(NR, 92 minutes, 2015)
“The game doesn’t start until you say YES.” –Rambo (1987)
The challenge: One man must purchase all 678 games made for the Nintendo Entertainment System in thirty days, but cannot use the internet to buy anything.
That man is Jay Bartlett, a Nintendo fan from the very beginning, and his challenge took him on an epic road trip through Canada and the United States. During his quest, documented by friend and filmmaker Rob McCallum, he learned some valuable lessons about himself and his passions, and discovered how every cartridge has a story.
Nintendo Quest chronicles Jay’s journey over ninety minutes, including a deep look at the enduring legacy of the NES and Nintendo’s fandom overall. Where most documentaries become encumbered by the weight of their subject matter, this film establishes a good variety of segments to break up what could be a monotonous sequence of visiting used game stores and watching the miles tick by. The music and visuals are very reminiscent of the NES atmosphere of the ’80s and ’90s, including a ticker in the corner of the screen that tracks Jay’s progress and budget like experience points and a health point bar.
There is some good drama in watching Jay deliberate over buying the games, especially since it tears him from his comfort zone and requires him to negotiate deals and confront his introverted personality. Jay still has to work his day job during the quest, and the reality show aspect for this part of the presentation makes you want to cheer for him. It also made my childhood, which spent thousands of hours mashing buttons on channel 3, grin ear to ear with the memories.
As Jay’s story progresses, McCallum takes the opportunity to interview fellow gamers and celebrities and experts in the field about what makes the original Nintendo system so special. Along with the common themes of memories and family, there is particular emphasis on Nintendo’s ethic during the height of the 8-bit system’s unparalleled popularity: The company and their developers set aside their inhibitions and embraced the zany and the imaginative. In today’s era, video games provide rich settings and deep stories, but the Nintendo plunked down a hero in a strange bare bones environment and let the player tell their own story with the press of every button, and perhaps that’s why the NES continues to thrive decades after it stopped being produced.
Nintendo Quest strikes a variety of tones from high and low to happy and sad, and as Jay meets his heroes and pushes to the very end of the road to succeed, you can tell that he has gained so much more than a collection from the journey. Just like the object from the surprising resolution of the quest, he now has a story to go with his passion. It’s not so much about checking the boxes and putting the plastic on the shelf, but really about loving what you love regardless of what everyone else thinks, and going where that passion takes you.
It’s a book we could all afford to take a few notes from ourselves.
My Rating: 8/10
IMDb rating: 5.6/10
Originally published to RevolutionSF on October 19, 2015