‘Go to London! I guarantee you'll either be mugged or not appreciated!’ – Alan Partridge
Play Expo 2018 - Review by Darren Browne - Aka Kingmonkey25
So, after years of running Play Expo’s in Glasgow, Manchester and Blackpool, London finally got its own Play Expo event. For those of us who live in the capital, it made a nice change to be able to get up at a reasonable hour as opposed to the early starts coupled with 4-5hrs of travel to get to the Northern events! Not being in the North also meant the weather was likely to be better which was pretty much true - yes, granted there were occasionally showers but this could possibly have even been the tears from Northerners not accustomed to paying more than £5 for lunch. N.B. Before anyone starts getting upset, I’m a Northerner living down here so I still cry inside a little every time I pay over £4 for a pint – which is every single time.
So, onto the expo and getting there was extremely easy, not because it was only a 1hr journey from where I live but because London transport is excellent making it easy for anyone to get a tube from wherever they’ve ended up in London and the Printworks is situated less than a 10 minute walk away from Canada Water station (or 2min bus ride for the lazy amongst you!).
Printworks feels like the perfect venue for a retro gaming event such as this; inside it has the look and feel of the GamesMaster TV show in the Dexter Fletcher era when it was set in a prison. The first thing greeting you upon entering was the DeLorean from the Back To The Future movies and turning to your right, the first room you came to was the arcade hall which housed some awesome-looking pinball machines (Aliens and Star Wars to name just two) which I understand attracted the modfather himself, Mr Paul Weller to the event!
In the same hall there was a vast selection of free-play arcades including deluxe editions of Sega classics After Burner, Out Run and Power Drift. In my opinion this was the best layout of arcade machines from any previous event I’ve attended and as you walked further down it actually got darker which really felt really authentic to the history of the arcade with light provided only from the glow of the CRTs and marquees. There didn’t seem to be large queues at any of the machines throughout the weekend and I think the fact there was so much room to move about in made a huge difference in this respect.
As with all Play Expos, there was a huge hall with vast arrays of computers and consoles hooked up to CRT’s – I’m sure some of the kids who attended may have been viewing via a CRT for the first time and I can only hope parent or guardians were giving the kids that mandatory speech of not sitting too close else they risk damaging their eyesight! This area also played home to the indie developers with some fantastic games on show including Baggers In Space, Mao Mao Castle and Sociable Soccer.
Another area which benefitted from having more space was the trader hall; compared to other Play Expo’s it seemed far easier to access trader’s stalls and made for a far more pleasurable experience as you didn’t feel rushed by having the overbearing presence of someone wanting you to move out the way so they can look through the games. On show for the first time since its reveal on social media was the Pac-Man Quarter Arcade from Numskull – a replica arcade cabinet at a quarter the size! As always there were some great stalls with a wide variety of games (mostly well-priced), as well as artwork and memorabilia - I don’t recall seeing anyone selling fudge or oversized weapons at this event either although good luck to anyone trying to carry Cloud’s Buster Sword through a London tube station!
Talks at Play Expos are always a highlight for me and this was no different, my highlight of this event was the Digitiser panel on the Saturday –this was like a scene from The Last Supper with the stage occupied by Kim Justice, Nostalgia Nerd, Octav1us Kitten, Ashens, Dan from Slope’s Game Room, Guru Larry, Quang from Asobitech and Paul Gammon (sorry, Gannon) who were all there to chat about their experiences from filming the Digitiser TV show for YouTube. If the show is anywhere near as funny as the panel then we are all in for a treat when it eventually airs (hopefully this year!).
I have to confess being more than just a little excited to find out that Knightmare Live was coming to this event; I’d tried and failed to organise my friends to go to see it on the Southbank show so this was the perfect chance to see it. Knightmare was kids TV gold in its day; watching kids your age trying (and usually failing) to solve puzzles and guide their friend through a computer-generated fantasy dungeon was captivating and from the large amount of people in the audience it clearly holds a lot of fond memories for many people. I was intrigued to see how it would translate to a stage show and was especially looking forward to witnessing it being played out and themed towards adults who used to watch the show and it didn’t disappoint; there were cheers throughout for the iconic features the show such as the knapsack, the life-force graphic, and of course, the Helmet of Justice (which incidentally the next person responsible for the U.K. Brexit negotiations will be wearing when signing the documents). The 2 main presenters, Lord Fear (played by Tom Bell) and Treguard (Paul Flannery) were amazing – professional but it never felt too scripted thanks to them both ad-libbing and dropping in and out of character to talk in the 4th person throughout various points of the show which had everyone in the room laughing. They saved the best for last with Hugo Myatt , the original Treguard, making a guest appearance. This was by far my favourite event of the weekend and a stand-out memory of the whole weekend. Spellcasting: A-W-E-S-O-M-E!
One thing that London does do well is food, it has so many pop-up cafes and street food vendors about that there’s healthy competition and as a result quality tends to be very high and this was definitely the case at Printworks which offered a great variety of high-quality street food.
Again, the Printworks’ layout was perfectly suited for this with the whole outdoor area dedicated to food and drink with a good amount of seating – compare this to Manchester’s EventCity where you are inside for the whole of the event and it felt really nice to be able to just pop outside without having to check in and out. The only negative about the outdoor area was the wasps, or to give them their latin name Stripae Bastardus. To be fair though the only person I heard of getting stung was a Scotsman moaning about having to fork out £10 for a steak sandwich.
So, the verdict? I loved it, Play Expos are so well organised and I’ve been to so many I know what to expect from the days but for me the venue was perfect and by far my favourite of the shows I’ve attended – it really looked the part thanks to the Printworks industrial heritage and everything was made easy due to the huge amount of space available. Whilst it doesn’t have the same retro feel as Blackpool (and never will due to it not being a seaside town) I really hope there will be another next year as it just seemed to tick all the right boxes and I can only see it being even bigger and better.
Review by Darren Browne - Aka Kingmonkey25