This past weekend, the several of the CCL team made our now annual trip to Replay Events PLAY Expo in Manchester Event City. After a bit of initial disorganisation with a huge mess of a queue, we spent most of the Saturday enjoying all things gaming. This was our first time going to the event on a Saturday, and it was quite a bit busier than the Sunday events that we’ve been to previously.
This year’s event continued the trend of last year’s by being even bigger. While in the same hall as last year’s event, the entire length of it was now in use.
The biggest difference compared to previous years was the focus on selling. Previously there had only been a handful of stalls selling items, mostly older games but there were also board games and toys and other random stuff. I always enjoy looking through older games and finding tons of stuff that I want to add to my collection but can’t really afford.
This took up the entire middle of the exhibition hall, with the retro and arcade games as well as the large selection of pinball games now taking up the far end of the event.
As always I spent quite a while in the arcade cabinet section with Dave, though sadly Thunder Cross 2 wasn’t there this year so our plan to finish it this time was instantly scuppered. A few highlights for me there were Gauntlet II (this time with all four joysticks working), the awful to play Tron (great looking cabinet though, and nicely digitised music from the film) and a Fix it Felix Jr unit – I believe Disney actually made some of these though I have a feeling this one was a reproduction. It was also nice to see both OutRun and Afterburner cabinets, both games I enjoyed very much at arcades when I was younger.
The retro section was more or less the same as previous years, with tons of classics available to play. A couple of multiplayer games of Mario Kart 64 had me a little sad, as it doesn’t play as well as I remember compared to the modern games and there was oddly another N64 there with the 64DD addon that was also just playing Mario Kart instead of something that came out for it.
I got to play on a Virtual Boy for the first time, it being one of very few machines since the 80s that I’ve not played on or owned. It’s not hard to see why the machine failed, though I didn’t end up with instant and crippling headaches like many who play on it, so that was nice.
It was also nice to see the classic 90’s Virtuality Pod, a virtual reality games machine. I didn’t get a chance to play on this, but I have fond memories of playing it back when it was a big deal and ‘the future of gaming.’ Of course now the games, which observers could see on a screen next to the pod, are incredibly primitive but they were a great technology showcase for the time.
I was a little disappointed at the lack of major new games – last year Nintendo were showing off many upcoming games such as Mario Kart 8 and Zelda as well as Sony having the PlayStation 4 available to play at one of the first UK events it appeared at – but there was nothing big like that this time. Admittedly, there isn’t anything as big as these in the pipeline for this year which isn’t something Replay can really do something about, but it did seem like a big omission this time around.
Team 17 did have a number of games on display that will have been new for most people attending, I had a chance to play most of these at the last Insomnia and they’re all pretty solid titles.
The PlayStation 4 did make an appearance showing off a number of games, but these were all ones already on release with the only thing that I hadn’t played yet being Silent Hill-teaser-thing PT, but there was no sound so the effect was completely lost.
One new game that was on display that looked pretty cool was Wulver Blade, a cartoony Golden Axe style game that’s due to come out next year on Xbox One and PC which will certainly be something I keep an eye on.
There was also a demo unit showing off some new Oculus Rift games, but this had a huge queue so I sadly had to pass on this.
The final new addition to the event this year was what Replay were calling Screen.Play, a section of the event dedicated to movies and TV shows. This was a little sparse, with a few cars from Transformers and a Delorean as well as a couple of showcases of games that were related to TV or film. There were also a few celebrities doing signings and photoshoots, and we got to have a little chat with Chris Barrie towards the end of the day which was very cool.
All in all, another fun year at the PLAY Expo. I would have liked more new games to try out, but there was still more than enough there to keep us entertained for the full day though we’re probably going to go back to the Sunday for next year to avoid the queues.