Review: Play Expo

The one-off retro gaming event provides a nostalgia trip at Blackpool's Norcalympia Exhibition Centre, 27-28 Oct

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For its seventh year Play Expo returned to Blackpool to immerse gamers in retro video games. Although previous instalments of the exhibition have included gaming of all types, from table top to VR, this one-off retro special, which followed the main event earlier this year, replaced some aspects from previous events with even more arcade cabinets and pinball machines at the Norcalympia Exhibition Centre.

Long tables allowed anyone who had paid the reasonabe entrance fee to sit down and play the likes of Sonic the Hedgehog, Crash Bandicoot and Street Fighter to their heart’s content. Hundreds of original consoles were hooked up to old CRT TVs – those big, ugly televisions that now seem like a bad dream – each with a different game cartridge in and ready to go.

Pretty much every game was there, from Pacman to Space Invaders, Time Crisis to Double Dragon

Even when the room was at its busiest it wasn’t too hard to find a free spot and play a game that you hadn’t heard of or hadn’t played in a very long time. Favourites such as Mario did tend to invite queues but this could be resolved with multiple copies of popular titles at future events.

Classic arcade cabinets weren’t in short supply despite the odd one or two faulty games. Most were in great nick and ran like the day they were made. Pretty much every game was there, from Pacman to Space Invaders, Time Crisis to Double Dragon. The one problem with this vintage style of games is they were designed with a specific audience of a certain height in mind. Whereas with consoles children can sit down, younger ones find it hard to reach the joystick or even look at the screen. Introducing some kind of box to elevate children would help parents introduce their kids to their favourite youthful pastime without having to hold them up and endure the sort of back pain that would remind them how long ago that was.

To the side of the main room, the event normally houses board games or anything miscellaneous, but with this being a retro special, these were replaced with over 50 pinball machines. With no coins needed to play, it was a sheer delight to continuously play and better yourself each time. There was even a brief playable history of pinball machines, starting with their conception and birth in the 1950s and leading players all the way through to present day. Each machine had an information sheet next to it, explaining its origins and mechanics. The pinball machine area was a massive highlight of the event.

In the shopping hall, collectors could go wild with thousands upon thousands of console games for sale. With old games now a lucrative business however, don’t expect to get a bargain. These games were fairly priced and are there mainly to complete collections or for investment, unless of course you are looking for FIFA 05. In between the limited edition Pink PlayStation 2s are quaint craft stalls with makers selling badges, 3D photo frames and more – a nice touch giving kids the chance to spend their pocket money.

Noticeable improvements to the event were the stage and timetable. With a decent sound system, video camera setup and projectors, anyone around the room can see what is happening on the main stage without having to be near the front. With events such as a game quiz and a cosplay masquerade, the MCs drew in a crowd and made the whole event real value for money.

Play Expo comes to Manchester Central Exhibition Complex, 4-5 May 2019

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