RetroWorldExpo 2021 Recap

After being shut down last year, and some delays RetroWorldExpo was able to return in 2021. There were a couple of concessions this year, there were no hyped after-hours events as in previous years. But there were a couple of surprises in the roster of guests this year. Beyond that, there was still a lot of fun to be had, and Hartford still had some nightlife beyond the convention center to take in after hours.

Still, there was a lot packed into the two days and it wasn’t possible to get to everything I wanted to but I still got to see a lot. One unfortunate thing is on day one my phone’s battery was low pretty much all of the day, and so I didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked to. I pressed on anyway getting in a few notes where I could. The panels started a little bit later this year and so I was able to start out my Saturday on the main floor perusing the vendors.

Getting down the guest booths I saw Pixel Dan again, who returned. This year he brought his new book The Toys Of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe Where he and Val Staples (One of the main people behind He-man.org ) compiled every Mattel-produced He-Man toyline piece from the original line through the recent Classics line that ended last year. It’s a pretty deep dive into the various toylines as you’ll hear later. I got to talk with him a bit, and as every year I’ve gotten the opportunity he was nothing but friendly. I bought a copy from him for myself and had it signed which was really cool.

Timothy Clarke was there too. He was the man behind the Boglins toyline, and in recent years has been able to reclaim the rights to produce them. So he was selling some entirely new ones. Pat Contri and Norman Caruso of Pat The NES Punk and Gaming Historian fame were back as well. And new to the show was a YouTuber who probably doesn’t need an introduction: MetalJesusRocks.

Some of the other major names that made it out were the returning My Life In Gaming’s Coury and Tri. As well as RetroRGB. LON TV’s Lon Seidman was there, the members of Hack The Movies, Kieran and Justin from the Cinemassacre podcast also made the trek. Destiny Fomo was there this year. As well as Bonzai Pop’s Mike Pixley and Boundary Break creator Shesez.

But I got to also see a number of local content creators who were on the floor. My pals Russ Lyman and Mike Levy were there and had a couple of panels I sadly didn’t get into. (Sorry guys.) I also got to see fellow Twitch streamers ConsoleKev , Kobayashi Riku, Dan from BestSpuds , 1UpJohn , and I got to see DNick55 in person for the first time. All on the floor over the weekend Which was really cool. All of these guys are fantastic people you should check out if you haven’t already.

Big Bucks Entertainment was back again too. Over the two days, Davira Kuy hosted recreations of Press Your Luck and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? This year they had somebody make it all the way to the end of Millionaire where they won the big prize at the end which was a Power Rangers DVD signed by the original cast!

I also ran into Tom Ryan who had a booth up again this year, and a new National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation-inspired print that I just had to pick up for my Brother who loves that movie. He seemed to be doing pretty well this year, and he had a large assortment of newer pins in addition to prints.

And I got in some time with the arcade cabs and console games this year. Over the course of the weekend, I found myself getting in a few games of Tempest, Killer Instinct, Popeye, and Double Dragon. Which actually crashed on me during the second day,. Not sure what happened, but by the end of the show it was working again. I also got in a respectable score in River Raid on the Atari 2600.

My buddies over at Imaginary Monsters were there along with a lot of other independent developers. Imaginary Monsters showed off an interesting take on Robotron 2084 called Grindblood’s Gauntlet where you play a tormented character gunning down waves of monsters and demons. The current build played pretty nicely with some excellent twin-stick controls. Hopefully, some of the ideas can be expanded upon to flesh it out a little more. But the foundation here was pretty good.

Another indie game I got to check out was When The River Runs Dry, by a studio called ZwinzlerGames. In it, you play an anthropomorphic horse character who wakes up in a forest where drought is taking place. You use the keyboard to navigate your character and the mouse to do certain things in the environment or cast items or attack certain enemies. And it isn’t really a fast-paced game. Rather, you have to take your time and explore like you would in something like The Legend Of Zelda. But a lot of the pointing and clicking reminded me of old-school Sierra games like Police Quest. But that doesn’t mean you can dawdle either because there is constant pressure to find water sources too. Taking too long means it will drain out and your character will collapse. You’ll know if you are taking too long too because the screen slowly grows dark all around you as a cone shrinks. The controls seemed a little confusing at first. But it’s something you may want to keep your eye on.

Possum House Games was there as well with a demo for Space Cat 9, a roguelike platformer where you play as a kitten going up against an army of mice. They also had some trailers for their previous releases on Steam. First up; Shot In The Dark, a really interesting take on stealth platforming where you need to use contrast in battle. And I mean contrast in terms of black levels on your display. Because the color scheme is composed of mostly black and white graphics with bright reds for certain atmospheric moments. You move your character with the keyboard while using the mouse to click and shoot enemies. You play a cowboy with a revolver who ends up going on missions that become more and more bizarre.

The second trailer was for their first major release called The Sword And The Slime. In that one, you play a sentient magic sword that is accompanied by a gelatinous puddle of slime. And you need to use the slime to find creative ways out of sticky situations. So it’s a bit like David Crane’s A Boy And His Blob on the NES, but a little bit faster-paced and with a much weirder and surreal setup.

Screenwave Media was there too with their own demos of some upcoming releases. I was unaware but they are actually publishing LOVE 3, and as someone who enjoyed the original LOVE I was surprised to learn I somehow never saw a sequel. well apparently Fred Wood had put out a sequel a few years ago and I had either forgotten or I hadn’t heard about it. It was called LOVE 2 Kuso. LOVE 3’s promotional materials were a little bit deceiving in that it uses rendered models in the advertising which made me think it would be transitioning to a 2.5D sort of style. But when I got to see the demo running, it isn’t. It’s still very much the aesthetic of the original, yet obviously expanded upon. And for those of you who have never played the original LOVE, do check it out. It’s a great platformer with some awesome music with a style that very much takes me back to games like Lazy Jones on the Commodore 64. You may have to google all of those things. But it will be worth it. But the early look at LOVE 3 was pretty nice.

The second game they showed off was Iron Meat which I think is the one that was probably the most popular of the three. It’s a Run n’ Gun in the vein of classics like Contra and they went for a Super NES era look to the graphics. The demo is controlled nicely and it does have a lot of stuff Contra fans will like. If games like Super Cyborg and Blazing Chrome weren’t enough Contra-likes for you, you might want to check it out when it releases.

And the third one they showed off was Dumpy & Bumpy which is a puzzle game involving pushing blocks. So I was immediately reminded of HAL Laboratory’s LOLO series as well as the classic SEGA arcade game PENGO. It’s got elements of both of those along with other objectives they throw-in. It didn’t make the biggest splash with me compared to the other games they showed off. But it wasn’t bad by any means. If you love puzzle games that don’t do the usual match three colors rules or tweaking Tetris, you may want to keep an eye on it.

There was one other developer there too and while their game demo wasn’t as polished as some of the other things there, their staff was very passionate about their game and after playing it I have to say they have something here. The Killer Gin is a small group of people who made a game using RPG Maker last year called Killer Gin. At the show, they had a spinoff called Killer Gin Battle Arcade which is presently in Early Access on Steam. Visually what I saw isn’t going to compete with some of the similar indie games out there. But it controlled well and does do something a little bit differently.

Killer Gin Battle Arcade appears to be another take on the Super Smash Bros. Ring out rules gameplay. You get a variety of characters from their JRPG, who battle to knock each other out of the game. The difference here is that there aren’t really meters where you have to damage someone to a ridiculous level before you knock them out. Nor does it have a life bar system. Instead, the game uses elements of classic arcade games. The first is from the original Mario Bros. Enemies will spawn onto the blocks and you’ll have to hit them from underneath to be able to weaken them so you can kick them off. The second is like JOUST. There are pits, lava pools, and other things you need to avoid. While this is all going on the four of you are still trying to knock each other out of the map. And what little I played of it was honestly pretty fun.

The game has a long way to go before it’s done. but they hope to add Parsec support so people can use that to play online together since the team is relatively small and not versed in extensive networking code. The rep at the show also mentioned the potential for different ring announcers and accompanying countdown animations in future builds. Obviously, they’re not going for a Smash killer here. But with some graphical improvements, a few new features this could be a surprisingly fun diversion you might want to look into.

The first panel I went to was by Screenwave Media. Head Ryan Schott and their media manager talked about their core business as a Multi-Channel Network which is partnered not only with Cinemassacre, but several high profile YouTube channels. Basically dealing with many of the flags, content claims on YouTube as well as getting out promotion and advertising for these channels. Entering the video game space with AVGN Adventures they’ve begun carrying over some of the things they would do as an MCN for higher profile YouTubers to publishing games for indie developers. And they brought up some of the different avenues some budding developers could use to expand their reach when trying to market their games.

After that panel, I caught Pat Contri’s panel where he showed off the latest Pat The NES PUNK episode followed by a Q & A session with the audience. Some of the discussions centered around topics that have been on his CUPodcast as of late, like the Intellivision Amiico and the controversies that have been coming out about it. The controversy surrounding WATA graded sealed games. And then some information about his new Nintendo 64 book he is in the midst of putting together after his Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System books. Both of which are excellent and cover the entire scope of their libraries. The Nintendo 64 book will also take a look at Japanese-only releases as well as the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive.

I also attended the Gaming Historian panel. Norman Caruso gave us a look at an upcoming project involving the original Donkey Kong. He found some new information, and without giving much away it’s going to be a pretty great episode. After a Q & A segment following the presentation, he closed with a Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? game where one audience member managed to get through to the top with a little help.

There were also two independent wrestling shows this year via Blitzkrieg Pro Wrestling I really didn’t get to see much of them but they did one each of the days. Speaking of Pro Wrestling, WWE alumni Tatanka was there too, but he wasn’t in the wrestling show. He did have a guest booth though.

At the end of the first night, I went to City Steam Brewery with some friends and had some great beer and food. I tried out their seasonal pumpkin beer cleverly titled “Gourd Vibes Only”, and tried their new Hartford Yard Goats-themed IPA. I also had their Jungle Crush IPA with my two Kielbasa sausages with sauerkraut. If you ever find yourself in the State Capitol city do check it out. It’s got a terrific restaurant in it, a comedy club, and of course many great kinds of beer to choose from. After dinner, we walked back over to the Convention center and in the adjacent lobby, many of the guests were there. Before heading off I ran into Metal Jesus Rocks who was rather cordial.

I came back the following day for the second day of the convention. The second day is generally shorter but RetroWorldExpo always seems to divide panels up with the larger YouTube names between both days nicely. When I made it back to the Convention center I spent the first chunk of the day browsing around for any interesting merchandise I might have missed out on. I didn’t really see too much although I have to say one booth stood out to me after my pal Juu Hachi pointed it out and that was Canvas Quest. They had the game-themed posters and wall art you might expect a business with that name to have. However, where they really made themselves stand out was in the area of pins. There were hundreds of different pins based on various games ranging from completely esoteric to super popular. I found two that I just had to pick up in spite of the fact I’m not a big button or pin collector. The first of these was a pin of Evil Otto based on the Atari 2600 port of Berzerk. And the second is the Yar pin which of course is the giant space fly you play as in Yars’ Revenge.

I also got into three panels the second day. The first of these was Pixel Dan’s panel where he talked about the process of making his book. It took over 3 years to put together. Much of the work involved flying all over the United States finding different collectors in the Masters Of The Universe fan community. The book features photos of every Mattel produced or officially licensed as canon toy in the original Masters Of The Universe line, Princess Of Power line, He-Man line, Masters Of The Universe 200x line, and Masters Of The Universe Classics line. That’s nearly 800 toys and it features several photos for each both in completely unopened packaging as well as loose, but with all of their accessories intact as well as the accessories themselves.

He also mentioned getting the accessories photographed was the hardest part of the process as centering the shots for small pieces proved difficult. The photography was done in each of the collectors’ homes over the course of a few days at each, and there were many collectors to visit. Because some only collected MOC (Mint On Card) or CIB (Complete In Box) while others may have had loose figures with or without all of the accessories. And obviously, a sealed collector wasn’t going to want their collectibles opened in the process. He did show off one video clip where he and Val Staples had to photograph one person’s Eternia playset which is one of the rarest playsets in the toyline and is a behemoth with many fragile parts. Getting the playset on the filming table was quite the task and everyone bit their nails anticipating something banging or dropping which of course, thankfully didn’t happen.

At first, the project was going to be self-published, but Dark Horse offered to pitch it to Mattel on their behalf since Dark Horse had already had the official license to do other Masters Of The Universe hardcover collections. Mattel gave their blessing and so the project then became an official part of Masters Of The Universe! The book is very detailed in not only the descriptions of every toy, but each page has an easy-to-follow layout showing the toys in the package as well as loose. Each accessory has its own photo and they even managed to take photos of the action features most of the toys had. Like Mosquitor’s blood pumping window or the battle damage, you can see on Battle Armor He-Man and Skeletor when they are hit in the chest. They even color-coded the pages depending on which faction the character in question may have come from. In MOTU there are generally four, the Heroic Warriors, Evil Warriors, Evil Horde, and Snakemen. The sides of the pages also have grey tabbed sections so you can get a good estimate of which toyline you’re going to be thumbing through without even going to the table of contents. The amount of details is staggering and it’s a fantastic book for any collector.

After Pixel Dan’s panel, I saw the MetalJesusRocks panel. This was an off-script panel where Jason (as he told us is his real name) loosely revisited a topic he covered in a video not too long ago about modern-day collecting tips. Some of these included things like looking at platforms that people may not be paying much attention to. Often popular systems mean that more people are going to want the big games on them and so a lot of prices for those games will reflect that in the aftermarket. So maybe instead of looking at Gamecube games try looking at something else you might not have considered before. You might find you have as much fun, and they may be less expensive in the process. Other things might be to look at the Japanese or European versions of a game you might want. Sometimes there’s a great divide between prices between different regional versions, and if it’s a title where language isn’t going to be a barrier it could be a good bargain for you. Beyond the tips there were some nice discussions about some of the Limited Run releases, console digital storefronts eventually closing down, and games we may buy a multitude of reasons out of love or obsession.

The last panel I managed to catch was the Super Retro Throwback live podcast where hosts Steven Christina Jr. and Sammie Ann Fontaine discussed some pop culture with an audience. Topics included bad remakes of popular movies, first films seen in a theatre, earliest console game memories, the Occulus Rift, and the 12 hours or more time commitment to get through the extended cuts of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy of films. There was some audience participation and they also gave out some free stuff throughout the course of the panel. I ended up with a shirt and a copy of Dead Rising IV on the Xbox One.

I spent the last hour of the show just chatting with some friends and I caught up a bit with DougMansLand who had managed to live stream through much of the weekend there. He had a pretty good turnout at his booth. If you haven’t checked out his channel give it a spin. In a short time, he’s already built up quite a nice variety channel. But time flies when you’re having a good time and unfortunately, 5 o’clock came up pretty quickly. There were some things I missed out on this year. I didn’t get to see the auction this year, though I had heard there were some pretty interesting things this year including a fully restored late 90s gaming rig. I also didn’t get to see the Street Fighter V tournament or the wrestling shows. And I missed Russ Lyman and Mike Levy’s panels which I’m sure were really good. RetroWorldExpo squeezes so much in it’s impossible to get to everything But that’s part of what makes it so fun.

I already can’t wait to see what they do with the show next year which is supposed to be happening sometime in August. Again, I apologize I didn’t get any useable shots of the indie games on display as my phone’s battery barely had the juice in it to take the photos I managed to. But all of the ones I played and saw showed some promise. Many of them have demos on Steam and Itchio so definitely check them out if they sound like games you would enjoy. Next year I should be better prepared. This year I definitely needed the weekend though. Between some mild health scares, the stress in my personal life, and recently losing my mother to pulmonary fibrosis getting the time to decompress and see people I haven’t gotten to in a while was a needed respite.

Some things I would selfishly like to see next year would include; a Berzerk cabinet, a Frenzy cabinet, Mark Bussler (of CGR fame) as a guest, and if possible an Unreal Tournament 2004 tournament and a Splatoon 3 tournament (assuming Nintendo has released it by then.). I know I’m probably asking for the moon there. But even without those things I know I’ll be looking forward to the show. Here’s hoping I’ll be seeing all of my local and not-so-local friends there if possible.

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