August 11th, 2018. It’s a date that’s been in my calendar for a while. Partly because I’m going to see Iron Maiden at the O2 arena that night, but also because there’s something else equally exciting happening that weekend…. Play Expo is FINALLY coming to London!
As Londoners, we often hear people from other parts of the country complain about how everything is so London-centric – from politics or the music business to the video game industry at large, there seems to be a feeling that everything is centred around the Capital. The majority of the time, this is probably true. However, when it comes to the retro gaming scene, this is most definitely not the case! Over the last few years we here at Arcade Attack (as well as our fellow London based retro gamers) have been turning Luigi-green with envy as our friends in the North have been blessed with Play Expo events in Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Blackpool, the Retro Revival events in and around the Midlands as well as the fast-becoming-legendary Arcade Club in Bury, a place which occupies the same space in my dreams as I imagine Disney Land does in the dreams of small children….
Meanwhile similar events and venues in our grimy metropolis have been thin on the ground, and with only the London Gaming Market and the Croydon based Heart of Gaming to sustain us, it was looking increasingly like an AA field trip to the North West was in order if we were to sample the delights of a Play Expo event any time soon. Then, much to the delight of all of us (because we’re lazy buggers) Replay Events announced that for 2018 there would finally be a London Play Expo event!
Taking place at the Printworks in Canada Water over the weekend of the 11th and 12th August, Play Expo London is promising a tantalising combination of arcade, indie and retro gaming, as well as current gen games, VR experiences and even a dedicated pinball section! Here’s a quick rundown on what’s on, and what we’re most excited about:
ARCADE CABS: Surely the biggest pull for many people, this is definitely the thing I’m most looking forward to. Over 120 arcade machines, all set to Free Play? Don’t mind if I do….. Highlights for me include the deluxe versions of 3 of my all-time favourite SEGA arcade games – Outrun, After Burner and the mighty Power Drift!!! If you’ve ever listened to our podcast you’ll know how much I love that last one in particular, and I’m counting down the days until I get to climb inside that cab again. It’ll be the first time I’ve played the arcade game since I was about 10 years old, so there will definitely be a lump in my throat and very possibly tears in my eyes…. Aside from these classics, expect to see all your old favourites, from Pac Man and Donkey Kong to Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat and Daytona USA. Keep checking in at www.playexpolondon.com as they’ve promised to publish a full list of the arcade games that will be on show as soon as they’re confirmed.
RETRO GAMES: Play Expo’s Retro Zone is split into different areas covering over 40 years of games, with everything from Pong to PS3’s for you to check out and play, with event staff on hand to help you find your favourite game. Although the usual fare from Sega, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft will be on offer, there will also be classic hardware from Sinclair, Commodore, NEC and SNK. Having never been rich enough to get our sweaty mitts on a Neo-Geo AES in the flesh before, this is probably where you’ll find Dylan and I at various points throughout the day. I’m just hoping they’ve got a copy of Shock Troopers….. The chance to finally try out the PC Engine after all these years is something that should also appeal to us sheltered UK gamers.
In an attempt to bring some order to what has the potential to be a confused mass of people going “errr, what shall we play?” there will be something called ‘Replay Celebrations’, where the event’s organisers will be picking out some of the best games from the biggest gaming franchises, genres and crossovers – think Mario, Sonic, Street Fighter, Lego, James Bond etc. There will also be ‘Replay Lounges’, where some (mostly Nintendo based) single screen, four player action will be taking place on Mario Kart, Goldeneye and Super Smash Bros.
PINBALL TABLES: When was the last time you had a go on a real, full-size pinball table? Can’t remember? Me neither! I’d never claim to be the biggest fan of pinball or pinball video games, (Crue Ball anyone…?) but as soon as I saw that there would be a selection of classic pinball machines at the expo, it struck me that you very rarely see them in arcades these days (or anywhere else for that matter) so I’ll definitely be lining up to fire some balls and flip some flippers. When you think about it, pinball was a bit of a precursor to video games in the arcades of yore, and was so popular at one point that The Who (ask your Grandad) even wrote an album about a kid who was a bit of a Pinball Wizard….
INDIE GAMES: If you’re a fan of Indie games, and we certainly are, Play Expo has you covered. From the well-known smash hits like Rocket League and Overcooked, to the classic games that spearheaded the Indie games boom such as Fez and Super Meat Boy, there should be a nice representation of the indie scene and its continued potential to push the boundaries and bend the rules of what modern gaming can be.
NEXT-GEN ZONE: There will be a selection of the latest AAA PS4 and Xbox One games available for people to try out, (I can hear Dylan grumbling from several miles away as I type this) but perhaps a little more exciting for those of us not able to play them at home is the promise of a number of PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive setups. I’ve played around with PSVR before, but never tried the Oculus Rift, so I’m looking forward to the chance of seeing how they compare.
GUESTS: As well as Dylan and I, there will be a host of other retro gaming icons at Play Expo London… Pick of the bunch confirmed so far must be The Oliver Twins, who should need no introduction to retro gamers, but if your memory is a little hazy, they are most well-known for the ‘Dizzy’ series of games, although they were also responsible for a huge number of other 8-bit titles.
Also confirmed are Sensible Software legend Jon Hare, Bitmap Brothers founder Mike Montgomery, Paul Rose (AKA Teletext/Digitiser’s Mr Biffo) and Andrew Hewson of Hewson Consultants.
There will also be a YouTube panel/talk with some of the UK’s best retro gaming content creators, including Ashens, Octavius Kitten, Kim Justice and DJ Slope from Slope’s Game Room. For those of you who aren’t familiar with them, I thoroughly recommend checking some of their videos out. Kim Justice specialises in documentary style videos, often delving into the history of some of the UK’s best loved games developers, while DJ Slope’s inimitable style and high quality production values mean his ‘Complete History Of’ series of videos is a must watch. Aside from that he’s a card carrying Sega fanboy and fellow Data Discs devotee, so he’s a top man in my books!
ERR…’OTHER STUFF’: There’s a couple of other more left-field things happening at Play Expo that have piqued my interest, and might just pique yours (I just like using the word ‘pique’. Sorry). First up, the stage adaptation of the adventure game TV show Knightmare. Now, this is an event that requires the purchase of an additional £10 ticket, but I bloody loved the TV show so I may well take the plunge. Sadly Hugo Myatt, who played the dungeon master on the TV show isn’t involved, but the live adaptation has received rave reviews so if this is something that appeals, make sure you book in advance as spaces are limited.
The other thing that sounds pretty cool is ‘The Lifeboat Escape Room’. Escape rooms have grown in popularity in recent years, and I’ve been looking to have a go myself, so I’m definitely up for this. Here’s the spiel from the Play Expo website:
“Set in a retro-eighties future, two teams of four are locked in opposing cages on a prison ship bound for Titan.
When an accident takes out the ship’s oxygen supply they have just 30 minutes to scavenge for parts to fix the broken lifeboat; however it only has room for four passengers!
The first team to solve all the clues and find the parts gets off the ship! The other team? Well, they better learn to hold their breath…”
Sounds good right? Well it’s been created by Tom Hall, who is an ‘immersive theatre director’ who has previously been involved with The Crystal Maze, so it’s got some pedigree! Although not strictly gaming related, I promise to report back on it if we manage to have a go….
Aside from all the above, there will be a shopping area with games and merchandise galore, a Minecraft section, LAN gaming, tournaments, a cosplay masquerade and plenty more to keep you occupied.
I hope that’s whetted your appetite for Play Expo London, let us know whether you’re planning to attend or not, and if you’ve been to any previous Play Expo events feel free to let us know what your experience was like. You can email us here through the website, or get in touch on Twitter or Facebook.
Dylan and I are representing the Arcade Attack crew on Saturday 11th and we’re planning to wear AA t-shirts, so if you see us come and say hi! If the t-shirts haven’t come back from the printers in time, just keep an eye on the Power Drift arcade cab for the guy hogging the machine and/or being forcibly removed from it…. That’ll be me.