Forget the smoke, smog, and stench, the most challenging aspect for an eighties or nineties arcade to recapture is the wonderful way each coin-op would bustle together to create an electric attack on your senses. The noise, the flashing lights from each blinking screen, and the buzzing of gamers towards video game honey, was all in glorious and overwhelming abundance at Play Expo 2013. We attended this year’s extravaganza with our retro trigger fingers locked-and-loaded, with EventCity in Manchester as the backdrop for this games-fest.
We would never underestimate the joy of playing Prehistoric Isle, The Simpsons Arcade, or Daytona USA on the PlayStation 3, but as fantastic as it is to have arcade games on the PlayStation Network, they still can’t fully convey the true heyday of the actual arcades. At an arcade, and at events like the Eurogamer Expo and Play Expo, you share the gaming experience with your friends, or with strangers. Yet, there’s no need for an Internet connection, or a wireless headset. You stand shoulder to shoulder, and bump elbows to destroy all manner of monstrosities, by bashing buttons and waggling sticks.
It’s this sense of camaraderie in the retro community that we’ve enjoyed since the Blackpool re.play days, with the same friendly atmosphere that Nintendo Life celebrated from Play Expo 2012. We met with Jake Smith from MegaDrive.me, because you may be surprised at just how many staff members from Push Square, and our collective sister and friend sites, who are smitten with SEGA’s 16-bit console. By the early afternoon on the Saturday we had already listened in awe as retro music legends Rob Hubbard and Ben Daglish discussed their contributions to the From Bedrooms to Billions documentary. We had a chat with Hewson Consultants about the 8-bit Commodore 64 era, and Andrew Hewson’s work towards a retrospective book called Hints & Tips for Videogame Pioneers, as a Kickstarter project.
Considering how much Push Square are currently enjoying our focus on PSone retro games, we attended with a direct intention to scope-out and have a blast on as many PSone games as possible. However, the extent of the retro coin-op and console coverage in the re.play section has grown vast over the years. Consequently, we couldn’t resist becoming distracted by the miniature ivory beauty of a PC Engine, or the glistening metallic shine of a Panasonic Q.
The first thing of note in the PSone section was the visible inclusion of the classics. For example, Tomb Raider and Gran Turismo 2 may not be the most accessible games for a quick doodle play session, but they captivated players over the weekend. We presumed that arcade-style games would be better suited to the expo experience, but we found it pleasantly curious just how many gamers were willing to sit down for a lengthy rendezvous with these titles. Core Design’s classic 1996 game in particular proved the unremitting lure resulting from the introduction of the adventures of Lara Croft.
Next we spent time with a group of interesting titles, which may not be PSone classics, but are still worthy of a play in the interest of nostalgia. The first Medal of Honor turned out to be a lesson in the primitive nature of 32-bit first-person shooters. The setting, based around the search for a downed plane during the 1944 Nazi occupation of France, still retained a semblance of atmosphere. Despite receiving strong reviews as a later PSone game from 1999 by Electronic Arts, the controls, visuals, and gameplay mechanics of Medal of Honor provided a sense of historical gaming perspective, by highlighting the huge strides that the genre has made over fourteen years.
More charismatic and intriguing was Infogrames’ Sheep, Dog ‘n’ Wolf, which was a PSone game from later in the console’s lifespan. It was released in September 2001, and it used a bright cel-shaded visual style to portray Warner Bros’ Ralph Wolf in a cartoon platform and puzzle game. Just don’t confuse Ralph with Wile E. Coyote.
Ultimately, it was the faster paced, arcade PSone games that captivated our attention for repeated plays. This was particularly true as we found Namco’s 1998 light-gun shooter Point Blank 2 hidden away on a table with an assortment of chewy sweets. Another unexpected Namco nugget, which was a pleasure to discover, was its 1996 follow-up Xevious 3D/G. This was a chunky top-down polygon remake of its 1982 classic coin-op, and it successfully retained and updated the vertical scrolling feel of its influential shmup. Following our recent review of the original WipEout, it was also fun to hurtle around a few tracks in Psygnosis’ 1996 sequel, WipEout 2097. The speedy accessibility of this futuristic racer was a more immediate racing thrill, than the simulation approach of Gran Turismo 2.
It would not be in the spirit of the expo, plus it would be unnecessarily pedantic, if we grumbled about the way PSone games were stretched from 4:3 to a squashed and chubby 16:9 ratio. The convenience of multiple LCD displays made sense, as did the volume on each game being turned down, so the combined audio from an ensemble of games was not too deafening. A definite highlight of Play Expo’s PSone section was provided by the top-notch platform games. The tornado spinning terrific-ness of Naughty Dog’s original Crash Bandicoot, with its changing 2D and 3D perspectives, positioned it as a reminder of the team's talent from way back in 1996. Similarly, Namco’s Klonoa: Door to Phantomile is a side-scrolling platformer gem from 1998, and it’s a magical game to return to at every possible convenience.
Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity of the PSone titles on display, was the lack of focus on multiplayer games. Tekken 3 was popular as a result of its two-player competitive fighting system. We even spotted a giant yellow Pikachu taking a break from Nintendo gaming to leisurely unite with Sony fans for a multiplayer blow-out on PSone Worms. This was hardly surprising, because Team 17’s game is a blast, just as it was when it burst onto the PSone’s early 1995 launch release window.
It was meeting other members of staff from Nintendo Life that provided the multiplayer high-points of this year’s Play Expo. Martin Watts (Retro Reviewer) and Andy Green (News Editor) were happy to share in some console carnage with Push Square. Not only did Martin annihilate every competitor in four-player Nintendo 64 GoldenEye, but he introduced us to his retro gaming friend, Chris Smith, who proceeded to blow us into splintering pixels in Saturn Bomberman. Subsequently, we started to turn our thoughts towards practising more on the PSone version of Bomberman Party Edition. Coverage of the event from a Nintendo perspective can be found in the article Nintendo Life at Play Expo 2013.
The PSone section of Play Expo was a priority, given our current focus on the console, but the cacophony of coin-ops continued to call to us. We also met up with Michael Heald from an independent developer called Fully Illustrated. We discussed their current work on an old-school hack-and-slash game called Wulverblade, although it was too early in development for any announcement of a PlayStation version of this side-scrolling brawler. Considering his interest in arcade games, it was courteous of Michael to highlight how many of the coin-ops were loaned by collectors. Taking into account the retro genre of Fully Illustrated’s game, it felt natural for him to introduce us to a Chinese retro IGS arcade beat-‘em-up, called Knights of Valour Plus. We also indulged in a rush through race of Chase HQ, OutRunners, and Ridge Racer, plus we discovered the twisty rotary joystick controls for Data East’s 1989 run-and-gun game, Midnight Resistance. Best of all was a sit-down cabinet of SEGA’s unconverted on-rails shooter Planet Harriers, which was a treat for any Space Harrier fan.
To add celebrity spice to an excellent weekend, we bumped into stars from both the film and gaming industries. We snapped our photograph with the Ghostbusters. We also stood beside Cloud Strife and Aerith Gainsborough for a picture. The opportunity to assume the pose of a Space Invader was not squandered and we adopted the visage of Sonic the Hedgehog, or on the face of it, perhaps it was a beachside cut-out board. If only we had found Klonoa to join us for a photograph. Fingers crossed for next year.
Did you attend this year's Play Expo? What did you think of the PSone's presence? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.