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DVD Review: King of Kong – Fistful of Quarters

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So few are aware of the world of competitive video games. No, not the massive MLG tournaments where the competitors go after thousands of dollars in prizes. This is the small time, the retro gaming world of high scores, no pay, and nothing but the glory of having your name in print.

King of Kong introduces viewers to two men, Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe. Wiebe is a competitive, die-hard Donkey Kong player gunning for the record Mitchell set back in 1982 (and hasn’t been touched since). What follows is an absolutely ridiculous, absurd, and overwhelmingly entertaining journey for the high score in a video game.

The documentary is almost too perfect. It has villains, it has sidekicks, and a hero. Mitchell takes a beating here, well known for being the only person to ever complete a perfect run in Pac-Man. His avoidance of the issue, his shrewd means of “competing,” and occasionally off-color remarks paint him in a negative light.

Wiebe is the family man and school teacher. He breaks the record with video proof, but the record is tossed out when it can’t be confirmed if the machine he used was legitimate. His saga to reclaim the score a second time, this time in front of a live audience, is impossible to look away from.

King of Kong hits all the right notes. It’s funny, its depressing, and for reasons no one can explain, seemingly the most important documentary ever filmed. The struggle between these two retro gaming superstars and the screw jobs that follow could stand in for anything and if something as trivial as video game high scores can be filled with this much corruption, what else are we missing?

It may not have a point, and it may not change anyone’s life, but King of Kong is almost too good to be true. However, ask any follower of the retro gaming community about these events even before they see the film and they could likely deliver every detail. It’s bizarre, true, and an absolute must see regardless of where you stand in terms of video games.

Video quality is unimportant here, though this is barely above the level of VHS at times. Compression artifacts are thick, and the colors bleed regularly. Aliasing is common, and the black levels occasionally block out details.

Likewise, the sound is unimportant, but at least it’s clear and audible. If you’ve ever wanted to hear the best 5.1 rendition of The Karate Kid’s “You’re the Best,” this is where you’ll find it.

For a low budget documentary, there are a plethora of extras to dig through. The Saga Continues is a brief text update on what has transpired since the shoot ended. Ten extended and bonus scenes come in at nearly an hour long. Extended interviews clock in at over 40 minutes. A Really, Really, Really Brief History of Donkey Kong details how the game came to be in a little over a minute.

An arcade glossary is here to help those who aren’t familiar with all the terms. A gallery features music and art pieces from the I am 8-bit exhibit. Finally, two commentaries are included, with the first coming from director Seth Gordon and his team of producers. The second is from IGN Editorial Director Chris Carle and Jon Gibson, who founded I am 8-bit.

As if Steve Wiebe hasn’t suffered enough, his high score for Donkey Kong Jr. was also erased. Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day ruled that the score didn’t count as the machine played on was a conversion, giving the high score back to none other than Bill Mitchell.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • Scotty2

    I loved this documentary and am going to write my own review now. Glad to see another fan.