Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Replay FX Con 2016 Review

So full disclosure here, I don’t attend a lot of cons. Usually it’s a matter of location and money, since most of what Virginia gets is on the smaller end. But that all changed when the fire nation attacked! Er...I mean...when I moved to Pittsburgh! I was driving around town and I’d notice occasional advertisements for “Replay FX” that proclaimed “largest gathering of arcade & pinball machines in the country!” and of course my interest was piqued. Being that I now only lived ten minutes away from the Pittsburgh convention center, I had to christen my new life with a kickass gaming convention! Sunday was the day I was going to pay the place a visit, since it was the final day and there were a few interesting things going on according to the schedule.

Things don’t always go as planned however. Someone I had recently met playing Magic had invited me over to their home on Sunday to play cards, and I was eager to try and meet more people and make friends in this town where I’d just relocated. Obviously I have to choose one or the other right? My Friday was booked with a Pokemon Go Party at a downtown gay bar on Friday (that was an interesting story, let me tell you), and I was playing cards for most of the day Saturday. Then I shrugged and checked the website for the con. The gaming floor was open til 2am! My clock said it was 7pm, so that would give me TONS of time to check everything out with an evening pass. I excitedly paid for a pass online, grabbed my keys, and headed downtown to the convention center.

Forty Five minutes of anger and frustration later due to lots of signs with “convention center parking here” being blocked by barricades and I find a nearby lot, and pony up twelve bucks for the privilege of parking within a few blocks of the place. Luckily there was no shortage of Pokestops along the way! Once I cleared up my confusion about which part of the convention center it was in (I wasn’t terribly interested in a Hillary Support Rally that was also going on there), I headed up with excitement for all of the awesome stuff I’d get my grubby little hands on. Outside of the main hall was a check in desk, a vendor, tabletop gaming tables, and a sweet little 80’s living room setup with a wood paneled TV, ugly couches, and Mario 3 being played on NES. I stopped to watch for a moment after checking in, while a constant “WUB WUB WUB” sound emanated from the main convention halls.

I stepped into a massive, darkened hall with countless screens, flashing lights, and throngs of people everywhere as the iconic battle music of Final Fantasy 7 being played from a small band in the back seemed to usher my arrival. The band actually really impressed me. There were four guys, one with a guitar, one with drums, and two on violins. I listened for awhile as they shifted from one familiar classic tune to another, before I wandered off to explore the hall before I committed to playing anything. Near the door they had rigged up a copy of Xmen vs Street Fighter on a large projector, but with dance pads as the controllers. That was really entertaining to watch, though I decided not to partake and make a fool of myself. There was a pinball panel on the far side of the convention, in what was the second hall, though there was no barrier between them. I’m not much of a pinball guy, but I was really impressed by the sheer amount of machines that were there, the vendors selling mountains of replacements parts including backboards and arcade signs, and even a few machines that were seriously new with LED screens and intricate machinery.

Amidst the bounce houses, the inflatable things that adults were playing on, and the huge rock wall being climbed by adults and children alike, there was a small Donkey Kong tournament going on. And what do I see on machine number one at the end of the row? One immaculately quaffed Billy Mitchell, the “villain” of the movie “King of Kong”. I only watched for a minute, because I was more interested in wrapping my hands around some games. One thing drew my attention first though, along the far wall where they had a dozen rows a hundred feet long each of console games. I saw a sign for “See the rare SNES CD system!” and had to go gawk at it. I think my tongue was hanging out of my mouth while I gazed down at the “Sony Playstation” Super Nintendo CD player. This guy even had some homebrew games developed for it that you could play on nearby PCs.

I had to push myself forward to actually get to some games to play, because I kept getting distracted by all the shiny things like vendors and intricate PC setups from companies trying to sell their wares. Throughout the next four to five hours I played an untold number of arcade and pinball machines. Why even worry about consoles when I can play all of that stuff at home? I played so many games from my childhood, so many fighting games, and so many great titles from gaming history. Even found a few games I had never heard of before, and fell in love with a game called “Magic Sword” that I think I’d kill to have at home so I could spend unlimited time with it. It would have taken me hours to really go through that game and try to complete it, and being that I found it towards the end of the night, that wasn’t going to happen. If you have a Magic Sword Arcade machine laying around, feel free to send it my way ;-)

Though I didn’t find anyone I latched onto for the night, I had a number of great “gaming camaraderie” moments. I teamed up with other people to play through the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, partnered with another guy to take down the Xmen Arcade game while a band called “Flashback” was blaring classic 70s and 80s hits right behind us, and had an at length conversation with another guy over the finer points of Virtua Fighter 2 while we both kept getting our asses kicked by Kage Maru. Even the weird ass, untranslated Japanese games drew me and others in, and a rhythm game called “NEON FM” that they had two giant machines for. I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with that as I wanted, even though I still played for a half hour. And that game is apparently available on iOS! Though there’s no way it could be nearly as fun as it is with an enormous screen in front of you and five big fat buttons you can slap to your heart’s content.

I had a great time at the convention even though I just went the one night. I will DEFINITELY be going again next year, and may spring for the weekend pass. Playing all of those great titles among other gaming fans in that environment was a time to remember. My calculated decision to wear my new Rick and Morty Tshirt featuring the words “Tiny Rick” with a picture of Tiny Rick throwing up metal hands beneath it was a great call, as people would frequently walk past me and yell “TINY RICK!” while tossing their hands up, which never ceased to make me smile. There was so much to see and do there, with my only disappointment being the jerk that put 99 credits onto each Simpsons character on the Simpsons Arcade machine toward the end of the night, rendering it unplayable for anyone but a group of four people. Replay FX was a hell of a time, and if you’re a fan of gaming and find yourself near the Pittsburgh area (or even within a reasonable drive of a few hours) you absolutely should attend.

Post by Jamie Butterworth

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