Play:Expo has come to an end for another year and believe it or not, this event gets bigger and better each and every year. As has been the norm for the past couple of years, the queues and crowds of people in and around Event City have increased. You can safely say that Play:Expo is now the biggest gaming expo in the UK held outside of London and is one of the 3 you must visit each and every year, along with EGX and GEEK. But most importantly, what makes Play:Expo stand out, is that it is by far the most diverse expo you will visit. It keeps with the traditional of what Play:Expo started out as many years ago, which was just a gathering of retro video game enthusiasts, but has now brought it to an even greater audience by looking at and incorporating the modern generation of gaming and seamlessly bringing it all together.
I had learned from last year and decided to arrive about an hour before opening and it was a good job we did. Even an hour before there was a queue almost 100 metres long, if we arrived 10 minutes later we would have been 250 metres back from the door! When the clock struck 11am the queue was endlessly and swiftly moving into the main hall of EventCity, so once again like last year the staff of Replay Events and Event City should be given massive credit for the speed of getting us all inside.
The Screen:Play area of the Expo was the first thing you saw as you entered the hall and I can fully understand why they chose to do this, with this being the newest part of the Expo. I imagine they wanted it to be the first thing people came across and to experience. They had 3 cars from the movies, Bumblebee and Barricade from Transformers and the DeLorean from Back to the Future, which inside the car had the dates and times of the expo, which was a nice touch. YouTube celebrity, Tom Syndicate also turned up and the queue to see him and get a picture was ridiculous, around 90 mins at least. Give him his due, he was only meant to be there for a couple of hours, but he stayed and made sure that everyone who wanted to see him and get a picture with him did.
The Pro:Play area was somewhat smaller than last year, but just as important as this year it was the turn of League of Legends to have a Pro tournament, however there was a slight issue. The internet at the venue was down and since the PC’s all have to be online and logged into the European Gaming League, the matches couldn’t take place on the Saturday, so this was postponed till the Sunday, to which I believe the team Mistakes Were Made came out as winners.
Like last year there was also a fighting games tournament, but this was more of a ‘casual’ tournament, where anyone could enter so they wish. However don’t let the word ‘casual’ let you think that it wasn’t competitive, because by god you could see the concentration on their faces and hear the shouts of joy when they have won a very tight match.
The Pro:Play area was quite rightly situated near to the Now:Play section of the hall, where around 100 PS4’s were on show. There was a huge variety of games for us all to play, both current and future releases. These included Drive Club, Pro Evolution Soccer 2015, Oddworld, Minecraft and many other titles. Now with both Nintendo and Sony having been at Play:Expo in the past 2 years showing off their latest games, have Microsoft missed a trick here or is it their turn next year to join the party?
The Indie Zone was also based here, this is the opportunity that smaller developers who can’t really get to the bigger expos, as they are heavily concentrating on the more ’well-known’ developers, so this was a great opportunity for them to showcase their latest projects to a huge potential audience. The first thing that immediately jumped out at me was the game Wulverblade by Fully Illustrated, a good old fashioned side-scrolling beat ‘em up brought into the 21st century. This style and type of game has been left in the doldrums for many, many years and there hasn’t been a decent one since Streets of Rage 3 on the Mega Drive. Wulverblade looked good, played even better and I cannot wait for it to be released next year and it also seemed that others also thoroughly enjoyed Wulverblade as it won the Play:Expo People’s Choice Award for the best Indie Game at the Expo.
A Pixel Story was my other personal favourite Indie game, as I managed to complete the challenge set so my name will be in the credits of the game! I will be down as Taff, as that is my nickname, so if you do pick this game up and finish it, keep an eye out for it. There were many other great games that were being shown on the floor, Gang Beasts, Chompy Chomp Chomp Party, Raging Justice, and Starters Orders 6 which you have to see to believe; a horse racing game with the Oculus Rift whilst on a portable horse training machine, the iJoy Ride. That was just a few but do look at them all as they all deserve our recognition and our support to keep going and continue making these great games.
A newcomer to the Play:Expo ring this year has been the massive rise of the humble Board Game and Trading Card Game, this was brought to the masses at Play:Expo by Dark Cleo Productions and Chimera. Dark Cleo Productions brought along a wide range of board games for us all to look at and play for fun. These ranged from Street Fighter Monopoly to some massive convoluted thing taking up about 3 tables worth of space, which I was scared to go even near for the pressure of knocking something over. This area was frantic at times, but was well looked after and everything ran as smooth as silk.
Chimera had a huge presence as not only were they selling cards from the latest games from Japan, but were massively involved in the card game matches that were taking in place in a corner of the hall. They provided staff with expert knowledge, play mats and I swear there were something like 200 odd people at any one time, sometimes a lot more, all playing these card games. These 2 companies brought another dimension to Play:Expo and made a lot more new fans young and old, I for one will be looking at the new generation of board games and seeing what they can bring to a party and definitely purchasing some.
There was a tremendous amount of stores and shops for you to buy anything game related, from Plushies of Pokémon or Minecraft characters to shops selling games from the NES right up to the PS4 and XB1 and even some absolute fantastic t-shirts. I have to be honest, how Oh Japan got away with some of the captions on their t-shirts, I’ll never know. I had to do a double take on some of them just to check what I read, but nonetheless it was absolutely brilliant.
I haven’t even mentioned the reason Play:Expo actually started, the Re:Play section. They seemed to be even more machines than last year, with an even bigger variety of games available for everyone to play, from sit down cabinets for Outrun and After Burner with the hydraulics which make the machine move, to the original Jumpman cabinet or Mario as he is now known. There was even a Fix It Felix Jr machine from the film Wreck It Ralph. Super Sprint on the endless spinning wheel is just awesome and match that up with the shooting games like Time Crisis or Point Blank and you have a perfect gaming day for me.
You can’t have retro gaming without pinball machines, and yet again this has grown and grown with more and more machines thanks to Northern Lights Pinball. There is something so satisfying about hitting those flippers and whacking that ball up the ramp to get the jackpot that just cannot be found in anything else, the feeling of self-satisfaction is just so immense that for a brief moment you can allow yourself to stop and think that you are the best, then, all of a sudden the ball comes hurtling down at you at around 100mph and you haven’t got a hope in hell of hitting that ball and it’s game over
This is what Play:Expo is all about for me, people sharing the same passion for video gaming, from granddads to grandchildren, mums and dads with the kids, all coming together. Seeing young children’s faces when seeing an original GameBoy for the first time and not believing how we used to play on it or seeing a pinball machine for the very first time and immediately wanting a go, that’s the spirit that will keep people gaming forever and keep this fantastic community going. If you are a gamer this is where you want to go, a proper family day out.
What can I say about Play:Expo 2014, with Replay Events branching out into new waters with Screen:Play and board/card games, it was a little leap into the unknown, but they have come up with the winning hand for sure. Where can they go next year? Honestly, they could do next year exactly the same as this year and I’ll still go and still enjoy it as much as I did. Play:Expo should be about gaming at its truest, purest format; you, your 10p, 3 lives and away you go.