03rd May2015

Play Blackpool 2015 – Report

by Phil Wheat

Play-Blackpool-2015-Invaders

So, at least for Nerdly, Play Blackpool 2015 is over for another year. As I write this it’s Sunday night and Play’s doors have closed for the day – however it is on for one more day, the first time the event has been a three-day affair in its history) There may be other “Play” events but nothing quite like Blackpool.

Maybe its the hotel and exhibition centre the event is held in, or maybe its the  seaside town location but the experience of a Play Blackpool event is totally unlike any other in the UK gaming convention calendar. And that’s a good thing. Even if, talking to many a repeat convention go-er, this years event was apparently lacking compared to last years.

As someone for whom this was their first Blackpool event, yet as someone who had attended last years Manchester convention, you couldn’t help but feel that – even though there were plenty of games, old and new, to play – areas missing like Manchester’s pinball arcade and a much smaller traders hall took a little sheen off what is, usually, the premier UK gaming event of the year.  Speaking to other attendees who shared the same sentiment, it’s obvious that the traders area in particular is of vital importance to many Play regulars.

On a personal note I too was a little disappointed in the smaller traders section as I was looking forward to grabbing a ton of import titles (which I regretted not doing last year at Manchester) and trying to complete my ever-elusive PS2 beat-em ups list! For now it looks as though the gathering of sellers at last years Play Manchester will take some beating and I may have to resort to the evils of eBay to finally finish my PS2 quest…

Obviously Play is not built on buying games, though it is a big part, the real attraction of the even tis – besides catching up with old friends (shout-out to Stu, aka TootyUK on YouTube) s being able to play on computers and consoles from yesteryear; and that’s where Play Blackpool shone for me. The smaller traders hall meant that there was more room for more games. Be it the awesome Games That Weren’t display, featuring games that – as the name suggests – never made it to retail; or the massive corridor of old PCs running the likes of Doom and it’s sequel, Quake, and my personal favourite, Hexen; or even the Minecraft Zone (despite not being a fan) there was, thanks to the vast size of the Norbreck Hotel’s exhibition rooms, PLENTY to see and do. And “do” we did…

As a lifelong gamer, from the days of the ZX81 right through to todays generation: Xbox One and PS4, I’ve played more than my fair share of games on a myriad of computers and consoles – yet I still found games and consoles I have never had, no matter how hard I tried, the opportunity to experience before. The highlight for me had to be getting my hands on a Neo Geo, complete with arcade stick, and playing Fatal Fury Special. I’ve played that game a hundred times on the Playstation 2 (it’s a part of the Fatal Fury Battle Archives Vol.1) but giving it a go with the arcade stick is unlike anything else.

Then there’s the likes of the Sega Saturn. Whilst I had a Saturn back in the day it was second-fiddle to my PSOne – mainly because I had access to a ton of games for Sony’s machine and also because Saturn prices, even back then, were out of my price range. Don’t get me wrong, I had plenty of cool Saturn titles but there’s nothing like playing a Japanese shoot ‘em-up on a Japanese Sega Saturn… As was clearly evident at Play Blackpool! Yes, I spent way too long say in front of both Radiant Silvergun and one of my all-time favourites (thanks to its Xbox 360 and iPad iterations), DoDonpachi.

There were plenty of other consoles on show too – it was funny to see one lone Atari Jaguar sat, for the most part, being unplayed by anyone. Fun fact: the Atari Jaguar was the first thing I bought with my very first wage packet in my very first day job – back in the days when Telegames were the ONLY place to get retro gaming items. And seeing a Philips CDI brought back memories of my retro-collecting days – I was a HUGE fan of the Video CD format so, of course, I had to own the only console made to play both games and movies. Oddly I still missing playing Mad Dog McCree and Dragons Lair on that particular machine…

Play Blackpool isn’t just about retro gaming though. Indie games also have a huge presence at the event, and this year was crammed to the gills with indie games vying for attendees attention. The main “star” of this years Play Blackpool was without a doubt SkySaga: Infinite Isles, from studio Radiant Worlds. Besides being something of a Minecraft meets Skylanders meets old-school RPG, the game is gaining traction as being the latest project from the legendary Oliver Twins, aka the creators of 80s game franchise Dizzy and the “Simulator” series. Also on show – and proving VERY popular given how hard is was to get time to sit down and play the game – was Wulverblade, a side scrolling beatem-up in the style of those 90s classics like Golden Axe at al. And unlike last year, when the game was shown in Manchester, this event is the first time the developers have shown off ALL the playable characters. Plus, for those who DON’T get sick in close-quarters 3D, there were also plenty of chances to experience the Oculus Rift up close and personal with a handful of VR-based games, including the FINISHED version of Llamasoft’s TxK!

A great event with some great games to play, buy and drool over – such a shame the missus won’t let me buy a Japanese Saturn – Play Blackpool is a great way to spend a Bank Holiday weekend for gamers of all ages. Roll on Play Expo (aka Play Manchester) and the brand-new Play Margate event!
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Look out for reviews of video game documentaries World 1-1: The Pioneers, screened as part of GamesAid and From Bedrooms to Billions, sold at the event by sponsors Funstock.co.uk; and a gallery of photos from the event. All of which are coming very soon…

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