Play Expo Margate 2020 Review


Deep within the walls of Kent’s largest entertainment venue – Margate Winter Gardens – it’s impossible to be aware of the bleak weather beating against the coastline outside. You can easily get lost amongst the familiar gaming tunes and vibrant monitors of several generations of video game history; a sensory overload of nostalgia. This isn’t just another world. This is many worlds, under one roof.

Play Expo Margate ran from 20th – 22nd February 2020 at Winter Gardens, Margate.

Article by Ben Bulbeck. aka @pixelated_ben
Commodore 64
image: Here’s a game to show off the power of the Commodore 64. The 2011 conversion of Prince of Persia.

On a grey February weekend, I visited Play Expo in Margate, my first ever experience of a video game event. I had prepared myself for my wallet to potentially take a hammering from the wealth of games for sale, but I hadn’t expected to witness such a cavernous range of computers and consoles, all loaded with games and ready to play.
Practically every machine you could name was here: if you wanted to experience a Panasonic 3DO, a PC Engine or a Pippin, they were all present and ready. This was the first time I’d ever picked up an Atari 2600 controller, or got my hands on a CDTV. It was also the first time I’d gazed into the glow of a Vectrex. Game consoles – it seems – come in all shapes and sizes.
Vectrex image
image: I travelled into the far, far future, and saw this Vectrex.

There were some familiar faces to tuck into as well. I had a quick fly around with Jetpac on the ZX Spectrum, blasted aliens in Xenon 2 on an Amiga 1200 and battled against the odds in Gauntlet on the NES.
My highlight was Super R-Type on SNES, a game which I hadn’t played before. After a while my attempts to defeat the enemy were thwarted however by a young boy standing behind me, waiting to take my place at the controls against the Bydo empire. They both posed a threat to me, so I did the decent thing and bailed out. It was great to see lots of parents bringing their children; the next generation enjoying the fun that retro games can offer.

The Play Expo also featured dedicated areas for arcade cabinets and pinball machines, a Fortnite room, and multiplayer Halo and Halo 2 on Xbox and Xbox 360 respectively. Tournaments ran throughout the day, pitting the public against each other in games including Puyo Puyo Tetris and Mario Kart 64.

Tempest on the Jaguar
Image: Tempest on the Jaguar

On another floor, row upon row of video game hardware, software and related merchandise were available from various sellers.
Many console formats were covered, but I managed not to get too carried away with my spending. I had a list in my head before I arrived of games that I was hoping to find, and some – not all – were available.
I bought Ridge Racer Type 4 and Bust-A-Move 2 for PS1, F1 World Grand Prix (N64), Need For Speed: Most Wanted (PS Vita), and Wave Race, Duck Tales and R-Type II for Gameboy (the latter I purchased to satiate my appetite after discovering R-Type on the SNES in the gaming hall).

R-Type image
Image: Back in the 90s, I had my head lost in the Amiga when the SNES was on the scene, and so I’m now discovering great SNES games for the first time. Like R-Type.

Over the two days of my visit, it was great to see so many other gaming fans enjoying their hobby. The Friday was a little quieter, but the building was packed on the Saturday, including the appearance of some superb cosplay outfits.
Accompanying me on the trip was retro-gaming fan (and also writer for Games You Loved) Andy Foster, who is a veteran of these colourful gaming events.
The venue seemed a fitting location for Play Expo (which also has events in London and Manchester), with one floor dedicated to hands-on gaming, and the other to the marketplace. There was also a stage hosting various performances, including a game show with an imported N64 as a prize, a chat with a panel filled with familiar gaming faces from the community, and an impassioned talk on gaming and mental health.
Daytona image
Image: Andy Foster enjoying his favourite racer.

And so I come away from my first Play Expo with a feeling that my knowledge and experience of retrogaming has been upgraded, and my own personal games collection has swelled a little.
Events like this offer the opportunity to not only play games that you have nostalgic memories for, but also to discover games that may have eluded you in the past.
The event was filled with players enjoying their hobby, and demonstrating that video games can be a social pursuit. There were many adventures unfolding in Margate’s Winter Garden on Play Expo weekend, and I look forward to diving in again next year.
my cheesy grin image retro gaming
Caption: Rare footage of me turning away from a video game screen while playing

Follow Ben Bulbeck on Twitter here: @pixelated_ben
More info on the event (which now has passed, dates for 2021 TBC)
Pinball machines image
Image: There were a few pinball machines to get flipping with.
Games for sale image
Image: The market area was filled with thousands of games. Just like online shopping, prices varied between reasonable and eye-watering.
My purchases
Image: These were my purchases at the end of the first day
On the second day I added two more Gameboy games to my collection: R-Type 2 and Duck Tales. Current generation games were also for sale, if you were wanting to treat your PS4, Xbox One or Switch.
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