Last weekend, thousands of gamers descended upon EventCity in Manchester, UK to attend Play Expo 2013. Organised by Replay Events, the yearly expo focuses in four key areas of gaming: current gaming (now.play), retro (re.play) tournaments (pro.play) and activities for the ever-growing Cosplay scene (cos.play). Being the video game lovers that we are, we couldn't resist popping along and seeing what all the fuss was about.
And it was certainly worth us attending given that Nintendo was the only one out of the big three console manufacturers to have a significant presence in the now.play section of the expo. While its Nintendo Unleashed stand was nowhere near as large as the one that featured at Eurogamer Expo 2013 at the end of last month, it nevertheless had a solid line-up of upcoming titles. Expo goers were able to try out Super Mario 3D World, Sonic Lost World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and even Mario Kart 8 ahead of their respective launches. Interestingly, the staff working on the stand were keen to identify non-Wii U owners and ensure that they got a chance to go hands-on with the GamePad; something which Nintendo has believed to be the key to enticing consumers since the very beginning. It was good to see the Big N operating with a clear strategy in mind, and we can only hope it results in more sales come Christmas time.
Aside from Nintendo's relatively strong showing, there wasn't much else to be found in the now.play section. In fact, the only other big hitters were Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Dark Souls II and Oculus Rift. The main bulk of show floor space was instead reserved for retro gaming — something which has been Replay Events' core focus for some years now. The amount on offer here was pretty staggering, too; row after row of tables featured practically every system under the sun, ranging from mainstream classics to forgotten obscurities of yesteryear. This was further complemented by a wealth of arcade and pinball machines, the majority of which were configured for free play. Unfortunately, this area of the show wasn't as well-managed as we would have liked; there were quite a few machines which were out of order, not to mention that staff weren't always on hand to manage credit limits on some of the machines.
Nevertheless, these minor inconveniences were more than made for by the superb selection of arcade machines on offer. In particular, Nintendo fans were spoilt with a row of Donkey Kong arcade cabinets, featuring Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and even Donkey Kong 3. It was especially exciting to see the original Punch-Out!! in its glorious arcade form, not to mention that Mario Bros. was also playable.
For multiplayer fanatics, the retro area had a number of four-player console games set up, with Nintendo titles also proving rather popular. We personally enjoyed the chance to tear it up with a good ol' D5K Deutsche in GoldenEye 007 and blow each other to smithereens in Saturn Bomberman (which sadly wasn't set up for eight players). When it came to the former, it was interesting to see that many gamers — both young and old — still haven't quite managed to work out how you hold an N64 controller.
And of course, traders were at the expo in full force to cash in on our sudden overdose of nostalgia, selling everything from Goomba plushies to old systems and games. Prices were a little steep in some areas, but if you took the time to look around, it was possible to find a good deal — we certainly did!
All in all, Play Expo put on a fun couple of days for punters in the north, and was especially well-suited to families with children. It wasn't perfect — queue and stand management could have certainly been better — but the show did offer a lot of variety when it came to retro-related fun. It was also really good to see Nintendo there actively promoting the Wii U to the general public; let's just hope that it left a positive and lasting impression on some of the attendees.
Did you attend this year's Play Expo? Let us know what you thought below if so!