First up, the games. Bandai Namco was on hand with playable copies of next year's Tekken 7, which was going down an absolute storm with the fighting game fans. Slightly less brutal but just as entertaining was the 2K Games booth where WWE 2K17, the latest iteration in the long-running pro-wrestling franchise, was playable just ahead of its retail release. Perhaps the award for the biggest line of the day should go to Rebellion Games, with their homage to 1980 tank shooter Battlezone giving players an early glimpse of what they can expect from Sony's PlayStation VR. If this was any indication of the way virtual reality is heading, maybe it just might live up to the hype after all.
A host of gaming tournaments took place during the weekend, most notably on ‘The Fighting Stage’ hosted by Manchester Battle Arena, where players knocked seven shades of you know what out of each other on Tekken 7, the brand new Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2, Street Fighter V, King Of Fighters XIV, Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator, and Killer Instinct. For the less confrontationally-inclined customer, most of these games were also playable on smaller screens dotted around the stage.
A huge section of the cavernous hall was dedicated to retro gaming. One particular highlight was the incredible array of pinball tables, all free to play and all worth a try. The Addams Family machine has always been a personal favourite, but here it was given a new twist by some clever folks who had wired it up to an electric chair. The buttons to activate the bumpers were built into the arms of the chair and smoke billowed out from underneath whenever a ball was lost. We're really, really, really sorry we didn't take a note of the people who came up with this, but if you're reading this, absolutely full marks!
Moving on from the pinball machines to actual arcade games now, including some of the big chunky hydraulic cabinets, you might remember from the '80s and '90s. Again all free to play, this part of the Expo remained consistently busy throughout the day and brought nostalgic smiles to plenty of people's faces. A host of small portable CRT TVs (a conservative estimate says there might have been 40-50 of them) rounded off the retro gaming section, each with a different console plugged in and various games to try. A welcome chance to take the weight off for a few minutes and make some new friends over a game of Mario Kart, this whole section was a welcome addition to the weekend's activities.
Then there was what we liked to call the Marketplace, a massive variety of gaming vendors selling everything from games to toys to T-shirts to cushions to replica swords (yes!) and other assorted bits and pieces. It's often expected that the prices at an event like this can be a little on the high side, and while this might have been true in some cases there were definitely some real bargains to be found if you had the patience to seek them out. Put it this way, we were only one or two items away from having to buy a new bag just to be able to carry everything home...
On top of all this, the Main Stage played host to some fun and interesting talks and activities. Steve McNeil (familiar to gamers through his appearances on Videogame Nation and Dara O'Briain's Go 8 Bit) brought his ‘WiFi Wars’ to the show, dividing the audience down the middle and pitting one side of the room against the other as they used their mobile phones to play videogames en masse on the big screen. The 20th anniversary of Tomb Raider was celebrated with a tremendously well-received panel which included developers from throughout the game's early history as well as an appearance from the original Lara Croft herself, Natalie Cook.
Throw in a hefty amount of cosplay (we couldn't identify who half the people were meant to be, but our favourite was the huge hulking Big Daddy from BioShock, with the little lad dressed as Mega Man who kept jumping up and down trying to hit all the signature poses taking a very close second place), troops from Resident Evil's Umbrella corporation wandering around keeping the general public under control, R2D2 scooting about the place, and who knows what else might have gone on that we didn't get to see, it's safe to say that PLAY Expo truly knocked it right out of the park this weekend. If you've got even a passing interest in the world of gaming, we highly recommend you put the following dates in your diary:
PLAY Expo Glasgow, Braehead Arena, June 17th-18th, 2017
PLAY Expo Blackpool, Norcalympia Exhibition Centre, July 17th-18th, 2017
PLAY Expo Manchester, Event City, October 7th-8th, 2017
For more information, head over to www.playexpomanchester.com.