Non-fiction Weekend - Nintendo Quest


Nate McKenzie sets off on his own epic quest to watch a documentary about a quest even more epic than those in video games themselves...

"For a period of time there, Nintendo was a word used to describe video games in general."
-Patrick Scott Peterson


How many of us can relate to that sentiment and picture a specific moment in which a parent or elder referred to a Sega, Xbox, or Playstation as a "Nintendo" in our youth? More than a few. Nintendo is, after all, the Legend of Zelda-gold-cartridge standard in video gaming.

How many of us would be willing to travel North America to feed a desire cultivated since youth? Less than a few, I would guess.

Jay is a homebody who doesn't get out much. Rob is his friend and cofounder of the Nintendo Club, which they started in childhood. In an attempt to usher forth an adventure, and subsequent personal growth, Rob challenges, nay dares, Jay to find and obtain the complete library of North American retail released Nintendo Entertainment System cartridges (or carts). That's 678 video games. In 30 days. Without buying any over the internet. His search for extremely rare and expensive titles is a lesson in devotion. His obsession with obtaining the holy grail of NES games, Stadium Events, is a lesson in restraint.

Along with a few faces and names that will be familiar to aficionados - such as Rachel Lara, Patrick Scott Patterson, and the legendary Todd Rogers - Rob, the writer/director uses Jay's mother and group of close friends to give this documentary a much more personal feel than other video game docs I've watched.

Initially, I thought "Who cares?" about this guy Jay and what his friends say about him. However, this is a unique insight into obsession, fanaticism, and passion for a what is still somewhat of a sub-culture arena. You can find the story of Nintendo's rise to popularity in numerous other docs and magazine profiles. But this story is different.

Other video game docs are made by fans, but feature famous faces to give the doc credence, or focus on people within the industry and the actual mechanics of the process of conception to realization of a game. What sets Nintendo Quest apart from those is that it's made by fans, about a fan, for fans of video gaming and its history. To wit, Mason Cramer, who owns multiple world records in video gaming, refers to holding the physical cartridges of early video game systems as "artifacts". That brought up a great imagery in my mind of somewhere, 100 years from now, people looking back on the tangible pieces of consoles the same way we look at a victrola or zoetrope.

The film is personal because it isn't polished. The editing is clipped and Rob, as the narrator, has a voice that isn't really meant for voice overs as it is perpetually alto and overly-excited. As the documentary progresses though, that becomes less of a factor as Jay's journey becomes engrossing. You stop observing and really begin to root for Jay to accomplish his mission.

Nintendo Quest has the feel of a segment on G4 but at a documentary length. I think it would have worked as at a runtime of closer to 60 minutes, some of the scenes lingered longer than necessary. But, again, in the context of the whole production, it is more of an amateur effort, and that's why it is relatable. Think sentimentally simplistic, not cheap. Like your grandmother's nick-nacks in a curio cabinet - they are worth more than they cost.

The delightfulness of Nintendo Quest is found in Jay's treasure hunting. It was fun to be reminded of games that I had forgotten about. That is precisely what makes Jay such an intriguing focal point: that which most people let slip from memory, he relishes and never forgets.

The film feels almost like a documentary about a fledgling band on their first roadtrip tour. Jay, Rob, and Co. travel much of the United States and parts of Canada by automobile. They see parts of the U.S. that I haven't even been to. What was really cool to me was to see them in two of my favourite cities on Earth, Columbus and Cincinnati, and shop at video game stores that I have shopped at.

My only real gripe is that all of the snippets of interviews during the credits would have made for better content within the structure of the documentary. There is some real insight into what gaming means to different people during those morsels. Specifically, one woman reveals that she lost a large amount of weight just by playing Dance Dance Revolution. In an industry that is constantly bombarded by accusations of being an unhealthy obsession and fostering violent tendencies among youth, her story could be a significant beacon for the video game industry's response to those claims. In relation to that, I would have liked to see more female faces. Although, the doc wasn't exclusionary in that regard, there simply weren't many women encountered on the journey that necessarily required involvement; shoehorning in an appearance or two would have been a disservice.

Nintendo Quest is meant to be inspiring, an example of following your dreams. That would be cliche if Jay didn't address that exact potential misstep directly.

"You have to want it bad enough to give up a lot in your life. And that sounds ridiculous because we're talking about Nintendo games, but really, if you want it bad enough you'll get it."

That is a universal concept.

Image - Sicily Publicity.

Rent or buy Nintendo Quest on line here.