Every so often, I would pull myself out of Nintendo Quest because it made me either gasp loudly or smile until my face hurt. Robert McCallum’s documentary wasn’t just connecting with me on a nostalgic level, it’s also an entertaining thrill ride.
McCallum enlists his Nintendo-happy buddy Jay Bartlett for a mission that will take the pals (and their film crew) through long road trips to acquire every North American video game made for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. For those who may not be as savvy as Rob or Jay, that’s 678 games in total which also includes twenty rare, expensive findings. However, with a limited yet generous budget along with specified rules for the challenge (all transactions must be cash only, nothing shall be purchased online, and the collection must be complete within a 30-day deadline), Rob and Jay embark on their 8-bit adventure.
Nintendo Quest isn’t an analytical film by any means (the challenge itself was conceived on a whim), but the film’s tenacity makes up for the lack of depth. There’s a layer of fear that makes Nintendo Quest compelling. There are times when our protagonists believe they are going to succeed after multiple sweeps at local stores, and the film can just as quickly take a turn for the worse as big ticket titles cause their bank account to dwindle. However, the production is very careful with how much they enclose about the cost of games; almost as if they’re worried bill collectors might be watching.
As I’ve mentioned, not much is discovered about what motivates video game collectors other than the thrill of the search. Movie goers get a glimpse at their incredible collections of wall-to-wall gamer and arcade memorabilia, but the audience never truly gets a clear explanation about the satisfaction. The rules of the film gradually become looser as well, but McCallum – dedicated to consistency – still adamantly follows a plan.
Nintendo Quest’s most interesting portrayal is of the business between collectors. On his journey, Jay haggles and trades with fellow video game lovers which periodically creates tension. No matter how frustrating the struggle is for Jay and a potential friend/foe, the audience can understand both sides of the emotional argument. We want to see Jay meet his goal, but we can also comprehend the skepticism of a seller who’s not willing to part with a hot item for a discounted price to contribute towards a vague film project.
Often resembling peppy, 90’s-era children’s programming, charismatic filmmaker Robert McCallum offers viewers a break from Jay’s treasure hunt for mindful interviews that look closely at how video games have become sensational memories, including music that ingrains itself into our brain, and the box art that drew so many people closer to the escapism. Apart from these interviews, Nintendo Quest has a fitting visual style that correctly emulates NES graphic design, which includes a counter at the bottom-left of the screen keeping track of the budget and time.
Nintendo Quest is as jaw-dropping as it is fun, and a no-brainer recommendation for those who grew up with the Nintendo Entertainment System. A doc for those who have ever found enjoyment bouncing off of goombas or slaying darknuts.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie