By Thomas Brady
Photography: Sean O’Mahoney
The North’s biggest gaming convention, returned to Manchester this weekend with a packed programme of games, tournaments, cosplay and merchandise.
PLAY Expo’s two-day event welcomed close to 25,000 people and offered a feast of all things gaming. There was something there for every gamer to bite their teeth into, no matter what their taste.
EventCity hosted the convention and the venue was the perfect location. Every booth had more than enough space and fans didn’t feel like they had to push through a sea of humanity to get to their favourite games.
The Retro Zone and the arcade machines were the most popular feature of the event, offering gamers the chance to relive childhood classics and immerse themselves in nostalgia. Fans swarmed these machines all day and rarely was there a booth free to indulge in.
Between these areas were more pinball machines that you can possible imagine. Over 120 were available and filled the air with the joyous sound of bumpers and flippers clattering.
Multiplayer games were also a huge part of the event. Hugely popular community games such as Doom, Minecraft, Rocket League and Halo all had solid setups for people to jump in and get involved. Many fans became immersed in the Halo matches, playing with 16 people at the same time reminded players of everything that made the franchise so fun in the first place.
Rocket League would have fared much better by having multiple televisions set up for it as the waiting time for a game was rather long during the afternoon and a short-snappy tournament setup would have been more appropriate.
Speaking of tournaments, there were many to get involved with, no matter your skill level. Super Smash Bros. had a championship on each day and getting to watch the most skilful players in person was jaw-dropping, their speed and dexterity were unmatched.
If you wanted to get on stage and show off your abilities then you were in luck. The fighting game stage or the Machinima stage (with its irritatingly loud host) was the place to be. Many players stepped up to the plate itching to try out the smooth new WWE 2K18 game, so the earache was certainly worth it.
The marketplace area was an exciting wash of all thing nerd. If you wanted to purchase something bespoke, this was your chance. Old consoles, soft toys, replicas, collectable cards, you name it, they had it. All at a reasonable and fair price too!
Cosplay, whilst people certainly took part, felt rather underrepresented this year. The cosplay stage was rather bare throughout the event, which was a real shame for those who had made the effort, with some displaying wonderfully crafted costumes from games such as Overwatch and even an amazingly well crafted Chaos Emerald Sonic.
For those who had been dragged along by children or partners, there was some joy to be had too. Visitors could get involved in Q&A sessions, crack the escape rooms or play some tabletop board games, with everything from Mouse Trap to Dungeons and Dragons available for selection.
The highlight of the entire event was getting to try out the new indie games that were in development. A sea of developers were available to chat with and every person was inviting and engaging, so if you get the chance to go to a convention like this, make sure to talk to people, it will increase your enjoyment tenfold.
So here’s a quick rundown of the games that I managed to get my grubby mitts on, these are all new and most are in the early stages of development, so keep your eyes out for them!
Space Toads Mayhem
A top-down space shooter which ramps very quickly in difficulty. You must rely on your reflexes and take advantage of every power-up you see, otherwise, the enemy count will swarm you off the screen. The final wave of enemies was incredibly stressful but in all the right ways; definitely give it a trial when it drops.
In three words: Frantic fun shooter.
Employee of the Month
Created by the Cup of Char team from Northampton University comes the cute fast-paced party game, Employee of the Month. The game carried some hype beforehand but it felt a little lacklustre. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any substance to the game outside of running into your opponents to stun them, so after 5 minutes, it was already somewhat stale.
In three words: Cute but empty.
Bullion – the Curse of the Cutthroat Cattle
Pirate cows hunting for treasure on a desert island, what could go wrong? The idea is to work together to beat skeletons, only to stab your friends in the back and steal their booty. Controls were slow to respond and there were some awful sounds when your sword hit a chest. Also, it was advertised as local multiplayer, so without online, it may struggle to be too popular.
In three words: Backstabbing pirate cows
We all know Runescape, it ruled many a teenager’s life in 2007 and is set to hit mobiles later this year. Everyone in the community is excited about this introduction and will be sure to download it, but after trialling it at Play Expo I’m worried whether it will work. Moving any great distance is a real pain, which in world with a huge map could be an absolute disaster. Only time will tell.
In three words: Will it work?
Console: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Steam
As a side scrolling arcade style beat-em-up; Wulver Blade comes across as very similar to and an all-time classic, Castle Crashers and immediately piqued interest. Simply put this game is fantastic. You hack and slash your way through screens of unsuspecting enemies with beautiful cell-shaded artwork and immersive and interesting sounds. The developer was incredibly proud of his efforts and has every right to be.
In three words: The whole package.
The Otterman Empire
Otters fight with jetpacks and guns in a third person style. This one was fun but you could feel that the game was in a very early stage of development, meaning that with a lot more refinement, the creators could have something special. The developer, Tri-Heart Interactive, also run ‘Manchester Gamers Unite’ so if you fancy playing Otterman Empire or anything else, get yourself over to their Facebook page and check it out.
In three words: Tons of potential.
The concept of Time Runner is solid but the controls felt highly unintuitive – in order to advance you have to speed up or slow down time by touching the screen in a clockwise or counter-clockwise motion. The graphics are lovely and it is definitely a challenge, but I can’t say I enjoyed it too much.
In three words: Controls are poor.
Console: Table Top Card Game
I love card games, and after playing a few games this weekend, I love Lightseekers. You can learn to play in super-fast time as the mechanics are fairly simple but the rewards for playing well are huge. They have a concept where rather than discarding resources to use powerful cards, you shuffle them into your deck instead, so dropping good cards doesn’t feel so bad. Any collection card lovers should certainly give this new breed a run out as there a ton of joy to be found among the lovely art style.
In three words: Simply excellent cards.
Akuto: Mad World
Probably the best game all weekend. Akuto Mad World is based on characters that look a little bit like Morph from Smart fighting with guns and swords. The action is lightning fast and so much fun to play with others. I would highly recommend checking this one out as it seems the ideal activity for a group of friends.
In three words: Lighting fast entertainment.
Back down to earth with a bump – immediately after playing Akuto, came The Tension, a slow and admittedly pretty dull puzzle game. You have to stealthily navigate the map whilst avoiding enemies in order to open the escape door. If the enemies see you they begin to chase but you can simply outrun them so there isn’t much challenge at all.
In three words: Dull puzzle game.
Nippon Marathon is a ridiculous mix of Takeshi’s Castle, Wario Ware and Mario Kart with a sprinkling of Japanese comedy. The physics are enjoyable and produce hilarious moments throughout as you race through various levels in order to accumulate the most wins. Get this as soon as it arrives because the fun levels are off the charts.
In three words: Japanese comedy racing.
Console: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Steam, Mobile
Last but most definitely not least is Hyper Sentinel. This top-down space shooter keeps you on your toes at all times as you blast through various spaceships in a similar fashion to the Millennium Falcon’s attack on the Death Star. The power-ups are brilliant and it seems to be the perfect game to play on the go, so it is well worth downloading on Switch.
In three words: Thrilling space adventure.
So that’s your lot! I would certainly recommend going to Play Expo when it next returns to Manchester as I had an absolute ball there. You can easily spend all day there on both Saturday and Sunday and still find something new to engage yourself in.
People manning the booths were incredibly friendly and engaging which, on top of all the great games, made the experience even more enjoyable. If gaming is your jam then be sure to get down there next time, I promise you will not be disappointed.