This weekend I attended the Play Expo event, held for the first time in Manchester, having previously appeared in Blackpool for the last couple of years. I attempted to do a live blog thingy, but poor reception inside the venue kinda ruined it, so I’m going to do a full round up here as well. Apologies for the blurred pictures; while I wasn’t drunk this time, I’m just not the best photographer it seems.

The venue was split up into four sections that catered for pretty much every type of gamer under the sun. The most largest area was for the RE:PLAY section, which was populated with what seemed like every games capable device ever created since the beginning of time.

Some of the most bizarre games from years gone by were on show, none more so for me than Quiditch World Cup (above). Alongside games of that ilk were classics such as Banjo Kazooie, Bionic Commando and Broken Sword, as well as many, many more.

There was also an arcade section with a good fifty or so machines from years gone by set up to be played without the need of credits (sorry for the particularly terrible pic).  At this point, I realised this is as close to gaming paradise as it’s ever going to get...

...and that was before properly taking in the pinball section.

On top of that, Konami put together a really nice kind of timeline section for Metal Gear and PES games respectively. There was every Metal Gear game right back to the original available to play side by side, and the same goes for Pro Evo, which even included a copy of International Superstar Soccer 64, the first football game I ever played. Tears were wept at this point. Namco Bandai actually managed to go one further, by facilitating a 'History of Tekken' competition which included rounds on Tekken’s 3, Tag, 5 and finally Tag 2.

This section also had a pop up shop of sorts selling numerous different consoles from through the ages for very reasonable prices (considering they’re antiques now, after all), and a curious little carnival area, which included a game of Dig Dug that you control by touching various pieces of fruit. It actually worked pretty well as well.

Retro was by no means the only order of the day though; in fact juxtaposed to that section was NOW:PLAY, which housed booths from EA, Nintendo and Konami, showing off upcoming games like Need for Speed: Most Wanted, the new Medal of Honor, the entire Wii U launch line up, Metal Gear Rising and the Zone of the Enders HD Collection.

Oh yeah, and a certain Halo 4, playable on literally the most gorgeous televisions I’ve ever laid eyes on.

True to my lack of journalistic integrity, I didn’t actually get to play on anything new due to the size of the queues and sporadic technical faults, but I trust a good time was had by all that played them. Me? Well, I just enjoyed a good bash on Power Stone 2, as well as some King of Fighters, which I can confirm is still awesome.

In fact, beat em ups were the perfect games for this kind of event, with the short rounds making it easy to get onto a machine and have a few fights before moving on to the next one. Some bastards were hogging the P4: Arena setup though, much to my annoyance.

The third major section of the event was PRO:PLAY, where the European Gaming League had put together an impressive list of tournaments for FPS and beat em up favourites, as well as FIFA 13. The tension around this part of the event was palpable, and from a spectator point of view watching the fighting games in particular was fascinating, as was the dedication to their respective crafts of the competitors. Many people turned up with their own custom controllers, and their knowledge and mastery or complex combos was remarkable. Basically, they were all far better than I could ever dream to be.

Last but by no means least, there was COS:PLAY. The dedication shown by the entrants to this was again incredible. The intricacies of the costumes must have been the result of hours of work in some cases. I’ve never been to this kind of event before, so it’s hard to gauge, but there was certainly a lot more people in character than I expected to see.

It all culminated in one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever witnessed (in a good way); a cosplay judging competition. It was at this point that it really hit home how many people had put an outfit together, as everyone lined up before coming on stage one by one and performing a signature move... some more successfully than others.

Play Expo 2012 was an excellent show, and I’m looking forward to next year’s already. The best thing about the event for me wasn’t actually the specific appeal of any of the individual areas, but rather how each one managed to bring gamers of various different persuasions under one roof to celebrate, quite literally, the past, present and future of the medium. As gaming in general has become more accepted in mainstream culture it’s easy to forget how niche a hobby it can really be, and it was cool to see so many passionate communities in one place expressing themselves.

A massive well done to everyone who helped to organise it. Oh, and thanks to my wife, who has requested acknowledgement that SHE found out about it first and SHE bought the tickets.

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