May 2019 marked the return of the Replay Expo in Manchester following an absence from the city in 2018. Moving from the EventCity arena near the Trafford Centre to the Manchester Central Exhibition Complex, the show delivered on it’s usual plethora of exciting new indie games in development as well as guests from the world of gaming and it made for an extremely enjoyable two days with plenty to cover. Compared to many of the previous Play Expos I had attended, I was impressed, thought not surprised, with the amount of diversity of games that were on display at this year’s proceedings, mainly focusing on single player experiences as opposed to the multiplayer titles that seem to dominate most shows, but nevertheless, here’s a rundown of the games that were on display at this year’s Play Manchester.
Must Dash Amigos
Kicking off this article was pretty much the only primarily multiplayer orientated experience at Play Manchester entitled Must Dash Amigos developed by miniBeast Gaming studios based in Cambridge. Playing out like Mario Kart, but with a top-down view and a control scheme similar to the classic Micro Machines games, Must Dash Amigos is a racing game with conceptual design heavily influenced by Mexican culture, with tracks, characters and even power-ups reminiscent of this. The game includes multiple modes and a challenge offering a great deal of replayability to gamers and has since been released on Xbox One and Steam. With this game, despite its obvious influences, I was pleasantly surprised since I’ve encountered a very small amount of racing games on display at Play Expos with the exception of games like Coffin Dodgers and Nippon Marathon. But Must Dash Amigos, while sharing similarities with Nippon Marathon, was a unique experience in and of itself and I can’t wait to pick the game up soon and try it out.
The first game I tried among a plethora of single player experiences was Shroomio’s Adventure. Developed by indie college developers Slime Mouse, the game is a 2.5D adventure title reminiscent of the early PlayStation title Pandemonium. The game’s world and characters are designed with a contrast between nature and machinery; for example the game’s main character is a humanoid mushroom called Shroomio and many of the game’s enemies are robotic animals. What this portents for the story of the game is certainly very interesting to think about and will be intriguing to see how these elements develop the further along the game progresses. Whether or not this contrast between organic beings and machinery may also be reflected in the designs of later levels in the game also bears thinking about at this point.
Switch N’ Shoot
Switch N’ Shoot was the only 8 BIT style indie game that I found at this year’s Play Expo, which surprising to me, as I normally find a lot of games in either this style or 16 BIT at these conventions. But nevertheless, this was yet another fascinating experience to get my teeth into. Created my Matt Glanville and currently available for the Nintendo Switch, Switch N’ Shoot is an arcade shoot ‘em up similar to the likes of Galaga, Galaxian and Space Invaders. The challenge being to separate this title from the aforementioned, however, is the need to change the direction of the player’s ship. As the ship moves from side-to-side automatically; the player must switch the direction of the ship in accordance with where enemies are on-screen and must not accidentally veer in the wrong direction lest they die. It was unexpectedly challenging game and most definitely one of the standout experiences of this year’s show.
Besides games that were in their later stages of development, or those that had been previously released, there were also a number of games that were in some their earliest stages in development. A case in point was Shinko; a sandbox adventure game, whereby the player character must restore the order of nature and bring peace to the world. Currently under development by Suspension Games, Shinko had a very limited amount of offer in terms of gameplay, as these ideas are still being built upon. The only commands the character had was to chop down trees, run, walk and jump as the player can explore the world around them, which whilst beautifully designed, was still largely under developed from what I personally played. The game has a ton of potential with what gameplay ideas the development team outline to me, such as combat, building elements and side quests and it will be interesting to see how all these elements of gameplay are incorporated into the final product as development continues, which you will be able to follow at their blog site.
Adventure in Aellion
Another game in the preliminary stages of development was yet another adventure game called Adventure in Aellion. Being created by local developer, simply titled the Game Production Company, Adventure in Aellion acts like more of a dungeon crawler that Shinko, with a conceptual design extremely reminiscent of that of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. At this stage in development, although the gameplay elements seemed to be a lot defined than that of Shinko, the game’s controls and sprite animations seemed to be largely under developed at this point and there were glitches in the demo that need to be ironed out before the game is released. The developers also talked to me about how they are looking to expand upon the already vast-looking world that the game is set in and to address the issues that I and most other gamers had spotted. Again, like Shinko, this game has a great of potential to offer in it’s finished form; in my opinion, even more so than Shinko. The developers also seem to think the same way with the things they seem to be promising with this title. My hope is that they succeed in delivering on these promises. But with the direction that development is going in at this moment in time, I have every confidence that they will deliver an extremely impressive gaming experience.
Aside from the upcoming titles that were on display at this year’s show, there was also the usual series of guest speakers present at this year’s Play Expo. One such speaker was Matthew Smith; the man responsible for some of the most renowned ZX Spectrum titles ever developed; most notably Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy. He chiefly talked about the course of Jet Set Willy’s development, as well as his stories life outside the gaming industry, his departure from which and his subsequent return many years later. There was also the premier of Willy: 48k About a Legend; a short film shot entirely of footage of Jet Set Willy created by Italian film director and fan of the game, Paolo Santagostino, who was also present at the show.
This was yet another one of these talks, which gave me a great deal of insight into a period in gaming that I was largely absent from. Having being born in 1988, I grew up with the likes of the NES, then moved onto the Super NES, Mega Drive and eventually the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation consoles and my history with gaming has continued from there. Before the NES came out, my eldest sister used to own a ZX Spectrum and if I ever saw it or played on it, I only have vague memories of it, if any at all. It’s always interesting to get clear insights from the people who witnessed this era and have first-hand experience with it, including the likes of Jim Bagley, David Pleasance and Andrew Hewson. But Matthew Smith’s insights were from that of a man who had worked on some of the most prominent titles of the time, which contrasted to that of the likes of David Pleasance and Andrew Hewson, who had much different experiences of games development than him.
The second of these talks concerned an era of gaming that I was very much familiar with in contrast; and also concerned a game that I was very familiar with in particular at the time of it’s release. Jake Habgood, who spent many years working for Infogrames Entertainment before the company folded, was the chief programmer of the 3D turn-based strategy game Hogs of War. It was a game that I had spent a great deal of time playing back in the day and I was eager to learn as much as I can about it’s development, which I did. Habgood described the development of the game, what challenges they had in creating a 3D game of this genre before Team 17 could capitalize on Worms 3D, the origins of the game’s conceptual design and the involvement of the late great Rik Mayall, who had voiced a vast majority of the characters in the game. They even showed archival footage of Mayall recording his lines from inside the studio, which filled me with both awe and sadness as a massive fan of Mayall’s work, including Bottom and The New Statesman.
Sat next to me was an even bigger fan of the game, who had more questions to ask than me, which led to great deal of banter between the two guys regarding the reasons why it was decided not to let the players play as the legendary pigs and have then only as enemies. But the questions I asked Habgood was about how the development team would have done things differently and what they would have incorporated into the game’s planned sequel. From the sounds of the answers, It seems that the sequel would have been even better still than the first in my opinion and I thought it a shame that it never saw the light of day in the end. Part and parcel of these kids of talks are many reminiscences of what could have been if history had been different to how things turned out and this talk was no exception to that. But regardless, hearing about the developmental history of this game was unbelievable and gives me hope that someone else will pick up the franchise and re-vamp it somewhere down the lines; like many other franchises covered in these talks.
Dolly Mix Cosplay
Although I had a lot to talk about this year’s Play Expo, I didn’t go alone. I was accompanied by a friend of mine and Long-time of the blog Antonia “Dolly Belladonna” Fraser. I’ve known Antonia for a long time now and it was awesome to finally go to one of these expos with her, as we’d talked about for some time. But since then, Antonia has also begun to fully realize her aspirations of becoming a professional Cosplayer. She now has a Facebook group called Dolly Mixtures Cosplay, which anyone on Facebook can follow at:
Antonia has dressed up such characters as Grotbags from Emu’s World, Amethyst from Steven Universe and Alvida from One Piece. Antonia has got a few more Cosplay ideas lined up in the future and a lot more comic cons to attend, so be sure to follow her on Facebook to get the latest updates.
During my time in Manchester, I also met up with my big sister Denise and we decided to spend a few hours a round the town before I left. However, we also stumbled on a hidden gem in the city ideal for any gamers out there; an arcade called NQ64. NQ64 is an arcade bar off Tib Street with a plethora of classic cabinets such as Pac-Man, Point Blank and Space Invaders serving video game themed cocktails including the Mario, the Luigi and the Princess Peach. Me and my sister spent around two hours indulging in hat this place had offer and then unfortunately I had to leave to catch my train, but if any gaming fans out there are heading into Manchester any time soon, I highly recommend you guys stop by at NQ64 for a cocktail and a good number of hours on the cabinets of your choice. You can also find them on their website, including Facebook and Instagram:
That concludes this article, but as always, I hope you guys had as much fun reading as I did writing it.
Scouse Gamer 88