If there are two things that I like, it’s films and video games. I like the two mediums so much, I’ve made a film and a video game. So obviously, I take every chance I get to enjoy things that mix both: the “Back to the Future” series by Telltale (so movies-to-games) and stuff like “Indie Game: the Movie” (a documentary about game developers). Enter “Nintendo Quest”: a documentary about building a complete North American-released NES collection. In 30 days. A promising premise for sure, but does the film succeed? Let’s find out.
At first, the film presents the idea of the quest as little more than a wager between Jay (the main character) and himself (actually) that he would, for the purposes of this documentary, and based on his passion for games and NES in particular, try to assemble a complete NES cartridge collection from scratch in 30 days, without online purchases.
The filmmaking is almost vlog-like, but this is understandable as this is Rob McCallum’s first real feature documentary. Considering my own film is a found footage horror shebang, it doesn’t bother me at all. But it may bother those used to a more crafted direction of photography and directing.
If it sounds like I’m having a huge downer on this film, it’s because I’m underselling it a bit. On purpose. You see, much like “Once Upon Atari”, which got overshadowed by “Atari: Game Over”s prettier patina, “Nintendo Quest” may be overlooked by some due to its slightly amateurish appearance. Underneath it all, though, there lies a heart of gold, real human connections and the many reasons people love games. The quest then becomes almost a backdrop for a heartfelt story of inter-connectivity in the modern world and what it means to love something.
You see, as we follow Jay’s quest to achieve a crazy goal, his story takes over the screen (something not easily done when you are collecting some of the most memorable video games ever made). Through Jay’s personal struggles and achievements, we’re then introduced to other people (some as notable as Billy Mitchell and Walter Day, and a personal hero of mine, Thor Aackerlund) and why they love video games: the personal connections they’ve made.
As I mentioned in my review of PuyoPuyo Tetris for the Nintendo Switch, we seem to have drifted away from the social aspect of gaming that made gaming fun to begin with. We no longer play together, we play the same game at the same time. And it’s simply not the same. As Jay mentions in one of the episodes of his podcast “Gamercast“, it’s not the same to be worlds across someone playing “Destiny” than it is to sit on the same couch and react instantly to people and what they do.
As the film progresses and Jay continues to acquire games (and continues to struggle to acquire others), the thread of the human side of gaming is never broken or lost. And for me, that’s what makes the film work: it tells a very human side of gaming through a somewhat silly premise.
I have to admit, though, as a huge fan of collecting myself (though I’m too broke to actually collect anything), watching Jay and the crew go from store to house looking for games was a hell of a lot of fun.
I learned a lot about NES history too, which is a plus since I grew up on a SEGA Mega-Drive (damn you, mom!). It really made me long for the possibility of starting my life-long dreamed collection: portable gaming.
The bottom line is this: “Nintendo Quest” is a technically flawed piece of cinema that’s nonetheless effective, entertaining and fun. If I was to make a comparison with music (which, really, why wouldn’t I?), I’d say it’s akin to punk (think early 2000’s Against Me!): dirty, but full of heart.
I highly recommend you watching this film if you’re even remotely interested in games, filmmaking, and everything in between.
You can get “Nintendo Quest” and other of Rob’s films here: http://robmccallumfilms.com/