PPR at the Movies: Nintendo Quest Review

henever you talk to anyone about video games, and I mean anyone, no matter their walk of life, or intimacy with the pastime, there’s one name that’s bound to come up, and is easily one of the most notable consoles in gaming, even to this day—the Nintendo Entertainment System.

The reverence for Nintendo’s 8-bit game box is a palpable force among both older, and youthful generations of game enthusiasts; which is why titles from its game library are still the among most sought after games to collect out of any other console out there.

Which brings us to one man, Jay Bartlett—a young adult dude who’s attributed a great deal of his being to then influence and wonder that the NES has given him, straight out of London, Ontario.

So much so that he’s teamed up with friend and independent film maker, Rob McCallum, to set out on what they call the social experiment of a lifetime. The pair sets their sights on collecting every NES game they can within 30 days, without the use of the internet, sticking exclusively with in-person transactions on a cross-country trip through the USA, and doing so all in a documentary they call, “Nintendo Quest.”

As far as video game documentaries go, this premise is loaded with potential, tapping into a campaign that nearly anyone who’s ever played a video game can identify with, to some extent.

Unfortunately, this is where the film fails to follow through.

We’re set up for a journey with what we originally were lead to believe to be one with an underdog that’s attempting the impossible, and what we’re taken on instead is an underwhelming pursuit that barely sticks to its own outline of rules, and a protagonist that’s really challenging to relate to.

One of the biggest factors to making a documentary enjoyable is to make whatever you’re covering to be as inclusive as possible with a general audience—to engage them in a manner that gives them the sensation that they’re now along for the ride.

Nintendo Quest loses sight of this at the mark, and it does so with an unwillingness to be forthcoming to its viewers with certain details of information that would’ve made the experience much more captivating.

Once we journey beyond the exposition-soaked intro, we’re given any exact numbers to the funds of Jay’s spending limit for the adventure, just vague bar graph animation that lazily represents an idea of what their funds are like after expenditures are applied. The idea behind that alone is a bit ridiculous as it only works to impede any affinity that the documentary had going into it from the get-go.

The needless subterfuge is compounded further with Jay’s abrasive approach on bartering deals for game purchases, and the attitude that’s displayed through the entirety of the film.

There are several points within the film in where the Canadian collector’s demeanor comes across as combative, to an almost petulant degree at times, with no sense of tenacity that’s even remotely endearing.

Troubling this issue even more is how often that they pander the objective of their goal as a sympathy tactic to curry favor when bargaining deals for new games—it really sullies the puritan spirit that sold the charm of the concept in the first place.

The challenge to this quest is a daunting one, 678 games in 30 days in itself is difficult within itself with the caveat of rarity withstanding. So naturally, I expected some contributions of support to be made to the campaign with some of the illustrious list of video game culture personalities credited to make a cameo appearance in the film, but that didn’t event help me rally any sort of encouragement for Jay and the NQ team.

It just hurt my enthusiasm for the whole thing even more instead.

There are 20 known titles within the official NES library that are considered “holy grails” for their value, and scarcity, and the “intrepid” hero already comes across 2/3 through donations alone—not much of an underdog story is really happening as much as the film would like to suggest. One particular moment was just agonizing as Jay was given a surprise donation of a particularly rare, and expensive game, absolutely free, and then immediately lamented that he had to spend $50 on two games that he felt were overpriced, lamenting that he felt cheated by the deal.

I was just, completely stunned by the gross sense of entitlment, and complete lack of gratitude to the fortune that preceded this self-proclaimed act of highway robbery that he had the nerve to grieve about on camera. To be clear, that really expensive and rare game that he was given: is worth a little over $400, and mind you, that's just its minimum worth.

Its these moments of disconnection steadily continue on, and at some point, the superficial nature of the film becomes apparent, and the experience is reduced into nothing more than some glamour project of self-aggrandizement that fails to be appealing, or significantly entertaining for that matter.

While I can somewhat appreciate the bits of fan service and memorabilia to the legacy of the NES, these moments are all filtered through a disjointed series of history lessons and trivia footnotes from start to finish. I can’t say that I felt empathetic for their cause, and just lost interest towards whether or not they saw to the completion of it by the end of the film.

The production value and commitment does merit some recommendation, but not much—Nintendo Quest just falls a bit too short in delivering on the magic it claims to chase, and ends up being mostly forgettable, remembered mostly for its criticisms instead.

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