Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Midwest Gaming Classic: A review

For people of a certain age, the video game arcade brings back a flood of memories. Playing on a home console with your best buddies brings back even more. The Midwest Gaming Classic, held this weekend in Brookfield, Wis., capitalized on those memories by providing convention goers with all of the good times that go along with gaming.

The Midwest Gaming Classic (MGC) isn't a trade show like E3 or PAX, but rather a shrine to an age of gaming that, though it's years behind us, paradoxically, it never really left. 

For $30, you can play all the games your wrists and eyes can possibly take. I entered through the arcade hall, which was aptly named. There were hundreds of pinball tables and arcade cabinets, all set to free play, and also all for sale providing you have the space and at least $500 (or more) burning a hole in your pocket. 

The pinball tables ranged from the old-timey (50s and 60s) to the thoroughly modern, including a recently released Wrestlemania table, and a Wizard of Oz table that had a display that looked like nothing I've ever seen before. I could've spent all day playing pinball, but that is largely a solitary pursuit. I went with my general life arch-nemesis, so we sought out games to play against each other. 

There were lots of those. 

We played NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, X-Men vs. Capcom (fighting game), and Simpsons Bowling, and all of them were fun, and more importantly, competitive. (Well, not Blitz. Somebody ragequit. Won't say who.)

Your author, after narrowly winning at NBA Jam

If one-player games are more your thing, MGC featured those too. I personally played OutRun, Centipede, and Ms. Pac Man. Burger Time and Qbert were there too. 

You might be thinking that $30 is a fair price for that -- and it kind of is, if only because Galloping Ghost  is 90 minutes away. But there was more to it than the arcade games. 

The other draw for us was the Video Game Museum room, which highlighted games from the 1970s-1990s. There were some Pong games that we honestly couldn't figure out how to work. There were some 80s-era PCs set up where you could play Oregon Trail and Number Munchers. Still more PCs were running Doom and Duke Nukem 3D.

Of course, we ignored PC gaming entirely because there was a murderers' row of classic console games that demanded our attention. 

Super Mario Kart! Tecmo Super Bowl! Contra! NBA Jam TE! Double Dragon! We played 'em all. In fact, we played more than that as the room couldn't actually contain everything. I played an Atari Jaguar game (Primal Rage -- I know, not an exclusive) for the first time. Other, modern fighting games were featured in the same hallway, which were mostly beyond me. 

Basically, it was the biggest, best basement rec room you could ever possibly be in. 

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A gigantic tent outside the hotel housed even more gaming goodness.

Most of this tent was devoted to vendors from all over the midwest peddling their gaming wares. No matter what console you were a fan of back in the day (or are still), someone, somewhere in the tent had a console or a game for you to ogle. 

Prices seemed a little outrageous for games produced 20+ years ago, but then again people in their thirties supposedly have good-paying jobs that allow them to blow money on nostalgia. (I played my part: I bought an Atari 2600 game -- Spider Fighter -- for a dollar.) In addition to the games, other vendors sold gaming and otherwise nerd-related goods like Lego sets and t-shirts. One of the more interesting things we saw were old arcade cabinet game signs, which looked good enough on their own to hang on your wall. 

Aside from the commerce, the tent also featured a couple of air hockey tables (pretty cool), live music (bearable, but could do without), and a tabletop gaming section. Tabletop gaming (or just plain board games, I suppose) isn't really my thing, but the fact that you could go up to their library of games, pull one off the shelf, and sit down and play with your friends is kind of awesome. 

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When it comes to gaming, individual accomplishments are great -- finally beating Mario 3 or going undefeated in Madden -- but being in the same room and trash talking your buddies after destroying them in NFL Blitz (or teaming up in a co-op game like TMNT 2 on the NES) is so much better. 

The games at MGC are certainly paramount to the experience, but without the people it would just be a bunch of flickering screens, playing to no one. I can't say I was surprised at all by the diversity of the crowd, seeing as though video gaming is universal in some sense. All types of people were there: fat neckbeards (because of course there were) and old men and young children and gamer girls -- every stereotype of gamer girl was there in full effect, for better and for worse -- all of them enjoying the games and more importantly the camaraderie of gaming together. That is the sort of thing worth more than the price of admission. 

(okay, that and making Ken ragequit after going up 26-0 in NFL Blitz. That was the best.)

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