Midwest Gaming Classic went down from March 31-April 2, 2023, and I attended on the show’s final day, Sunday the 2nd.
As I’ve mentioned in all of my previous posts about MGC (2022, 2019, 2017), I have attended nearly every year that the show has run since 2005. (There was a blizzard in 2018, 2020 didn’t happen due to Covid, and 2021 didn’t work out for me.) That’s a lotta shows! Some years, I will admit, have been better than others; unfortunately, I felt like I didn’t get much out of it last year, but that was largely due to my own tight schedule, not any fault of the show’s.
However, I am happy to report that this year, I had a great experience and it felt like a true return to form. I saw and played lots of kickass games, picked up some cool stuff, enjoyed some entertaining panels, and met some rad people. Let’s get into it!
I arrived shortly after 10 am, when the event opened for the day, and immediately after entering the doors ran into my old friend Chico, who I’ve known for 30 years but don’t get to see often anymore. After catching up briefly, I took one look at the crowd and realized that the first and best piece of MGC wisdom I can impart to you is, ALWAYS BUY YOUR TICKETS ONLINE IN ADVANCE. The line to purchase tickets was insanely long; I would guess it would have taken about 90 minutes to get through. However, as I had already purchased my ticket online and printed it out, that line was nonexistent, so I got scanned and went right in!
Most years, my first stop is the vendor room, as paranoia sets in and I get nervous that all the good stuff is already gone. But since I’m not buying a lot these days, my priority in this instant was to play some rare stuff, so I headed straight to the Museum area.
This is where you can find almost every single console, home computer, and arcade system ever made, all set up and available to play. It’s laid out roughly chronologically, so after admiring the ridiculous amount of TV Pong units, I scanned through the 90s-era consoles until I found my beloved Pioneer LaserActive. And what luck– this year it was running Road Blaster! (Actuality it was the Euro-titled “Road Prosecutor” version, but same thing.)
After getting my fill of laserdisc-based obscurity, I continued wandering about and found my way to the pinball and arcade machines.
I rustily played a bit of Street Fighter 3 on a Sega Blast City (although I didn’t do too badly) until a 4-year-old kid sat down at the cabinet next to me and joined in the game (his mom didn’t realize they were linked). I’m a nice guy (and a dad), so I played dumb and walked into his “attacks” while he banged around on the controls until he won, then quietly got up and walked off, leaving him to think he was good at the game before he suffered the wrath of the CPU opponent he was about to face.
The rest of that room’s floor was mostly taken up by pinball manufacturers, who all had their latest tables on display, such as Chicago’s new Pulp Fiction, Jersey Jack’s Godfather, and Stern’s Foo Fighters. I didn’t bother waiting to play any of them as they were all full, and I learned my lesson last year after trying in vain to get on a Godzilla table.
Also notable in the corner of this area was a display of famous cars from movies and TV, such as the Jurassic Park Jeep, the ECTO-1 from Ghostbusters, KITT from Knight Rider, and others. Although this has absolutely zilch to do with retro video gaming, when you get a chance to fawn over the original TV Batmobile, you kinda gotta take it.
Okay, fine — on to the vendor room. I must admit that last year, the vendor room, although huge, was a bit of a disappointment to me. There was very little of interest in terms of old hardware or really desirable heavies, and too many non-gaming-related vendors. This year, however, was a different story. Lots of hardware, lots of imports, lots of heavy hitters (with prices to match), and a few surprises.
There was a vendor who had an unremarkable selection of games, except for a LaserActive playing Pyramid Patrol! I’ve always wanted to check that game out, but sadly, there was no controller attached to this cool little display.
More Neo-Geo this year than last, but unfortunately, nothing I needed.
As I mentioned, imports were strong, as there were seas of Super Famicom, Mega Drive/Mega CD, and PC Engine softs on offer from a number of booths. Lots of loose Famicom carts too, but not a lot CIB.
As for domestics, plenty of Atari, Intellivision, NES and SNES, Game Boy, Genesis, and a surprising amount of Sega CD games were everywhere. I gotta say, though, that some of the prices are absolutely out of control these days, and I am so glad that my days of collecting these items are over — and also glad that I have a lot of them on my shelves already, having paid the tiniest fraction 20-30 years ago of what sellers are asking for them now.
What does pique my interest, however, are new games for old systems, and that means homebrews and indie games. The only two games I picked up this year were from Sean Kelly’s ever-present table of Vectrex goodies: the independently-developed Vectorblade, and the “lost” final official Vectrex game, A Crush of Lucifer, both of them complete in era-accurate Vectrex packaging, with boxes, manuals, and beautiful screen overlays.
Outside of the two main rooms, as always were a number of specialty rooms, such as the Garcade (a local arcade), Guys Games and Beer, some LARPing, hardware hacking sessions, and of course a large room for boardgaming.
Speaking of homebrews, however, one of these rooms was “Home Brew Heaven,” which actually held a few major points of interest: first, of course, were rows of consoles set up with homebrew games. Mostly NES games with a few other consoles sprinkled in, some were complete and some were still in development, and a few of them really caught my eye. There was Halcyon, which was a Metroid-style adventure that was a work in progress but showed a ton of potential. Another sneak peek was Courier, some sort of cyberpunk quest that also looked fun. A few interesting shmups were available to play too, but I was really blown away by a game called F-Theta, a racing game that actually employs Mode 7-style rotation effects as well as full-screen (though chonky) cinematics! A little digging revealed that F-Theta was developed by a Japanese homebrewer called Little Sound Soft, and was released as a Famicom cartridge, and then released as an NES game by Neodolphino Productions. It didn’t take me long to find out how to get ahold of a copy and I look forward to adding it to my collection sometime.
In the corner of this same room was “Bones,” the producer of the documentary film Mother to Earth, with a table set up to sell DVDs and Blu-rays of his film, and to show off some of the props used in the movie. I chatted with Bones a bit as he effusively told me all about the documentary, which fully investigates the infamous discovery of the Nintendo Earth Bound (the canceled US version of Mother for the NES) prototype, the leak of the ROM, and the subsequent fallout and legend that it created. Bones was so enthusiastic that he really sold me on it, so I picked up a copy on DVD (truth be told, I would have bought it anyway, as I’m a big Mother fan) and I’ll almost certainly be talking about the film more in-depth here on the blog.
Finally, in the back of this very same room was the World of Nintendo exhibit. Collector Andy Cunningham has acquired original signage and displays from the World of Nintendo “mini-stores” that used to populate department stores back in the 1980s and has effectively re-created an entire setup from the era.
He’s also published a book detailing all of it; he had one copy of the book on display to flip through, but unfortunately, he couldn’t get enough printed in time to bring to the show and sell. You can, however, pre-order it at worldofnintendobook.com, and I do intend to add it to my videogame library.
Back in the dealer’s hall, I also stopped by the booth of Premium Edition, publisher of indie games and books, and ran into Ryan, who runs my old website, the Metroid Database. Of course we took the obligatory “how it started/how it’s going” photo op.
If that doesn’t sound like enough, there was also the performance stage, where various game- and geek-themed bands and artists rocked out, game and pinball tournaments and contests, industry artists and developers to talk to, much of the cast of the original Mortal Kombat (who are always there and more than happy to sign autographs), and even live pro wrestling courtesy of Brew City Wrestling.
Luckily, there were a couple panels that I was able to attend this year too. I checked out “Becoming a YouTuber” which was presented by a whole gang of well-known gaming YT personalities, including Adam Koralik, John Riggs, John Hancock, Coury and Marc from My Life in Gaming, and more.
I also attended a talk by Kelsey and Frank of the Video Game History Foundation, who are always interesting and informative (and you should support the VGHF in any way you can).
As the VGHF talk was the last panel of the weekend, and the show was winding down, I took one more cruise through the dealer’s room and said goodbye to a few of my friends, then headed out.
After last year, I was afraid that maybe I was losing interest a bit in MGC, but my experience at 2023’s show was a reaffirmation that I still love attending this event that I’ve been enjoying and watching grow for almost two decades. Thanks as always to the organizers — I can’t imagine what a massive undertaking this must be every year. The fact that they’ve endured some rough years and come through on the other side with an even bigger event than ever is testament to the fact that Midwest Gaming Classic is one of the best and most well-loved gaming expos in the world.
To finish off, let’s do a photo dump of random cool stuff I saw. See you next year!!
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