Director: Rob McCallum
Starring: Jay Bartlett
It would seem that CultureSmash editor Stephen Lackey deemed me the best candidate to review Nintendo Quest which bills itself as “The Most Unofficial and Unauthorized Nintendo Documentary Ever!” Stephen was right to choose me for the job. Not only do I love video game history, I’m also a fan of Nintendo. In addition, I was familiar with the Nintendo Quest project from Gamescast, a podcast featuring the film’s director, Rob McCallum, and the film’s star, Jay Bartlett.
The premise of the film is simple. Jay will attempt to collect all 678 official North American releases for Nintendo’s first home console for the US market, the NIntendo Entertainment System. His long time friend, Rob will capture Jay’s adventure as he travels two counties in search of the games, some of which can easily fetch a couple hundred dollars in the retail market. A self imposed rule keeps Jay from using the internet in any capacity.
Right of the bat, I like the idea of this film. And as the film started, it seemed to be going in a good direction. There was a quick history of Nintendo, and a look at Jay’s obsession with video games and Star Wars, including interviews with his friends and family. A counter in the bottom corner of the screen tracked Jay’s budget and current cartridge count. And we have a graphic of the 20 rarest games that Jay will be hunting for as a part of his travels. He starts the journey as I think anyone would by contacting friends to help his cause. But as Jay starts to go into different shops to advance his mission, two things quickly become apparent.
First, money and price are not discussed in any significant detail. If you’re making a movie about shopping for collectibles, price is something that should be brought up. While the budget bar gives the viewer an estimation of the percentage of Jay’s budget, it would be more interesting to know how much money he allocated to the quest. Money, like the 30 days he gave himself, is a limiting factor to completing his quest. Along with this, we rarely know what Jay is actually paying for each game. I wouldn’t want to see him haggling over a copy of Duck Hunt, but it would have been interesting to see what he ended up paying for a few of the titles off the rare 20 list, or some of his favorite games.
And then the realization that Jay just doesn’t have engaging screen presence. As someone making a film about something he loves, I would have expected a certain level of enthusiasm. In some scenes, it Jay’s emotional level left me wondering if I was watching a documentary about someone going to a job they were mildly content with. As a video game fanatic, he should have some great personal stories to tell about the games he picked up during the film, but these stories are rarely shared. At one point we do get a very awkward interview of Jay talking about his difficult relationship with his father. While the story is emotional, it seems out of place in the context of the story the film is trying to tell.
And then, because it’s a documentary about video games, Walter Day, Billy Mitchell, and Richie Knucklez all have short cameos. I’m not really sure what the purpose of them being in the film was, but it did serve to remind me that I could be watching three better documentaries about the gaming hobby.