Film Review: The New 8-Bit Heroes (Documentary)

We’re huge fans of films about gaming, both documentaries and narratives. Not long ago, we reviewed Nintendo Quest (and its follow up, Nintendo Quest: Power Tour) and interviewed star Jay Bartlett. Today, we bring you something entirely new: The New 8-bit Heroes is not about games of Christmas past, but rather about making that game you designed when you were 8 years old. For the NES. Yes, a brand-new, after-market NES game, playable on original hardware. That was the dream  Joe Granato set out to accomplish during this documentary. Did he succeed?

Well, I can’t spoil the ending, obviously. It would be a disservice to the filmmakers and the film itself. But I can tell you that there are things left unresolved by the end of the nearly 2 hours of footage, and depending on your expectations, you may or may not have a problem with that. Personally, I can see why things were done the way they were (or at least, I think I can), but I would have liked a more definitive resolution to the story.

Modern tools, classic application.

But, let’s back up a bit. What story am I talking about?

8-year-old Joe Granato and his school friend had a dream: to make a game for the NES. They created characters, power-ups, levels, the lot. They then mailed the whole thing to Nintendo. And waited. And waited. And then, they got the standard “thanks, but no thanks” reply from the big N. Fast forward 30 years, and Joe comes upon the drawings… and has the Eureka moment: “can we now make this?”. What follows is a story of homebrew development, the limitations of the NES and its positive effect on creativity, friendship, the harsh reality of taxes, interviews with top guys in the industry, trips to cons and dev conventions… the lot!

There certainly isn’t a lack of content variety in the documentary. And there is no shortage of quality, either. But I do think it could have been trimmed down a bit. Obviously, this is more of a creative nit-pick than anything, but I feel like they could have taken out around 5 minutes of B-roll and talking-head editorializing… and the film would have been all the tighter for it. But, like I said, this is a personal thing more than anything. It may be due to my roots in short film, guerrilla-style filmmaking.

The footage looks and sounds great, though, and that’s commendable. The whole thing, even the concept art for the characters that are drawn along the way look amazing. This helps separate “The New 8-Bit Heroes” from other indie documentaries about gaming: there is a sense of production value that oozes out of the screen.

“Do you want to spend 2 years of your life working on a game for an ancient console?” YEEEES PLEASE!!!

Like any good film, though, the most important thing about it all is the story, and it’s very, very well told: it answers questions I didn’t even know I had, like “what’s it like to develop for the NES?”, and “what are the consequences of Kickstarter campaigns, both economical and emotional?”. There’s content for everyone here, from emotive, creative differences, to gloriously nerdy talk of coding (hmmm, coding)… the cohesion with which the whole thing is presented, though, is quite impressive, making the documentary feel like a whole, rather than simply a sum of its parts.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the documentary, and I think anyone with an even remote or passing interest in gaming, retro tech and game development should check it out. It’s beautifully put together, and it tells a story that maybe you or I would have liked to star in: “what if you could make your childhood dream a reality?”.

Maybe you can! If your dream is to develop for the NES, Joe and his buddies are releasing the tools you need to develop a game for the NES, the less-hard way. You can visit the official site for the film below, and find out more about the film itself, “Mystic Searches”, “Mystic Origins” (playable on PC NOW!!!), and NES tools:

http://www.thenew8bitheroes.com/

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