/Mega Drive but they are hoping to expand that list of platforms in the future.

How well did it work?
I’ll be totally honest, the first time I tried it quickly to see if it worked, there seemed to be a lot of lag and stuttering in the connection. Who knows, maybe it was just due to them working on the beta, or maybe it was just my internet connection at that particular moment. I switched it off and said I would give it another go in a few days. I then tried it with another couple of friends and I have to say it worked really, really well. I played several games of Sensible Soccer with one of my mates for about an hour and I think I experienced about three seconds of slight lag the whole time. It worked very well indeed. I also tried one of the newer indie games, Micro Mages and that was great fun too. The experience with seeing your friends on camera, hearing them, typing messages, and even having 3D augmented facial skins and hats etc worked extremely well. How it works is that you pick a game, enter that game’s room, and then it gives you a link to email to your friend. The friend doesn’t even need to have an account or anything. Not sure if that part will change when it’s out of the beta, and maybe both people might need an account, but just now it was certainly a very smooth process. It also lets you pause games, save states and continue where you left off the last time. You can also plug in your own controllers. I plugged in my modern USB Competition Pro joystick and it worked like a dream.

The only slight constructive suggestion I could give is that it would be great if you could keep having your friends on video chat while you are browsing what game to play next. Currently you can only see your friends when you are actually in a specific game room. But our way round that was for me to firstly talk to my mate on Zoom, share my screen and we picked the games we wanted to play that night. Then we went off Zoom and then each time I launched the next game I emailed him the new link. Perhaps it’s just not technically possible to have the friend always on, and perhaps it does have to be a specific link for each game. Or maybe that’s part of the user experience which they might be able to fine tune during the beta. Either way it totally wasn’t a deal breaker and it was easy to get around. If we wanted to browse the game list again together we just jumped back on Zoom. Or alternatively we could have each just opened up a new browser tab to independently scroll through the game list and then let each other know which game we wanted to play next.

The verdict
This is a really interesting platform and I will be keeping a very close eye on the Kickstarter to see how it does and stay up to date with the news. It’s a great idea, implemented well, and I’m very interested to see if they manage to add new games to their arsenal or also see how well the ‘Piereader’ works.

Find out more at the Piepacker Kickstarter which is still live for another 14 days at the time of writing this article.