Stepping into the basement gallery of London’s Science Museum, you’re greeted with an uneasy warmth that often accompanies gaming events, but that’s quickly forgotten when you look at the sea of consoles waiting in the wings. We’re all so used to seeing old gaming systems locked behind glass, perched on a stand with just enough light to give them an almost grandiose look. But what Exhibition Power Up understands, however, that consoles are for played.
The exhibition itself is open until April 19 at the Science Museum in South Kensington, London. There is a small entrance fee, but the good news is that the Science Museum itself can be visited for free.
In total, 160 consoles are presented at the exhibition, from Binatone TV Master to Nintendo Switch. Everything is open and ready to play. You can try classic platform games like Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog, move on to combat with a bit of Street Fighter II and Super Smash Bros. Melee, try classic racing games like Mario Kart: Double Dash!! as well as Gran Turismobefore ending with PSVR’s sensory-overloading grandeur. Of course, with a focus on providing age-appropriate content, you won’t find harder games like Mega Man 2 or Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, and you won’t find adult-oriented games like Mortal Kombat that make likes. Jack Thompson grumbles in disgust; This is a family business in every way.
The main attraction was undoubtedly the 30-year physical timeline of consoles from 1976 (Binatone) to 2006 (Wii). Each console was accompanied by a brief description of its history, as well as a brief description of the game that the systems were loaded with. Again, everything here can be sampled and played, and it’s a stark reminder of how revolutionary the NES was with its controller. Everything before that seemed like a strange experiment; a strange oddity that – if you haven’t grown up with these systems – seems completely alien. When you consider that every controller since 1985 (or 1983 with the original Japanese Famicom) is simply an evolution of Masayuki Uemura’s design, it seems that evolution in the flesh is a wonderful experience.
It’s a shame that such a breathtaking glimpse into the history of gaming consoles seems to be tucked away at the far end of the room. This is what should have been the center of attention when you enter the exhibition. Indeed, given the exhibition’s focus on entertainment and children’s entertainment, we have a feeling that many will bypass this part of the room entirely, content to sit at a table in the opposite corner of the room and play a round game. Street Fighter, which is not bad in itself!
Again, we believe this allows us old assholes to appreciate the more “boring” part of the exhibit, because there’s little chance of playing anything else when all the kids are hanging around the screens.
However, in terms of how Nintendo itself was presented, it’s safe to say that she was the star of the show. There was a wide variety of games on offer: the Mega Drive, PlayStation, Xbox, and Atari got a chance to make a name for themselves, but Nintendo really felt dominant. There were N64 consoles paired with four controllers and a copy of GoldenEye:007, NES and SNES consoles lined up, GameCube consoles with everything from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess to Super Monkey Ball 2, and small round tables with Game systems connected. Boy Advance (although those tables were often filled with bored parents browsing FaceBook or—ironically—playing a mobile game).
It was also interesting to see how little patience young audiences have with games like Super Mario Bros. ideally Tutorial for the rest of the game we have seen kids just quit the game at the first Goomba enemy, throwing the notepad back on the table for the next kid to try. Curiously, we later saw the same kids, glued to a screen, playing Fortnite, a game that – at least in our opinion – has a lot more disparate mechanics and systems to explore in an open 3D space.
Perhaps this is a testament to how much game guides have changed in recent years and how modern games are bombarding players with rewards. For a youngster playing Super Mario Bros., falling off the first hurdle can only bring a deep sense of frustration, and we’ve seen it firsthand.
Still, seeing everyone from middle-aged parents to little toddlers take part in what is essentially a celebration of gaming history is a beautiful sight to behold. With Nintendo in particular, it’s easy to try out their legacy games today thanks to games like Nintendo Switch Online, but actually playing them in their original form is something a more casual audience might never experience in any other medium. This is a great reminder of how far the environment has come and what potential remains to be realized.
The Power Up exhibition is open at the Science Museum in London until Tuesday 19 April. Tickets start at £8 and can be purchased through Official site.