21st Jul2017

PLAY Expo Blackpool 2017 – Report

by Phil Wheat

Well the weekend has come and gone, and with it this years PLAY Expo Blackpool – the latest gaming event from Replay Events, one of the UK’s premier gaming and event entertainment companies. Of course the PLAY Expo events are all about playing games: be it pinball, arcade games or consoles, be they retro or modern. There are plenty of items to buy too – gamers can stock up on retro games, consoles and all sorts of collectables. Many from local vendors (a great way to get your name out there in the community for sure). But the focus of PLAY Expo’s is most definitely on games.

And this years Blackpool event was no different. Well, there was one big difference. This year the games also encompassed everything board game too! The guys from UK distributor Esdevium were in attendance, showing off a number of board games available from them – we had a cracking game of Dobble Star Wars,  ably demonstrated by the Esdevium team, with a huge group of players of ALL ages and… well, lets just say I’m not as quick as some folks when it comes to identifying Star Wars iconography. In other words… I lost!

As with the Leeds event we attended earlier this year, there was a mix of gaming old and new, mainstream and indie – in fact a number of the indie devs that were in Leeds also attended the Blackpool event, including Lukasz Snopkiewicz with his awesome shooter Space Toads: Mayhem. One game I tried out this time, which I didn’t get a chance to play in Leeds, was MaoMao Castle – a Space Harrier like shooter that looks like it stepped straight out of the 80s but… controlled entirely by motion controls: waving your hand, balling it into a fist, etc. to control MaoMao the Cat-Dragon in his quest to complete the levels. A fun game that, thanks to the LEAP Motion Controller has an added element of gameplay to make it different from those games it homages.

PLAY Expo Blackpool also had a dedicated zone for LAN gaming; a VR Zone, which seemed to be keeping people VERY entertained – I saw a number of people try their hand at the VR experience and, even making a fool of themselves in front of an audience (a few people fell over a number of times), all looked to be having a lot of fun; and there were multiple gaming tournaments across both days, including Tekken 7, Smash Bros. and more.

Like the last event we attended in Blackpool, back in 2015, the vendors area was quite small and reserved to one small “hall” off the side of the main area – but, like many folks who come to PLAY Expo, we were here to play games and experience all the fun that these events offer, not to buy games, consoles and ephemera. Though I will say I did have my eye on a Neo Geo CDZ at the beginning of Saturday but by the time we ventured back into the traders zone mid-afternoon it had gone. Someone had deeper pockets than me, that console (a grail item of mine) was on sale for £300!

Once again there were plenty of consoles to play on: with classics like the Atari 2660, Spectrum 128 and Commodore 64, right through to the Dreamcast (on which we played our own mini Soul Calibur tournament) and PS3. But the collection of consoles and computers didn’t just include the big-name consoles – I also spotted a number of more obscure machines: the Amstrad GX4000, an Atari Jaguar, even a PC-FX (which we played at the Leeds event) and surprisingly, a Sega Genesis 3; and believe me it’s not often you see one of those these days… There were also some surprising accessories available to play with: including the SEGA Activator, which was fun to see, especially when people were playing Sonic (NOT a game the Activator was built for); and the U-Force, a failed accessory from the days of the NES. You do NOT expect to see those at game convention, even a retro one! Of course, there were the usual pinball and arcade machines to play and experience – the highlight this time round had to be the 4-player Gauntlet Legends cabinet, which we sunk a hour or more into.

If there was one downside to PLAY Expo Blackpool is that it was too much like a recreation of the Leeds event, but on much a bigger scale. The same indie devs, a lot of the same tournaments and the same games and consoles available to play. Of course there IS a reason for this – after all, would would trek across to Blackpool all the way from West Yorkshire? It makes sense to put on events across the country to allow people from all regions to attend. The danger is that some events, especially here in the North, are very close together. Manchester, Leeds and Blackpool are all within driving distance of each other – which means Replay Events may need to go that step further to make sure that there’s enough difference between each PLAY Expo to keep folks coming to them all.

Check out some shots of the event we managed to snag BEFORE the huge crowds piled in, along with a selection of the cosplayers in attendance:

 

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