The SoCal Retro Gaming Expo took place in Pasadena on February 23-24 at the Pasadena Convention Center. This was the first year that the event was held in the Pasadena Convention Center as previous events were held at the Frank & Sons facility in the City of Industry. The event boasted a robust list of gaming related guests including: the Gaming Historian, Mat McMuscles, and James Rolfe (the Angry Video Game Nerd). Beyond that the larger facility offered more gaming space and some unique booths as well. There was quite a bit of anticipation for this event and it did not disappoint.
The location was easy to get to and parking wasn’t as expensive at about $13 and free valet if the parking structure was getting too full. The building had plenty of space for console gaming, a full arcade, and dealer booths. In addition to that, there was one room set aside for panels and several sitting areas for people to take a break from shopping or gaming. The Pasadena Convention Center is a huge upgrade from Frank & Sons as it has more room and a lobby area to take a breather when the show room becomes too stuffy. This is the ideal place for the event and hopefully it will remain there for the foreseeable future.
The guest line up was solid. James Rolfe had a panel on Saturday and signings on both days of the event as well as a booth to pick up some AVGN merch. However, James Rolfe was not the only big name at the event. Norman Caruso (Gaming Historian) and Andre Meadows (The Black Nerd) were both there with a panel on Sunday and they could be found interacting with fans on the event floor. Pat Contri (Pat the NES Punk) was there as well selling his book and Alex Faciane (Super Beard Bros) could be found challenging attendees in the console gaming area. It was great how open and friendly the guests were and there were plenty of people looking forward to meeting some of their favorite YouTube gamers.
Beyond meeting guests and attending panels there were plenty of things to do at SoCal Retro Gaming Expo. One of the biggest draws was the arcade. The games were set to free play and it was almost impossible to find an open machine due to how popular the area was. Games ranged from shooters like House of the Dead and Time Crisis to fighters like Street Fighter III and Primal Rage. However, they also had classic games like Dig Dug, Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, and Donkey Kong Jr. Some of the most popular machines were the old beat ‘em up types like Turtles in Time and The Simpsons. It was loud and crazy, but there was plenty of fun to be had in the arcade area during the event.
However, for those who prefer controllers they also had a large console gaming area. Not only did this have a good line up of classic games, it was also the home of various tournaments. They had two King of Fighters tournaments (14 and 98) as well as two Smash Bros competitions (Ultimate and Melee). It was both fun to play and watch as there were plenty of chairs set around the area. They even had a few machines set up for players to test their newly picked up games from the dealer hall. More than that, it wasn’t uncommon to find the guests joining in on the fun at the console gaming area and challenging fans to various fighting games or team up in brawlers.
The dealer area had several rows of booths featuring just about anything a gamer might be looking for from mystery boxes to clothing to decorations. The biggest draws were the booths selling classic games. Piles of old Nintendo and Super Nintendo games were all over the place. However, Genesis, Playstation, and N64 games were fairly common as well. Some of the booths had rare imports from older systems like the Dreamcast, Playstation, and Saturn. Prices could vary and shopping around was a good idea. For example at one booth Final Fantasy Tactics was $15 and at another booth it was $45. The best deals seemed to be on N64 games as they rarely went above $10 and Genesis games as they too were rather inexpensive. This dealer hall will not scratch every itch, but if you are a retro gamer it is the best line up of games you will find.
The vibe of the event was pretty good. The crowds could get a little crazy, but for the most part people were polite. Everyone there was a nerd just looking to play some games and thus no one was pushing or yelling during the event. There were a couple cosplayers, but it was obvious that they were the clear minority as very few people showed up in costume. There were a couple people who were acting rude around some of the vendors, but they were not very common. There were some families there and it was heartwarming to see parents and kids team up on various arcade games. If that wasn’t enough, the staff was very courteous and had answers ready for just about any question. This was a fun small event and a great place to meet other gaming nerds.
SoCal Retro Gaming Expo is highly recommended for anyone who loves classic games or wants to meet some of the most entertaining YouTube gamers out there. The event is fun for families and people of all ages as there didn’t seem to be many people doing anything uncouth. The best part is the arcade is free, some competitions are free, and the guests are really friendly. While it might not be worth a long trip it is worth the trip to anyone in the Southern California area. The only thing to be aware of is that there aren’t many easy to walk to restaurants in the area, but there doesn’t seem to be any rules about bringing a packed lunch. This was a great time and we look forward to finding more rare games next year.